Meet Your Neighbor: Lila Leathers-Fitz
Few people can say they know their neighbors as well as Lila Leathers-Fitz. The long time Boring and Gresham resident established a large chain of gas stations, became a major figure in East County and has served her community and neighbors for several decades.
Born in Raymondville, Texas, Leathers-Fitz moved with her family to Boring when she was 5 years old. Though the transition to Oregon was difficult, Leathers-Fitz couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
"We started out in Boring," Leathers-Fitz remembers. "I went to Sandy High School along with my three brothers." Leathers-Fitz said that growing up in the Boring area was perfect — it was small but had everything she and her family needed.
Though she loved everything about the town, life wasn't always as pristine as her surroundings. Leathers-Fitz father left home shortly after making the move to Oregon, leaving her mother alone with the children. Despite being dealt a tough hand, Leathers-Fitz remembers her mother never folding. Leathers-Fitz said something she always remembers about her mom was her strong work ethic and dedication to her children's education.
"My mom raised all of us by herself," Leathers-Fitz said. "Each one of us worked in the berry fields to get by. I like to think she raised four workaholics. She was, wonderful, she was very caring for all of us. We knew she loved us, but she always let us know what she thought.
With her strong work ethic engrained in her soul thanks to her mom, Leathers-Fitz wasted no time working on her own.
After getting married and starting her family, Leathers-Fitz bought her first gas station in 1959 in Sandy. Her first gas station still stands today between Mt. Hood Highway and Alt Avenue.
Leathers-Fitz would again feel the sting of abandonment when her then husband left the young family leaving Leathers-Fitz to raise their two children. Though a tough time for Leathers-Fitz, she still remembers how fun and interesting it was to be pumping gas for folks around town.
"It was actually a lot of fun pumping gas; I remember it was like a game trying to find where some car's gas tanks were hidden," Leathers-Fitz said. "I enjoyed doing it and being I am people person I got to meet and talk to so many people, so that was another bonus."
At the same time, Leathers-Fitz also reached out to work at the First National Bank in Gresham. While working for the bank as the drive-in-window teller, Leathers-Fitz also went to banking school where she one of the schools' top students.
After her schooling Leathers-Fitz moved her family to Gresham, right next door to the bank. She would act as a rotating employee, taking any position at the bank when their usual employee fell sick. She was doing all of this will also maintaining her gas station and raising two children.
As her gas station business grew, Leathers-Fitz started buying more and more locations. At one point she owned 44 Leathers Fuel stations and convenient stores throughout Oregon.
As of now, Leathers Fuel has 27 fuel stations, truck stop and convenient store locations thanks to Leathers-Fitz.
Leathers-Fitz's success did not go unnoticed. She would become president of many local and state organizations including the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce, Oregon Petroleum Marketers and the National Association of Texaco Wholesalers just to name a few.
What was even more impressive was that she was the first women to take up these roles. Leathers-Fitz would be the first women to be president of Oregon Petroleum Marketers' Association, Pacific Oil Conference and the National Association of Texaco Wholesalers.
Leathers-Fitz said that being the only woman in a male dominated field was strange at first, but she was luckily surrounded by extremely kind and positive people.
"I never felt excluded, in fact, many of the men there really pushed me to be move on up," Leathers-Fitz said. "I think the one thing that really scared me was being the first woman president on some of the boards."
In mid-July Leathers-Fitz was awarded with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oregon Fuels Association. She said she was genuinely surprised by the award.
"It was a total surprise, but a great honor to be recognized by my peers that way," Leathers-Fitz said.
Leathers-Fitz said she is extremely grateful of the community that has supported her, her family and her business.
"(Doing this work) has been my life's love and it has been so fun," Leathers-Fitz said. "I have made so many friends in the industry, I have gotten to work with my family and I have been surrounded by so many great employees and drivers who are just fantastic."
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