In sports, when a Hall of Famer passes away, the entire community pauses, remembers, shows its respects and honors the legacy. But imagine the impact of losing the person that the sports Hall of Fame is actually named after.
That is what happened to hospitality when industry icon, Jerry Burtenshaw, passed away after a long battle with cancer on Sept. 2, 2021. He was 86. Along with his family, he leaves behind a massive legacy in the hospitality industry.
His lists of accomplishments and legacy impacts are long but the short list includes his successful business of Alpine-Burtco, being the chair of the association, being a board member of both the state and national associations, co-founding the association’s Education Foundation, establishing multiple industry scholarships, Founding the Burtenshaw lectures series and many other projects at Washington State University and being a member of WSU’s Hall of Fame and being the namesake of the association’s Hall of Fame award, the Burtenshaw Award.
Born for hospitality greatness
Hospitality was in Jerry Burtenshaw’s blood. His daughter, Trina Burtenshaw Freatman said his parents used to take him to the Alpine when he was still in his baby carriage. His parents owned the cafeteria-style diner in downtown Bellingham across the street from the Leopold Hotel, now the Hotel Leo. From then on, Jerry knew what he wanted to do.
“He loved it,” Freatman said of hospitality.
Over the years, Jerry built a successful concessions business, Alpine-Burtco Company, that led to contracts at all the major stadiums in the state: the Kingdome, Husky Stadium, the Tacoma Dome and even Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane. Freatman remembers as she was growing up the whole family would travel to the Montana State Fair and work in the concession stand together for two weeks a year. Burtco Incorporated, part of Alpine-Burtco, specialized in logistics. While the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was under construction, Burtco fed the men working on it.
Alpine-Burtco sprung from his parents’ restaurants and concessions business. When Jerry was young, his father used to run concessions stands at the Pacific National Exposition in Vancouver, B.C. One summer, when Jerry was 13 and helping his father, a young girl approached the concessions stand for a job. Jerry’s father knew that she was too young to work just yet, but as Freatman tells it, “He thought she was adorable.”
The elder Burtenshaw gave her a job selling ice cream bars on the Midway. The 13-year-old girl was Angelina. She and Jerry became friends and later started dating. After high school, Angelina went to a school for teachers and Jerry went off to Washington State University.
Jerry loved WSU. Freatman said education was incredibly important to her parents. When the couple lost their teenaged son, Calvin Brett, the two turned that tragedy into a legacy at Jerry’s alma mater: the Burtenshaw Distinguished Lecture Series.
“Everything that is impactful, and student-driven that we have (at the School of Hospitality and Business Management) is because of Jerry Burtenshaw,” said Dr. Nancy Swanger, associate professor at the School of Hospitality and Business Management.
Since 1981, the Burtenshaws have sponsored the lecture series, two career days, one in person and one online, and a scholarship in the name of Calvin.
“Jerry and his family have funded all of those events for us,” Swanger said. “The hospitality industry in the state of Washington and entire Pacific Northwest is better because of Jerry Burtenshaw,” she said.
She credits him with impacting thousands of students who have gone on to serve in the industry.
Terry Umbreit, professor emeritus of the WSU School of Business, said he first entered Washington State University in 1975 when he was getting his degree. He went on to join the staff and later became the director of the school of hospitality and business management before he retired in 2008.
“That whole time Jerry Burtenshaw was involved in the school,” Umbreit said.
Umbreit said the Burtenshaw Lectures are a source of pride at the school, bringing national leaders in hospitality to Pullman, sharing their stories.
“No one ever turned us down,” Umbreit said of the speakers. He added that it was because of the Burtenshaws’ contributions to the school of Hospitality and Business Management that it has the national reputation that it has today.
“You can do a lot of things with the right support,” he said.
Freatman said that her father had a very blessed life and wanted to give back to his school. Founding the lecture series in honor of his son was part of that.
“I don’t think he ever envisioned it taking off as it did,” she said. “He’s always loved kids and wanted to help in any way he could.”
Umbreit and Jerry became lifelong friends, as well as colleagues, and each of them attended the other’s induction into the Washington State University Hospitality Hall of Fame.
The impact these programs had on the school’s students can’t be overstated
Joe Fugere, the founder and CEO of Tutta Bella in Seattle was one of those students. He said he looked forward to every one of the lectures when he was still in school—industry powerhouses who inspired him.
“Jerry was one of those guys that always made time for you,” Fugere said. When he was still in college, he approached one of his teachers, Dr. Umbreit, and asked if Jerry would be willing to talk to him. Umbreit suggested he give Jerry a call.
“He was always willing, even (when I was) a student, to talk to me,” Fugere said. He offered advice and his honest opinion, not just lip service. “He said exactly what he thought.”
Fugere said Jerry became his mentor over the years, one who convinced him to start his own restaurant, rather than franchise.
“I don’t know who is going to take that place for me now,” Fugere said.
Burtenshaw and the Washington Restaurant Association
“He truly was a wonderful person and I thought of him as a close and personal friend,” said Gene Vosberg, former president and CEO of the Washington Restaurant Association. “Jerry stood out to me because he was gracious and genuine in his welcoming me as a new member. It was his engaging smile and demeanor that made him stand out. I clearly remember he always went out of his way to say hello whenever we saw each other at meetings or association events. He was kind and well-mannered.”
Vosberg remembers that when the association decided to create a lifetime achievement award for outstanding contributions to the industry, it was unanimously decided to name it after Jerry.
“Jerry was the perfect individual to represent those who selflessly contribute so much to the association and the industry,” Vosberg said.
One of the recipients of that award was Dianne Symms, founder and co-owner of Lombardi’s Italian Restaurants.
“He spoke carefully and calmly, and you knew he thought about it for a long time,” she said, remembering that he always acknowledged everyone and thanked them for the work they did for the board of the WRA.
Terry Umbreit said that Jerry wasn’t just involved in the Washington Restaurant Association, but the National Restaurant Association, too. He compared Jerry to other hospitality giants in the state of Washington like Ivar Haglund and Victor Rossellini. Umbreit, Vosberg and Jerry all helped found the Education Foundation.
Beyond all of this, what made Jerry so impactful to the industry is how much he cared. Cared about the industry, its leaders, its workers, its future in our state.
“Jerry would call me when I was young staffer at the association just to see how I was doing,” recalled Anthony Anton current President and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association. “Here I was in my early twenties and this industry legend took the time to pick up the phone and call wanting to know if I was OK, if I was taking care of myself and if I needed any support. If just 30% of those that Jerry did that for, learn from it and carry on the tradition of caring for others in hospitality, the industry will forever be a better one for his time here with us, beyond all of his many many accomplishments.”
Jerry was preceded in death by his son, Calvin Brett Burtenshaw and his son-in-law, John Randolph Freatman. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Angelina, his daughters, Trina Burtenshaw Freatman and Melody (Bradley) VanPeursem, and his six grandchildren, Johnie (Crystal) Freatman, Daniel VanPeursem, Calvin Freatman, Gabrielle (William) Baldwin, Arielle VanPeursem and Samuel VanPeursem.
A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 9 at Calvary Christian Assembly, 6801 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA. You can leave a tribute to Jerry at flintofts.com/obituaries/DeVere-Jerry-Burtenshaw?obId=22385947#/celebrationWall.