SBS general manager retires after 41 years

Monday morning, Bruce Turkington slept in late.

After almost 41 years working at Spenard Builders Supply, including 34 years as general manager, Turkington, 64, put in his last day Friday at Homer’s local building supply store. That included handing over operations to the new general manager, longtime SBS employee Wakeen Brown, and then celebrating his retirement with a big bash at the Homer Elks Lodge.

“Those midnight calls — ‘I’ve got an emergency. Can you get something for me?’ — those won’t happen anymore,” Turkington said. “It’s my first Monday without having to report to work.”

The Turkingtons are now a fourth-generation Homer family. Bruce is the middle child of the late Bob and Caroline Turkington, who came to Homer in 1948. His older brother, Alan, and younger sister, Gail Presley, still live on the lower Kenai Peninsula. 

Bruce and wife Deb have two children, Ashley and Ryan. Ryan Turkington and his two children live a stone’s throw from his parents, and spending more time with grandchildren is part of the Turkingtons’ retirement plan. Deb Turkington retired in 2015 after working 25 years at Paul Banks Elementary School as the secretary.

Born in Seward back when Homer didn’t have a hospital maternity ward, Bruce Turkington graduated in 1969 from Homer High School. Bob Turkington had the school bus contract for Anchor Point south, and the family used to live in a house near what’s now Fat Olives Restaurant on Ohlson Lane — the old school bus barn. The family home got demolished when the Sterling Highway Bypass went in.

Turkington went to Southern Oregon University, Ashland, graduating in 1974 with a bachelor of science in business and economics. He married Deb after coming back to Homer from college. They’ll take a postponed 40th-anniversary celebration in Hawaii next month.

Turkington commercial fished before starting at SBS and made the decision early in his career to do something else.

“I knew there were good years and bad years. It was time to either stay fishing or stay out of it,” he said. “I decided to use my degree.”

Turkington started at SBS — then known as Superior Building Supply — on April 7, 1975. Alan Turkington had started at Superior Building Supply about 10 months before Bruce and suggested Bruce work there. They both started out at the sales counter. Alan worked his way up to assistant manager and retired from SBS in 2014 just shy of his 40 years.

In 1975, Superior Building Supply had about a dozen employees working at the sales counter, in the office and in the yard. Superior Building Supply was sold to Spenard Builders Supply, then owned by a Washington family. When Turkington started at SBS, sales agents did more than work the counter.

“You not only did sales, you went out, helped load customers,” he said. “You went out and helped with delivery.”

In 1978, Turkington moved to Kodiak to help with acquisition of a new store there. He became general manager of the SBS there and came back to Homer 18 months later. At the Homer SBS, he eventually switched positions with general manager Don Ledger, who wanted to work more with people and less with the corporate structure.

SBS has now grown to about 40 full-time employees, with a few more working in the busy summer and fall months. The old store was about 4,300-square-feet and is now a warehouse next to the newer store, about 22,000-square-feet and built in 1997. In the 1970s, SBS sold everything a contractor needed to build a home, including plumbing, wiring and appliances. The difference is that SBS now offers a bigger, expanded line.

“More product, larger inventories,” Turkington said. “With a bigger store we were able to add product classes we didn’t have in the old days.”

In terms of sticks of 2-by-4 lumber sold in 41 years, Turkington said that would be an astronomical amount to calculate. He estimated volume of sales has grown to about 18 times today what is was in 1975. One marker of volume is that in the summer SBS gets five to six 45-foot trailer flats of lumber, plywood and sheetrock a week. Along with large contracting firms, a lot of SBS’s customers are Homer do-it-yourselfers, people who will build a deck, shed and cabin.

Because of changes in how banks finance home construction, the owner-built market has changed, Turkington said. People used to do a lot of the work themselves. Banks have dictated more work be done by licensed contractors.

“There still are a lot of owner-builders doing their own work,” he said. “Homer’s got a lot of places built with a lot of sweat equity by owners. It might not be a whole house.”

That’s another project on Turkington’s retirement punch list.

“I’m going to start finishing my house right now 39 years later,” he said. “I’ve got some trim to do, too. … That’s the Homer way.”

In addition to working at SBS, Turkington also has put in years of community service. He was on the Homer Advisory Planning Commission from 1977-78 when Homer adopted zoning. He also served six years on the Homer City Council and as president and board member of the South Peninsula Hospital Operating Board. He also has been a wrestling officiator and volunteered in other sports.

That’s part of his advice for working in Homer, he said: volunteer.

“Enjoy the place where you’re living and working. Be part of the community,” he said. “You have to help out the community. You’ve got to help out and be part of it.”

Turkington said he’s seen a lot of managers go through divorce who didn’t know how to balance work and family.

“You’ve got to learn how to relax and not take your work home,” he said. “Learn how to deal with stress and enjoy life.”

Enjoying more of life while he and Deb are well is part of his retirement plan: grandchildren and travel. He’s not going to be a snowbird and winter in Arizona though.

“It’s not good-bye,” he said of retiring. “It’s thank you. We’re going to be part of this community.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at