Gina and Bob Barstad have operated the Wallowa Lake Marina for 30 years.
They came to Wallowa County to help out Bob’s parents, who lived in Enterprise, after their retirement in 1988. Bob and Gina had vacationed here regularly but lived in Newberg where Bob was an accountant and Gina ran a daycare. Their two sons, Casey and Ryan, were three and six-years-old.
Gina, Bob and Bob’s brother Fred and sister-in-law Susie purchased the equipment for the Wallowa Lake Marina from the Wiggens family, which owned much of the business at the lake. They initially looked at the restaurant and the marina as possible businesses, but decided the marina was best for them. The contract to operate the marina is through the state. After 30 years of winning the contract, Gina and Bob will retire this December –– but the marina will likely still be run by a Barstad.
“Hopefully Casey will win the bid to keep it,” Gina said.
Both Casey and Ryan graduated from Joseph High School, went on to OSU, and then returned to the county.
Gina was on the Wallowa County Chamber Board for nine years and helped raised money for the Joseph baseball program for seven years.
Q. What brought you to Wallowa County?
A. When Bob’s parents, who lived in Enterprise, retired and we wanted to be near them. Bob kind of knew that one income alone wouldn’t work for this area. He planned to be an accountant, but we needed a second income. We didn’t really know what we wanted to do. Bob’s brother Fred and sister-in-law Susie were already here and had seen the contract for the marina listed. The Wiggens owned much of the business at the lake then. We looked at the store and the marina and decided that the marina would work better for us –– though we knew nothing, nothing about running a marina. It was a scary proposition. (Fortunately) we were allowed to work under the Wiggens’ contract for a year.
You just take a leap, throw all your credit cards in the fire, and every crazy thing that can happen did happen. Young and dumb is what I call it. But once we got past the four years, Fred and Susie were able to move on –– little by little each year got better till you get to the point where we are now, and it’s a very viable business because of all of the hard work.
Wallowa County is a great place; tourism is a big deal here. My focus when I was on the chamber board was trying to balance the lake with the county and trying to build a bridge. It seemed like we were in our world and the county was in their world, and it was really difficult to join the two. I had the same feeling about the business –– you try to get positive people working for you and make a positive environment. (At the marina) we tried to make customer service a big deal, you don’t realize how big a deal it is until you begin taking workshops on it. I would go and try to take employees with me when I attended them. There’s a lot to learn and you don’t know how much until you begin taking these workshops: How to teach your employees and yourself to say to the customers “how do we make this better” rather than saying “the customer is always right” or “I’m always right” because there has to be a middle ground.
Q. What has Wallowa County taught you?
A. How to learn from all the different people: ranchers, farmers, artists, tourists, local people –– all of those people have something to offer. I really loved my time on the chamber board, because every group is represented on the board. Before I was on the board I didn’t realize the mix. It was kind of an “aha!” moment. You learn a lot from those folks because they are very passionate about their hopes and dreams and you’re able to hear it, listen, and it branches your whole thought pattern differently. Because I was at the marina 13 hours a day and all I thought about was marina, mostly just how to get through 13 hours and make things go smoothly. When you’re at the lake, you’re in your little bubble. You don’t even understand what’s happening in the whole community until you’re serving on the chamber board. Then, you’re able to make decisions and learn about the other people. It’s a good thing. The chamber is not just about tourism and where the tax dollars are going to go, it’s bigger than that. You can meet in the middle and have good things happen. If I hadn’t been on the chamber board I wouldn’t have known how to answer that question.
Q. How has Wallowa County surprised you?
A. I think the diversity of Wallowa County surprises me the most and how people can change and work together if they have to. While I was at the chamber, we did a program where we got people together and put the new kitchen in the Cloverleaf Hall. I think the neatest thing about that was you had people from almost every background, bank people, farm people, tourism people –– it was awesome. You have figure out the whole thing, raise money, organization, you pull people together, strange people –– you may know them and you may not, you’re pulled into this situation and you have to make it work and we did. I think as diverse as we all are, we really come together when we need to in this county. It shouldn’t surprise me, but it did because we are so diverse.