A. Keith Uddenberg founded chain of local grocery stores

A. Keith Uddenberg, who shaped his grocery chain into one of Washington's largest privately held businesses and who helped found Gig Harbor, achieved success without losing his common touch.

He inspired loyalty in customers and employees. He supported cohesion in the community. He encouraged an "everybody knows your name" feeling in his stores.

In 1997 he sold the chain of stores, which once stretched from Everett to Vancouver, Wash., and from Port Angeles to Kirkland, to Quality Food Centers for $65 million.

But customers still shop at a Gig Harbor Thriftway bearing his name, drive to the post office along Uddenberg Lane and frequent two Uddenberg shopping centers.

"He was honest, fair and a remarkable judge of character," said Pat Maldon, office manager of Keith Uddenberg Inc.

"Anybody could walk into his office any time to talk. Yet he would drop everything to attend to family. He ran a multimillion-dollar business, but Keith was first and foremost a family man."

Mr. Uddenberg died Tuesday (Aug. 8) of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 85.

Born and reared in Gig Harbor, he played high-school football and helped at the 1,500-square-foot grocery owned by his mother. During the Depression he drove an oil truck, then returned to the store.

"He bought it from his mother, and then she worked for him, which was a switch," said nephew Sig Uddenberg of Gig Harbor.

A. Keith Uddenberg was excluded from the military during World War II because of an old football injury to his back.

In the mid-1940s he was active in the group that made Gig Harbor a city. Elected to one of the first City Council positions, he helped the community incorporate in 1946. He served on the City Council until 1962.

Mr. Uddenberg always sought to expand his business. He bought some land, then acquired the business and equipment of an old Safeway store, and built his first 5,000-square-foot supermarket.

He added properties until the 1980s, when his 35 stores - including the discount Stock markets - made up the state's largest privately held supermarket chain.

Mr. Uddenberg served for 22 years on the board of directors of Associated Grocers, several years as chairman. He was named Grocer of the Year in 1980.

He belonged to the Elks and Lions clubs, maintaining his civic involvement over the years.

"But he never lost his perspective for his family," said his nephew. "He never had a whole lot of outside interests. He enjoyed his supermarkets and his family."

Also surviving are his wife of 58 years, Dee Uddenberg; children Lori, Debbie and Keith; a granddaughter; and an extended family.

Services will be at 2 p.m. tomorrow at a church Mr. Uddenberg helped found, Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, 7700 Skansie Ave., Gig Harbor. Donations may go to the church, P.O. Box 829, Gig Harbor, WA 98335.

"He never put on airs," said the Rev. Stuart Bond of Chapel Hill.

"He never forgot what a regular guy was like and had a common touch. If people would make a mistake, he would say, `Just move on.' He was an incredible guy who inspired incredible loyalty."

Carole Beers' e-mail address is cbeers@seattletimes.com.