A night to remember

Chuck Haselwood holds his great-grandson, Chandler, in a break from welcoming his friends and family as they arrive for his birthday celebration. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Chuck Haselwood holds his great-grandson, Chandler, in a break from welcoming his friends and family as they arrive for his birthday celebration.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Much has happened in the past 80 years — the invention of television, the first astronaut blasted into space and 14 men have served as U.S. president.

Meanwhile, here in Bremerton, Chuck Haselwood established himself as one of the most successful and respected self-made businessmen in the state.

Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman proclaimed May 29 as “Chuck Haselwood Day” to the more than 100 friends, family, employees and neighbors gathered in the Admiral Theatre for Haselwood’s 80th birthday celebration that evening.

Haselwood’s wife, Joanne, said holding the public-invited party at the Admiral was particularly fitting because Chuck was there to see the very first film shown when the theater opened in 1942.

“Eighty years is a big milestone and it’s nice to see a lot of people here honoring him, funny thing is he doesn’t like to be the center of attention,” said Haselwood’s stepson Rick Wiler. “He’s very unassuming for a man who has done so much in the community — he doesn’t do things to get the headlines.”

But many of Chuck and Joanne Haselwood’s community efforts have drawn much public attention and praise over the years. The couple, who own several car dealerships comprising the Haselwood Auto Group, is known throughout the area for philanthropic support of community projects, including Pendergast Park, Olympic College’s Haselwood Library and the new Bremerton Ice Arena.

“Chuck is known as Mr. Admiral Theatre, Mr. Ice Skating Rink, Mr. Olympic College...perhaps Bremerton will become known as ‘Haselwood City,’” joked 25-year friend Ken Ward while onstage at the party.

All kidding aside, Haselwood has left an indelible mark on his adopted city. As told by friends and family, his meteoric rise to success is a tale of ingenuity, integrity and long hours of old-fashioned hard work. It all began when Haselwood arrived in Bremerton in 1942 as an 18-year-old looking for work, which he found by pumping gas at Speed’s Service Station.

“We grew up during the Depression and money was hard to come by. I think we always wanted a better life and we worked toward that,” said Lillian Plunkett, Haselwood’s older sister by two years. “I knew a long time ago that he’d be successful, but I don’t think I ever imagined he’d be where he is today.”

Many of the friends Haselwood made during his early years in Bremerton attended his birthday party and several reminisced and shared old stories with the crowd. Don Bryce was a 12-year-old paperboy hanging out at Speed’s when he first met Haselwood in 1942.

“Chuck kept me out of trouble when I was younger and he taught me a lot, I’m kind of like his little brother I guess,” Bryce said. “He tries to do the best for everyone and has helped a lot of people — he’s not any different than when he didn’t have a dime.”

While working at Speed’s, Haselwood began turning a profit by buying and selling used cars on the side, even selling one to his then-boss. After spending two-and-a-half years overseas serving alongside General Patton in World War II, Haselwood returned to Bremerton and opened his first car dealership, Chuck’s Used Cars, on Sixth Street and Park Avenue.

Haselwood recalls that advertising in those early years consisted of standing out on the sidewalk near his dealership and waving to passing motorists. His strategy usually paid off because often those drivers would return to the dealership to “find out who this guy was waving, and I’d sell them a car.”

“Car dealers are not the most highly regarded, but from the day he became a car salesman, he has raised the image of car dealers immeasurably,” said Mel Wortman, who has known Haselwood for 62 years. “He’s been great for the car business and the car business has been good to him. I’m proud to say I’m a friend of Chuck’s, he’s an outstanding guy in my view.”

Haselwood eventually expanded Chuck’s Used Cars into a chain of successful car dealerships in what became the Haselwood Auto Group, an automotive empire in the Puget Sound region. But as those who know him will attest, Haselwood never let success go to his head.

“He gives back everything he can — if you need help on some project, he’s there,” said former Bremerton Mayor Louis Mentor, who has known Haselwood since 1963. “There’s nothing pretentious about him, he’s just one of the good old boys.”

Haselwood’s daughter, Stephanie Armstrong, said her father has no plans of slowing down any time soon. He continues going to work every day, although he no longer puts in 12-hour days, six days a week. She said he enjoys his businesses, which have become a stopping place where his friends go to visit, as well as remaining actively involved in the community.

“The community has been very good to me so I have to give back a little to feel right. One good turn warrants another,” a humbled Haselwood said after his birthday party. “But marrying my wife, that’s my biggest accomplishment.”

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