He doesn’t make a dime for doing what he does, but each and every morning Fred Roberts can be found at the Handy Corner gas station and convenience store in Grantsville. He’s usually in the parking lot, sweeping up litter or maybe fixing a gas pump that isn’t working quite right.
Sometimes Fred is holding a ladder while his son-in-law, Ty Anderson, changes the wording on the business marquee. And on a regular basis when a female drives up to a gasoline pump, Fred runs over and offers to pump the gas for her. “When women are all dressed up for work or to go shopping, they don’t like to touch the smelly gas pumps,” Fred explains with a grin.
Fred always takes time to say “hi” to each and every Handy Corner customer and to ask if everything is going all right in their life. Grantsville residents have come to count on having their day brightened just by taking a minute or two to talk to Fred.
If you’re one of the very few people who hasn’t yet met Fred, you need to stop by Handy Corner before 9:30 a.m. Fred goes to the convenience store early and leaves by 9:30 for his 10 a.m. appointment at the Grantsville Drug Store. For the past three decades, Fred has stopped on a regular basis for a cup of coffee and an hour or so of socializing with Bob Halladay. After that, Fred goes home and works in his garden. Or sometimes he volunteers to overhaul one of his grandkid’s car. Once in awhile he paints a room for his daughter, son, one of his five grandchildren, or one of the three greatgrandchildren. (Another greatgrandchild is on the way).
When the weather is good, Fred likes to head off with his wife, Lila, for a round of golf in St. George or even Mesquite or Jack Pot, Nev. He also often goes for a fast-paced walk with Lila and other family members.
Fred started donating his time at the Handy Corner — owned by his son-in-law Ty and daughter Kathy — in 2001. That’s when the Andersons built their brand new store on property where the old store had stood.
They even added an A&W restaurant as part of their new business and Fred takes care of maintenance on that area of the building as well. Ty works at Handy Corner fulltime. Kathy is employed as the spokesperson for Tooele Army Depot (TEAD).
Fred, a former TEAD worker himself, retired from the federal government in 1990.
A native of Canada, Fred was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1937. He lived in a small Canadian community called Lac-La-Birch, population 4,000, until he was 10 years old.
With a twinkle in his eye, Fred says that everyone should know what world events were happening the year they were born. When Fred was born, the big news was completion of the Golden Gate Bridge and the invention of nylons. “I guess the military men liked to buy nylons and give them to the French ladies,” he said.
Speaking of his background, Fred says his maternal grandparents, Octave and Maria Blais, went to Canada around 1912 to homestead 300 acres of ground. His mother, Anita, was born in Massachusetts when her parents went back to their native state for a visit. Anita, however, was raised in Canada.
When Fred’s dad, also named Fred, was a young man, he and his father moved to Canada from Michigan. It was in Canada that Fred Sr. met Anita and the two married.
Fred Jr.’s earliest memories of Canada are of his father’s fishing and mink businesses. “Dad owned a mink ranch and I started helping feed and water the mink at a young age,” Fred said. The area where Fred’s family lived was the main supplier for the Hudson Bay Fur Company. When Fred’s uncle, Johnny Yacimick, who at one time owned 120,000 mink, died in 1988, he was the last mink rancher in that area. In addition to the mink ranch, Fred Sr. also fished for a living. During winter months he would head to Slave Lake and fish for a week or so at a time from the 30-foot boats he made himself. Fred Jr. got to go on the boats from time to time and has fond memories of fishing in Canadian waters.
“Dad caught northern pike fish and some of them were pretty big,” Fred said. “Dad once caught a fish that weighed nearly 100 pounds.” Fred Jr. believes that may be one of the biggest northern pike fish ever caught.
“Dad had to cut a hole in the ice that was four-feet in diameter to get the fish out,” Fred said. Fred Sr. and Anita moved their family to Oregon in 1947. They lived in Eugene and Fred Jr. graduated from Springfield (Oregon) High School. Before graduation, he joined the Marine Reserves. Then in 1957, Fred enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served with that branch of the military for four years.
Fred’s Air Force duties included repairing B47 airplanes. Before long he was made a crew chief, meaning he was a member of the flight crew. “I flew in the planes to take care of any mechanical problems,” he said.
Once each month, Fred’s crew underwent a military alert. The drill required the airmen to have 17 bombs loaded onto airplanes and be ready to fly within 17 minutes.
“It was during the Cold War days,” Fred said. “We never knew when the alert went off whether it was the ‘real thing’ or just another test. We’d have to get up at 1 a.m. or 3 a.m. or whatever time the alarm sounded and run to our aircrafts and get them ready for take-off.”
Fred spent five months with the Air Force in Guam. The rest of his four-year tour-of-duty was spent near Mountain Home, Idaho.
It was while he was still in the Air Force that Fred met his wife. “Lila’s brother, Norman Schow, invited me to spend a weekend with his family in Eureka [Utah],” Fred explained. “Lila was 19 or 20 the first time I met her. When her brother took me to the family home the second time to spend a weekend, I started dating her.” Fred and Lila were married on New Year’s Eve 1959.
“I never forget my anniversary,” Fred said with a sly smile. “Each New Year’s Eve when the fireworks start, I ask myself, ‘What’s all the commotion about?’ That’s when I realize they are celebrating my wedding anniversary and I have to make a mad dash to try to find flowers for Lila.”
Following his discharge from the Air Force, Fred applied for work at TEAD and Hercules.
There’s still a hint of bitterness in his voice when he explains they wouldn’t hire him because he wasn’t a United States citizen. “I had served six years in the U.S. military — had obtained three secret clearances — but the United States wouldn’t hire me because the paper work proving I was a naturalized American citizen hadn’t yet been processed.”
Fred did find work near Mountain Home, Idaho, with a company called Hercules.
“I dug underground storage units for missiles,” Fred said.
“The areas were a solid mile wide and 250 feet deep. Once the oxygen-type missiles were in the ground we covered them with a concrete silo.” Fred noted that the missiles, which no longer exist, were closely guarded.
“They were very dangerous,” he said.
Fred and Lila eventually returned to her hometown, Eureka, where he worked on a drilling rig for about a year.
“In 1963, Tooele Army Depot called and asked if I was still interested in a job,” Fred said. “By then I had my papers showing I was a naturalized U.S. citizen.”
Fred started as a laborer at TEAD about 32 years ago. After commuting to Tooele from Eureka for a year, Fred and Lila moved to Grantsville with their two children, Terry (who now lives in Salt Lake City), and Kathy who still lives in Grantsville.
Within two years after being employed by TEAD, Fred was transferred to the depot’s missile shop where he overhauled International Component Ballistic Missiles. Fred retired from TEAD as a quality assurance supervisor.
Back in 1990, Fred woke up one morning and said to his wife, “Don’t pack me a lunch today; I’m going to retire.” Shortly before he made that decision, Fred had been offered early retirement which included a nice chunk of bonus money.
“I knew I could stay at TEAD for another four or five years, but what would I really accomplish in that time,” Fred said. “I went to work that morning and was at the personnel office by 9 a.m. An hour later, I was a retired man.”
Fred said he loves retirement, but he does miss the people who worked with him.
Of course, for Fred, retirement means anything but sitting around the house. If you don’t believe that, just stop by Handy Corner early some morning and you’ll see him there — working as if he was getting paid a huge salary for doing what he does.