OCEAN PARK — Someone who does not complain about our winter weather is Jill Gance, owner and manager of Ocean Auto in Ocean Park (1702 Bay Ave., 360-777-3555).

“I lived in the high desert in California until I needed to move for health reasons. And I was taking care of my dad, too, so I brought him up here with me — it took me awhile to move, I had a lot of things to settle down south. I didn’t even know this was a peninsula at first. But I just fell in love with the place. And I love the cool weather. We got here in 2019, thanks to friend and mechanic Larry List, who’s been with me on this venture since day one.”

Jill continues, “I spent a lot of my life — 35 years — working in the oil refinery business. I was a carpenter, then a heavy equipment operator, in the city of Carson, California. Then I went back to school to get a degree in business and I started supervising a crew. So I was always working in a man’s world. It was tough in the beginning. But you get thick skin — I just persevered. I had a great crew and I had a lot of fun.”

Jill was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013, then she got hit with breast cancer. Then her father got sick, and she took care of her dad for nine-and-a-half years before he died. “I retired with a disability. My dad passed. Then the garage crossed my path and I decided to buy it in June 2021. [It was previously called Chrome Dome, then Busted Knuckle]. I thought, ‘Well, I can’t work, but I can run a business.’”

So she purchased the shop, then closed it down to do some needed renovations. “I painted and cleaned up, bought some tools. Then I did a lot of praying. It was funny, because the phone kept ringing and ringing and I didn’t answer it. I was stressed out — but God is persistent — sometimes you’ve just gotta pick up the phone! Then one day I did and it was just what I needed. Through word of mouth and a hot rod connection, the person on the phone said, ‘I’ve got a friend I want you to meet in Portland.’ And that’s how I found Bob Fritsche, my master mechanic. Then I got a call from a parts supplier and I got my other mechanic, Brayden Webber. My nephew Joe runs the desk.”

Community focus

I spent a morning over coffee at the back table of Colleen’s talking to Jill, and I discovered there’s so much more to her life than managing the auto garage. Jill’s a smart and dedicated business owner who realizes the importance of supporting her community.

Everyone who comes in the shop is asked, “Are you a vet?” because military veterans get a 10% discount on repairs. Then every vet has his or her name tossed into a hat, and every three months a name is drawn out to receive a $100 gift certificate, good for either Jack’s Country Store, Okie’s Thriftway Market, the Lost Roo, or Chico’s Pizza Parlor. Vern McCarty was the first winner.

“I’ve always been a vet supporter.” Jill says. “My brother, who recently died, was a Marine in Desert Storm; and my dad was a vet. I want to thank all vets for their service to our country — this quarterly gift card is just a small way to do that. Our next drawing will be in April.”

Jill is also interested in working with the South Pacific County Humane Society. “I want to walk in there and meet everybody. Maybe help with some fundraising.” Jill is an animal lover and has ten acres for her furry friends in Oysterville. She has two dogs — Pete, whom she adopted after her brother died, and Molly. Sadly, she just lost two beloved horses: Tasha, a Missouri Fox Trotter; and Annie, a rescue Palomino. “I used to ride, and losing them was hard. But I called Woody and he was right on it. Someone came out within an hour, both times, to help me bury them. They’re right next to each other.”

She also just lost Foghorn, her rooster; but her animal duties don’t end there. “I have eight goats — Pepper, Dash, Boots, Hazel, Rooty, Kitty, Red and Nutmeg. My black one, Pepper, thinks he’s a dog. The other day I was filling their water bowls and he grabs the hose and starts spraying all the rest of them. They’re funny. But, no, my goats do not eat weeds or blackberries — they’re totally spoiled.”

Business opportunities

There’s a house behind the shop that Jill has renovated and is hoping can be occupied by some business that would be useful to the community. “It’s not a good fit for a family, though I know we need housing here. I’d like to see a beauty salon there, or maybe a large animal vet. Or a laundry — we don’t have one on this end of the peninsula and there are always long lines at the one in Long Beach. I feel like either one of these businesses would do well in that location. I can convert the building — make some adjustments, if needed.” (If you’re interested, stop by and ask Jill about the possibilities.)

She’s very conscious about the value of supporting local small businesses. Her Ocean Auto T-shirts and knit beanies are produced by Rip Tide Threads in Long Beach. Jill is also looking for another mechanic technician-B for the garage.

“Nothing has ever been handed to me. I’ve worked for everything I have and I have no regrets,” Jill says. “I’ve always been a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of person. I feel good about the shop. When I first considered it, I crunched a few numbers and thought ‘I can do this.’ I wasn’t ready to retire. The point is to provide a service. I just want to be happy, have fun and get involved a little bit. I’m really in love with this town — we have everything we need right here.”

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