Civic, business leader Dean Echelbarger dies at 95

1940 Edmonds High graduate instrumental in Edmonds CC’s growth
By Brian Soergel | Aug 23, 2018
Photo by: Edmonds CC From 2014: Edmonds CC President Jean Hernandez sits with Dean Echelbarger, who received the Cornerstone Award for his contributions to the college.

Edmonds civic and business leader Dean Echelbarger, who was given the Cornerstone Award from Edmonds Community in 2014 for his support of the college and its foundation – of which he was a founding member – died Aug. 14. He was 95.

Echelbarger was a south Snohomish County native whose many projects included restoring the historic Beeson Building in downtown Edmonds in 1967.

He grew up in Alderwood Manor and graduated from Edmonds High School in 1940.

He served in the Army during World War II — both in the Pacific and in Europe — and was among the liberators of Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945. He retired from the Army Reserves with the rank of major.

Throughout his career in real estate development, Echelbarger was active in the community — supporting or participating in a number of local organizations.

He served on the boards of the original Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce, Everett Abstract and Title Company, and Seattle First National Bank. He also served as vice-chairman of Pioneer Bank, chairman of United Good Neighbors (predecessor to United Way), and president of Snohomish County Economic Development Council, among others.

Echelbarger was a founding member of the Edmonds CC Foundation in 1982 and served on the board for 14 years. During that time, he helped to build the Applied Technology Training Center (ATTC) at Paine Field in Everett.

Echelbarger’s grandson, Nicholas, is now chairman of the foundation’s board of directors.

“Dean was just extraordinarily generous,” said Edmonds resident Dick Van Hollebeke, a foundation member and member of the EdCC board of trustees for many years. “The college was once a quagmire; when it rained, it was full of mud. Dean spearheaded the paving the parking lot, he and friends and family.”

Van Hollebeke said Echelbarger was also instrumental in raising funds to renovate the library and in seeing the Center for Families come to fruition.

(You can watch Dick van Hollebeke’s 33-minute interview with Dean Echelbarger at

Born in Alderwood Manor

Dean Echelbarger was born Dec. 6, 1922, in once-rural Alderwood Manor – there was no city of Lynnwood at the time – to Leo Franklin and Helen Chase Echelbarger.

At that time, according to Lindsey Echelbarger, one of Dean’s three sons and founder of Cascadia Art Museum, the population of Alderwood Manor was about 150. Edmonds boasted about 1,000 residents.

“His grandparents lived in Edmonds on Sunset Avenue, and he used to visit them often,” Lindsey said. “He remembered walking to DeLand’s Grocery on the corner of Fourth and Main Street with his grandpa, giving the grocery list to Harry DeLand at the counter – no self-serve in those days – and the helper would run around the shelves filling the order and bringing the groceries back to the counter.”

Lindsey added that his father remembered sitting on his own father’s lap at the Princess Theater – now the Edmonds Theater – watching silent movies. This would have been about 1926 or 1927, prior to talkies.

“And because Dad was 4 or 5 and couldn’t read, his father Leo would have to read the subtitles to him. My son Nick takes his daughter to the Edmonds Theater and passes on this story to her.”

Echelbarger’s father owned what became the Edmonds Auto Freight Company. The small family operation held the franchise for all freight hauling for the area between Seattle city limits (then at 85th Street) and Everett.

At 14, the young Echelbarger could be found behind the wheel of a truck driving down Aurora to Seattle to deliver eggs (Alderwood being at the time the second largest producer of eggs in the U.S.).

He told colorful stories of Seattle in the 1930s – meeting the boats from Alaska on “Alaska Day” each week and picking up produce from “Produce Row” down by the Public Market.

In May 1940, Echelbarger lied about his age to enlist with friends in the National Guard to earn some pocket money and have fun with his high school pals at Camp Murray, living in tents and shooting rifles.

After graduating from Edmonds High School in 1940, their lark turned serious when Franklin Roosevelt activated the National Guard in September 1940.

After Pearl Harbor, Echelbarger was sent to Kauai. Accepted in Office Candidate School at Fort Knox, he graduated first in his class and was stationed at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, as a battle training officer.

It was in Clarksville, Tennessee, that he met his future wife, Gladys Thomas. They married May 12, 1944, a union that lasted 57 years, until her death in 2001.

His 20th Armored Division arrived in France in early 1945 and headed to Munich. The 20th Armored was one of the units that liberated the prison camp at Dachau. He and Gladys visited Dachau in 1995 for the unveiling of a plaque honoring the division.

After the surrender of Japan, Echelbarger was demobilized and headed home with his new family. He liked the Army experience and stayed on in the Reserves until 1963, when he retired as a major.

Joining his family business after the war, he, his brothers, and his brother-in-law oversaw the transformation of the freight company into a fuel oil delivery service, becoming one of the largest fuel dealerships in the state.

He was president of the Oil Heat Institute of Washington and served on the board of the Pacific Coast Fuel Dealers Association.

As the Lynnwood/Edmonds/Mill Creek area population grew in the 1950s and ‘60s, Echelbarger saw opportunities in the real estate development field. The fuel business was sold in 1968. He developed thousands of residential lots and built many retail and office buildings in the South Snohomish County region.

“Having seen the formation of the new cities – Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Brier and Woodway – during the 1950s and 1960s, he was an advocate of forming one large city with Edmonds,” Lindsey said.

“Even though south Snohomish County had a huge population and economic base, this fractionalization reduced its political power. That sort of thinking was representative of Dad – always an advocate for efficient government. He didn’t think that having four or five separate police departments and city councils made much sense.”

Echelbarger was asked to serve on many boards and commissions, including Seattle-First National Bank Advisory Board (formerly First National Bank of Everett), Everett Abstract & Title, Commonwealth Title, Federal Capital Leasing and United Good Neighbors (United Way).

In addition to being a founder and president of the Edmonds Community College Foundation, he was president of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council, chairman of the Paine Field/Snohomish County Airport Commission, chairman of the first Lynnwood Planning Commission (in 1959) and vice-chairman of Pioneer Bank.

In 1986, the Snohomish County Executive instituted the Dean Echelbarger Community Service Award. The Herald newspaper wrote a series entitled “The Ten Most Powerful People in Snohomish County” in the 1980s, and Dean was named the second most powerful in the county.

Services for Dean Echelbarger will be held at the Edmonds Methodist Church on Sept 11 at 2 pm with reception following at Cascadia Art Museum. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Edmonds Community College Foundation are encouraged.




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