Gas station owner Marty Ulrich Sr. dies

Fixed cars, tended flowers at gas station on Sunset Highway.

There are fewer places more important in everyday life than the neighborhood gas station and the people who work in it. Whether it is a flat tire or a dead battery or a floppy windshield wiper, the people who work there are both wizards and life-savers.

In the early days of gas stations, they were referred to as service stations. Then, people waited in their cars for a uniformed attendant to fill their tanks and wash their windshield. Such people were also skilled technicians who listened to motors with a practiced ear, ferreting out a diagnosis from the strange whispers and clicks of a motor. Mr. Ulrich’s station was one of those. From his personal touch, to his way with cars, to his bright, well kept flowers along the station perimeter, it was a gem.

Martin Ulrich Sr., whose family has owned and operated the gas station at the corner of 78th Avenue S.E. and the Sunset Highway since 1964, died Saturday at his home on Whidbey Island. He was 75. He had been diagnosed earlier in the year with lung cancer.

Islanders know Marty Sr. from the 18-hour days he spent at the station for 35 years. There he greeted them with a smile. He asked about their children while tweaking a transmission or changing the oil.

“My dad helped everyone on this Island,” his son, Marty Ulrich Jr., said.

It has never been easy. The station went though the trying times of the endless construction along I-90 and the Sunset Highway, the gas crisis of the 1970s, the constant gyration of gas prices and the backlash they caused, and now, the transition to electric cars.

Mr. Ulrich was born in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle in 1938. He attended O’Dea High School on a four-year scholarship. There he played football and baseball, later heading to Central Washington College, where he played baseball until he injured both knees.

After college, he went to work for Boeing, building B-52 aircraft. He described it to his sons as an ‘ant farm.’ It wasn’t for him.

He had worked earlier at a service station for a time, and was able to get a Shell station in Factoria in 1962. The business was later demolished as part of the construction of the Interstate 90 interchange there. He was offered the station on Mercer Island in 1964, and he and his family have been there ever since. At one point the family had three stations.

After he retired, he still came in nearly every day to do what he could, taking care of his garden or keeping a hand in at the shop. He did not like all of the changes, his grandson, Chris, said. “He did not like all the technology stuff.”

He took pride in his work and the station, his son, Marty Ulrich Jr., said. “He loved his family. He loved his customers. They were a second family to him.”

“Customers used to tell me that you could be having your worst day ever, but you came in here, and he made you feel better,” the younger Ulrich said.

Mr. Ulrich was a dedicated football fan, rooting specifically for Notre Dame. Last January, Mr. Ulrich fulfilled a lifetime dream when he and his sons got tickets to the BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and the undefeated Notre Dame team in Miami.

“We had planned to watch the Notre Dame game together on Saturday,” Ulrich Jr. said. But he died early that morning. Survivors include his wife, Darlene, three sons, one daughter, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Services for Mr. Ulrich are set for 11 a.m., Friday, Oct. 25, at St. Monica Church at 4301 88th Avenue S.E., Mercer Island.