Brian Mittge Commentary: Boo to Firebugs; Woohoo to Good Samaritans


As I drove home from work in Olympia on Wednesday, I was a little surprised to see fire crews responding to a wildfire in the brush alongside the freeway in the urban area across the interstate from Costco. Cars were backed up several miles behind the blaze. I grew more puzzled as I saw more fires every few miles, all on the east side of the northbound lanes. It was odd that there were no fires on my side of the freeway.

My surprise turned to dismay when I read that the Washington State Patrol is looking for someone in a blue or black box-style SUV suspected of setting these fires and more along Highway 101 up into Mason County — a total of 12 possible cases of arson.

A firebug lighting up blazes in the middle of a drought makes a guy pretty crabby about the state of humanity.

However, my faith in our fellow man was restored when I learned about the good Samaritans with All County Rooter & Repair, who happened to be driving a full 500-gallon tanker southbound down I-5 that afternoon. They saw one of the fires burning near Scatter Creek and quickly turned around. They used their hoses to help fight the blaze until firefighters could arrive.

“They helped significantly,” said Trooper Robert Reyer.

Thanks to the helpful folks at Centralia’s All County Rooter & Repair for reminding us that the good guys outnumber the bad guys. That’s like a cool breeze and a refreshing ice-cold beverage in this long, hot summer.


A Teacher for Life

I was sad to hear that my friend Bill Leth recently died at age 86.

Bill was well-known in Centralia, where he taught journalism, business classes and advised the school newspaper at Centralia High School for 30 years, starting in 1962.

I met him after he retired. Unable to fully commit to retirement, apparently, Bill took a job as a teller at Twin County Credit Union (known today as TwinStar). I was a brand new teller there as well in my first job out of high school back in the mid-1990s.

Truth be told, I was a wet-behind-the-ears 17-year-old. I quickly found myself admiring and looking up to gray-haired Bill with his easygoing manner, utter professionalism and unflappable good humor.

I remember one evening when we tallied up the number of transactions we had completed that day, I happened to see his number and was astounded to learn that he had literally served twice as many members as I did. I had maybe 100 transactions in a day, and he had more than 200.

I found myself watching him even more closely from then on out, trying to learn his secrets and imitate what he was doing right.

What I saw was that without fanfare and without rushing anyone, he finished his job efficiently but always with a smile and a friendly word to the customer. Then he got right to helping the next person in line. It wasn’t rocket science, but could see him utilizing a whole slate of skills he had honed over a lifetime. He made it look easy, but I realized I’d have to work hard for years to achieve his level of skills that went far beyond simple bank tellering.

I also noticed that some of my coworkers liked to crab and complain, but Bill was like a zen master. Nothing bothered him. He met every obstacle with a laugh, a smile and a solution.

I liked that attitude. I hoped that a little of it might rub off on me.

In short, I never took a class from Bill Leth, but I learned a lot from him.

It’s a good reminder: a person never knows the impact they have on others. Whatever you do, do it right. You never know who’s watching and what life you’re improving simply by living your own life well.


Dad Joke of the Week

Q: What do you call a guy wandering around the Mariners infield, looking for their third baseman?

A: He’s a Kyle Seeker.

(Apologies to actual Mariners third-baseman and Gold Glove Award winner Kyle Seager, who is not responsible for the content of this joke.)


Please send your Bill Leth anecdotes, stories of good Samaritans, and punderful dad jokes to Brian Mittge at