I’m writing primarily today to people who live in Kitsap County in Washington state. In my hometown, a legendary restaurant could have met a sad and unjust end this week. But ten minutes ago I heard the news that a miracle had taken place and the legacy lives on.
Here’s the amazing story.
If you live in South Kitsap, you are familiar with Buck’s A&W. Started by Buck and Glennys Gehring in 1959, Bucks served as the only fast food restaurant in Port Orchard for nearly a decade. At that time Buck Gehring was a local Port Orchard basketball legend having led South Kitsap to its only state high school championship in 1950 (to this day South’s only basketball championship). I remember driving my 1961 Chevy many times to Bucks A&W during the late sixties and early seventies, asking the “carhops” for a teen burger, fries, and the best root beer in America.
In 1971 our South Kitsap basketball team made the final eight of the state tournament. On game days, Buck opened his restaurant for free meals to the team–starting a tradition of supporting youth and school sports that would last for decades. Rob Gehring, Buck’s oldest son, was a starting forward on our 1971 team. His brother Rick would go on to star in basketball from 1972-74. The Gehrings loved sports and kids–and they were always welcome at Buck’s A&W.
Buck Gehring died an untimely death in 1982 and Buck’s A&W scrapped its carhops and moved a half mile away under Rick Gehring’s leadership where it has served the community ever since. If you walk into Buck’s A&W today, you see signed balls, jerseys, sports league placques and memorabilia adorning every wall and most of the ceilings. The elaborate displays give you the feel of a hometown diner that champions kids and families. Over the past thirty years, Buck’s has continued its tradition of supporting youth sports, sponsoring teams, giving out free meals, and earning the distinction of being Port Orchard’s hometown hang-out. And of course when you want the “shake of the month”–and in December it’s always Eggnog or Candy Cane–the only place to go is Buck’s A&W.
But seven years ago things went sour. Buck’s was sued by a former employee for sexual harassment and though the restaurant was eventually exonerated, a complicated and unjust legal decision obligated Rick Gehring to pay up to one million dollars in exorbitant legal fees. Two weeks ago I met with Rick to see if there was anything the community could do to help. The need still stood at over $700,000. He was overwhelmed by the bills, and the years of fighting the complexities of the legal system. He thanked me for coming, but didn’t have faith to see his way out of this predicament. He said he had no alternative but to declare bankruptcy and close Buck’s A&W after forty-nine years of legendary service.
The message on the reader board soon read “Closing on Sunday. We appreciate your prayers.” This started a wave of interested press and townsfolk stepping up to help. On Saturday, I drove into the restaurant parking lot where hundreds of people were lining up for their last burgers and tearfully saying goodbye to Port Orchard’s greatest family-oriented restaurant. Cameras flashed, reunions took place in every square foot of seating area, the mayor read a proclamation, and the Gehring family basked in the tearful glow of a community’s corporate thank-you.
The scene continued on Sunday, and both days I met with Rick and the Gehring family and a number of local business people to see if something could be done to save Buck’s A&W. On Saturday I handed Rick a check from Youth With A Mission and while I was standing there a local businessman, Steve Krecker, handed him another. Steve told me “I’m not a religious guy, but I just told Rick Gehring that God is doing something here!” Steve didn’t know that I’d e-mailed twenty five churches the night before asking them to pray for Buck’s A&W–that God would work a miracle and allow it to survive. Many people had already given sacrificially and more were prepared to step up to the plate if necessary.
On Sunday night at 8 pm. Buck’s A&W in Port Orchard, Washington closed its doors–seemingly for good. Behind the scenes, a deal was being painstakingly negotiated. These agonizing negotiations had been taking place for years and had been getting nowhere. Monday a few of us met again with the Gehrings and close friends. There was still no deal–and we were ready to do a “full court press” in the South Kitsap community to raise the funds to save Bucks A&W.
But then came the call ten minutes ago. Rick Gehring told me with a relieved and grateful voice that the settlement had been reached at $230,000–that the family had talked and prayed–and the money had been provided from a number of sources! I practically wept with joy when I heard the news. Seven years of unjust pressure and abuse had just been swept away. Buck’s A&W would be reopened to continue serving the families of South Kitsap. I’m calling it the Miracle on Mile Hill.
All along this situation had reminded me of George Bailey and his building and loan business in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. In that film, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, sacrificially serves his small town of Bedford Falls, experiences injustice, contemplates suicide, then is rescued by Clarence the angel who convinces him he’s had a “wonderful life” that impacted many people. The movie ends with the entire community bailing out George & his savings and loan through their generous and personal giving.
The parallel was clear. In our case George Bailey was Rick Gehring, the building and loan was Buck’s A&W, and we were the people of Bedford Falls i.e. Port Orchard that Buck’s had served for nearly five decades. Last week, as it looked like it was all going down, the community rose up and prayed; They came down to the business and gave it its four largest revenue days in history; They gave money and support to the Gehrings; Then God cleared the skies and brought closure.
Buck’s A&W will re-open on Thursday, December 18. The legacy will continue. A miracle on Mile Hill has taken place.
I want to thank all of you who prayed, gave to this great cause, and believed that God would work a miracle.
He did. Buck’s A&W can continue its “Wonderful Legacy” that now includes a miracle.
P.S. If there was a “Clarence” involved in this deliverance, Lord, please be sure to give him his wings. Praise be to your glorious Name!