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Rarely retired – Stadeli receives Judy Schmidt Lifetime Achievement Award

By Brenna Wiegand

Otto Stadeli said you could have “knocked him over with a feather” when the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce crashed his pinochle game to name him recipient of this year’s Judy Schmidt Lifetime Achievement Award.

Stadeli, 93, says doing good business and volunteering are just part of being in a community.

Otto Stadeli was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by Darby Hector and Chamber Executive Director Stacy Palmer.

Born and raised in Silverton, Stadeli used to split a nickel with his brother for their janitorial endeavors at Evergreen School. He was married to Edith Kaufman for 42 years and they had 11 children, resulting in Otto’s 190 direct descendants.

“My wife was a good mother and I worked hard to make money so we could eat,” Otto said. “We tried to raise them in a Christian way.”

By the time Otto came of age, his father Rudolph, a Swiss emigrant, was drilling wells and advised his son to enter the pump business. 

An eighth-grade graduate, Stadeli began his entrepreneurial career in the early ‘50s as Stadeli Pump & Irrigation and before long added a construction component to his business.

“At that time, they were putting in a new sewer system in what they call ‘Mill Town’ and I bought a backhoe and started hooking up the services to each house,” Stadeli said. “That’s where I started in construction, which I did for 30 years.”

Their longest water line, in Grand Ronde, spanned 40 miles. The company had grown to 30 employees by the time he sold it to his two oldest sons.

Along came the severe economic recession of the early ‘80s.

“A lot of contractors were going broke, and they did too so I started all over again,” Stadeli said.

He recalled how the farmers he used to work with would pile their old irrigation pipe along fence lines where it continued to deteriorate. He saw opportunity in the scrap metal business, which was brisk at the time.

He put an ad in the paper: “Wanted: Irrigation pipe regardless of the number of holes,” and was off.

He started attending farm sales in Eastern Washington weekly, buying scrap iron and the occasional piece of equipment. Once he was able to purchase a nearly new John Deere disc for $50 but was confronted afterward by two angry farmers. After asking them why they didn’t bid a little higher he told them he’d be happy to take some old machinery in trade as long as it weighed the same.

After 19 years he sold that business to another son, but he couldn’t sit still long enough and spent the next five and ½ years driving a school bus. Suffice it to say he didn’t tolerate disrespect.

After retiring as a bus driver Stadeli built Garden City RV Storage which he sold less than two years ago.

During one of his retirements Otto spent a couple of years driving 18-wheelers to California every week until he had a knee replacement.

“I’m completely retired now, but I don’t know what to do,” he said. He and wife Elsie will be married 30 years in December; she says he should stick to pinochle.

While Stadeli has served in many volunteer capacities, the Lions Club has been nearest to his heart. He joined in 1991 and was a frequent board member and four-time club president, later serving on the state board.

“One year we took 1,000 pair of eyeglasses to Guatemala along with five pairs of corneas,” he said. “People walked for miles and miles to have their eyes tested and matched with glasses closest to what they needed.”

One morning a doctor summoned the group to the hospital, where they witnessed the unwrapping of bandages on a woman able to see for the first time in many years.

Back home, Stadeli pitched in with the building of The Oregon Garden, clearing 30 acres of brush and blazing its first trail.

He served six years on Silverton City Council, once accompanying then-Mayor Ken Hector back East to interview city manager candidates. They met with one in Chicago then drove down to Arkansas to meet the other.

“We liked him and invited him to come to our hotel and talk some more,” Stadeli said. “When I went to the restroom the door wouldn’t shut all the way so I slammed it and the ceiling fell on my head… we found out that in Arkansas at the time they didn’t have any building regulations; you could just build.”

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