As a young man and Army veteran in Sebastopol in the 1960s, Robert Pforsich tried his hand as an egg farmer. Soon he discovered that with only 10,000 birds, it was tough to compete with the big guys.
So in 1965 Pforsich opened — with his brother, Harry — the Sebastopol Hardware Center. It came to seem that he was born to be a small-town retailer.
“He was a special man,” said Marilyn Jones, a member of the Sebastopol family that bought the store from the Pforsich brothers in 1980 and a short time later hired Bob Pforsich to manage it.
“He would fix customers’ lamps, for nothing,” Jones said. “He did many extra things. He was a very humble person.”
Pforsich died Sept. 19 in his sleep at his home in Santa Rosa. He was 84.
It was five days after his death that a grandson, Analy High School student and athlete Carson Pforsich, was seriously injured in a dive into the water at a beach on Bodega Bay.
Bob Pforsich was born in San Francisco in 1932 and grew up in Milbrae, graduating from San Mateo High in 1950. Two years later, he and former classmate Jane Mills married in San Mateo.
He served four years in the Army, stationed mostly in the Seattle area. Following an honorable discharge, he earned a degree in agriculture from the University of Arizona.
He moved with his young family to Sebastopol and began egg farming on Burnside Road.
“Those chicken houses are still there,” said son Andy Pforsich of Sebastopol, a career firefighter and father of the recovering Carson Pforsich.
By now, all of Bob Pforsich’s chicken houses have been converted to other uses.
Finding that he could not compete with larger poultry operations, Pforsich changed course. He and brother Harry founded the Sebastopol Hardware Center, which became a neighborly, go-to place for west Sonoma County ranchers and urban dwellers.
Bob worked the floor and Harry ran the business office.
They strove to carry just about anything a customer would need: not only plumbing, electrical and construction tools and supplies but hay, feed and sporting goods.
Bob Pforsich’s motto: “You can’t sell from an empty wagon.”
“He was so rightly proud of what they established there,” Andy Pforsich said. He and all the other kids of Bob and Harry worked at the store, as did his mother, Jane.
Both brothers were about 50 when, in 1980, they sold the Sebastopol Hardware Center to Jack and Marilyn Jones and to Jack’s brother, Mike.
Jack Jones said they became the beneficiaries of the Pforsich brothers’ “wonderful reputation for service.”
When Mike Jones left the business after a couple of years, Jack Jones asked Bob Pforsich to come back and become the manager. He worked in that capacity until 1998.
“True to his old reputation,” Jones said, “he was a wonderful manager. I learned a lot from him.
“He was such a principled person, in his business life and particularly with his family.”
Bob Pforsich became his wife primary caregiver when Jane lost much of her mobility to multiple sclerosis.
He made extensive adaptations to a motor home so they could travel together.
Jane Pforsich died in 2009.
Son Andy said that as a husband, a businessman and an active member of the community, his father demonstrated always the qualities of a “true gentleman.”
He was preceded in death by his wife and his one daughter, Julie Pyle.
In addition to his son in Sebastopol, he is survived by sons Hugh Pforsich of Sacramento, Guy Pforsich of Bend, Oregon, and Ben Pforsich of Chico; 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services are at 2 p.m. on Nov. 25 at Community Church of Sebastopol.
Pforsich’s family suggests memorial donations to the Carson Pforsich Rehab Fund at any branch of Exchange Bank.