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Developer Joe Mentor dies at 70

A captain of Kitsap commerce is silent.

Kitsap County businessman and Tracyton resident Joe Mentor, 70, died Monday, Sept. 1, after suffering a heart attack during a family vacation in Canada.

Mentor was driving a family vehicle in Agassiz, B.C. when he was stricken. He was taken to a hospital in Chilliwack, B.C. where he was pronounced dead. Mentor’s extended family was on an annual trek to Harrison Hot Springs, something they had done for 40 years, according to Joe Mentor Jr.

“It was right out of a movie,” Joe Jr. said of his father’s death. “He was in a place he loved. He was with family. We had a great weekend together. One of the last things he said was ‘where are my kids?’”

A longtime developer of various properties in Kitsap County, Mentor was a colorful figure, never far from the headlines. Mentor owned and developed property in Silverdale, Bremerton, Poulsbo and Port Orchard.

Joe Jr. said his father was most proud of the El Dorado Hills development south of Silverdale, “although the (Howard Johnson) motel might have been his greatest challenge.

Mentor enjoyed developing restaurants including the Bayview Inn (now Panda Inn), the Sandpiper Restaurant, Mongolian Grill, Fiesta Mexican restaurants, Brother Don’s and most recently a series of fish restaurants called J.J.’s in Port Orchard and Poulsbo that his daughter and son-in-law operate.

“He gave and he took. He liked to buy property and he liked to move things,” said longtime friend Paul Zellinsky, although Zellinsky said Mentor never met a planning department he got along with.

Most recently, Mentor was developing a mall property he owned on Perry Avenue in Bremerton which included Garguile’s Red Apple Market and other businesses.

“He refused to accept Bremerton as a place without a future,” said Joe Jr.

Mentor was a lighting rod in the community for his often unorthodox development methods and outspoken views on politics and civic affairs.

“He rubbed people the wrong way,” said Joe Jr. “He was incredibly stubborn. He was increasingly frustrated with government regulations. He did things his way. Over time, he created a bit of a bow wave for himself and that was unfortunate. But he was a visionary. He could look at a building or a property and see things that other people couldn’t.”

Mentor had just celebrated his 70th birthday as well as his 15th wedding anniversary with his wife Juanita.

Mentor was a doting father who insisted his children have the best possible education. Several of his children are attorneys.

Mentor enjoyed business, but he cherished family.

“Joe was always there for his kids,” said longtime friend John Law.

Joe Jr. said, “he wanted us all around him, all the time. He would usually call us every morning.”

Silverdale civic activist Hank Mann-Sykes said Mentor never earned credit for his unseen generosity.

Mentor drove a 1969 El Camino that was legendary among his friends for its 600,000 plus miles and many engine changes.

“He didn’t drive a Porche, didn’t drive a Cadillac, though he certainly could afford one,” said Mann-Sykes. “He didn’t wear fancy suits and he could afford those too. He took care of his family and he took care of his community in ways you will never know.”

Mentor’s younger brother Louis, who served as Bremerton mayor from 1988-92 told a newspaper reporter in 1996 a story capturing the mercurial relationship friends and relatives had with Joe Mentor.

“He could disagree on something that’s worth five dollars for hours, and then turn around and take you out for a $50 dinner.”

Mentor often brushed off the differences he had with people, attributing it to small town pettiness. In an article in the CK Reporter in 1996, Mentor said, “I think I’m a good, moral guy. When you’re in a small town all your life, you get people who are, inevitably, jealous of you. If I was that bad, nobody would do business with me.”

Mentor, though an active businessman in the community, always found time for a 10 a.m. coffee klatsch of older men who meet daily at Just Your Cup o’ Tea in Bremerton to discuss current events and to razz one another.

“He’s the only guy from that group who ever left a tip,” said Pat Wright, shop co-owner with his wife Susan.

Susan Wright said whether it was raining, stormy or terrible weather, Mentor’s greeting never varied.

“Good morning. Beautiful morning this morning,” Wright said, “As if just saying it would make you believe it.”

One of Mentor’s longtime cronies is Cap DeMiero, Bremerton jazz musician and barber.

When asked what Mentor might want for a gravestone epitaph, DeMiero mused only a moment.

“Finally ... I didn’t need a permit.”

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