In high school, Duane Wilson snagged a job building rowboats for the owners of a marina on Lacamas Lake. By building at least 10 of the boats at the same time, Wilson realized the time-saving value of cutting and assembling many parts at a time.
It’s a lesson Wilson put to good use in later life as founder of a business empire that now encompasses DeWils Industries, an Orchards cabinet maker with an international market, and DeWils Interiors, a Vancouver retail cabinet and appliance store.
Wilson, who died Monday at age 82, turned over the company to sons Tracy and Randy starting in the mid-1980s. Four of his seven grandchildren now work for DeWils Industries, a company with more than $25 million in annual sales and about 130 employees.
It all started with a man who always wanted to build things with wood.
“As far back as I can remember, he was making something,” recalled his older brother, Willard. As a child Duane Wilson built stilts, a scooter with a wooden box as a body, and a soap box derby car. “He was a creator,” said son Randy Wilson, DeWils’ chief operations officer.
Duane Wilson suffered from congestive heart failure but continued to spend part of most days at DeWils, even through the last week of his life. He never strayed far from the work of his hands. His home, built in the 1980s, itself is one of Wilson’s creations: He designed it himself and had it built on the site of a former salmon-processing plant where he’d worked while in high school.