Private service planned for auto dealer, philanthropist John Hern

John Hern ... Former owner of Courtesy Ford dies in Arizona - File photo
John Hern ... Former owner of Courtesy Ford dies in Arizona
— image credit: File photo

POULSBO — It’s a good bet that John Hern would like what’s going on on Poulsbo’s former auto row: Children acting and singing in his expansive Courtesy Ford building-turned-rehearsal hall. North Kitsap Fishline’s acquisition of the Poulsbo RV property. The Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on Nov. 29 at Viking Avenue and Lindvig Way. The Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sales this week.

Where others saw vacant expanses of asphalt as former auto row businesses shuttered, Hern saw potential. Even as he closed Courtesy Ford, Hern remained bullish on Viking Avenue.

“We’re in a good position,” Hern said of Viking Avenue in June 2011. “With the improvements that have been made, this is an excellent place for a grocery/drug store or a box store of some type … The infrastructure is already here; a prospective developer won’t have to pay for that.

He added, “This is one of the last commercial places in the city until Poulsbo expands. Growth has to come here in the future.”

Mayor Becky Erickson said of Hern, “He had a huge presence in our community for several years … His generosity is missed.”

Hern died Nov. 24 in Arizona, reportedly from complications from diabetes. He was 70. A private memorial is being planned. The family asks that donations be made to the American Diabetes Association. Arrangements are being handled by Valley of the Sun Mortuary & Cemetery in Chandler, Ariz.

Hern is survived by his wife Teri, son Rick, daughter Dena Donnelly, brothers Chuck and Gary, and sister Michael Johnston, as well as nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“It is with great sorrow and regret that I announce the passing of my father, John Hern,” his son, Rick, announced on Facebook. “Many of you know of his enduring medical battles. He is now at peace and no longer suffering. Thank you for your continued prayers.”

Hern and his wife, Teri, moved to Sun Lakes, Ariz., after closing Courtesy Ford in 2011.

The Herns opened Courtesy Ford in 1982. During the heyday of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the company was a major employer as well as a contributor to local education, health care and community events.

At its peak, Hern’s Courtesy Auto Group consisted of Chevy, Ford, Mitsubishi and Suzuki dealerships in Poulsbo, Gig Harbor, Port Townsend and Silverdale.

“From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, Courtesy [Auto Group] was the major source of sales-tax revenue growth in the City of Poulsbo,” said Ed Stern, a member of the Poulsbo City Council and the city’s Economic Development Committee. “He planted one of the original flags on Viking Avenue, making it Auto Row.”

In the early 2000s, Courtesy Auto Group was a leading Ford dealership and made the cover of an industry magazine.

Sales tax goes into the city’s general fund to support such services as police, planning, engineering, and parks and recreation. One of Hern’s frustrations, according to Stern, was despite his status as the city’s biggest sales tax contributor he couldn’t vote on city issues because he lived outside the city limits.

Stern said Hern was appointed to several committees, where he exhibited the “rough-and-tumble, go-get-’em” style that made him successful in business but could rub some people the wrong way.

But the auto dealer had the city’s best interests in mind, as evidenced by his philanthropy. “I’ve heard several people describe him as having a ‘gruff demeanor but a marshmallow heart,’ “ Stern said.

The Herns and Courtesy Ford contributed to the Poulsbo 3rd of July fireworks show, and championed the Olympic College Poulsbo campus. Teri Hern was a board member of the Olympic College Foundation for many years.

The Herns contributed funding for the college’s lecture hall, funding for equipment for the physical therapy assistant program, and student scholarships.

“John and Teri Hern have made a significant, personal impact on an entire generation at Olympic College,” Olympic College President Dr. David Mitchell said when the couple retired.

“Their philanthropic legacy will continue to impact future generations of local college students. John and Teri’s commitment to Olympic College, higher education, and their local community will be long remembered...”

Erickson said that when she learned of Hern’s passing, “My immediate thought was what a wonderful thing he did for Olympic College. I don’t know the dollar size of his donations, but they were substantial. He and others had a real vision for this school. It’s a big deal for this community.”

The Herns also contributed to the Poulsbo Marine Science Center.

John Hern was an advocate for revitalization of Viking Avenue. He helped lure Regal Cinemas and Washington Tractor to the thoroughfare, and in 2011 joined neighboring property owners in commissioning a revitalization plan.

Hern’s own business succumbed to an economic downturn that began in 2004 and forced other auto row businesses to close. By 2011, sales tax revenue and vehicle traffic were less than half that of four years earlier. The Herns announced in August 2011 that Courtesy Ford would close.

At the time the closure announcement was made, Roger Sherrard, the Herns’ attorney, said, “Poulsbo and Kitsap County are much better places to live and work because of the significant contributions of John and Teri Hern.”

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