During his 91 years, Oscar Rosenkrantz has watched Grays Harbor go through a series of ups and downs. He remembers the tail end of the Roaring ’20s, the hardships of the 1930s, the heyday of the lumber industry and the area’s more recent economic decline.
Through those times — both good and bad — Rosenkrantz and the family business, Western Steel & Supply, have been staples of the Aberdeen community. And because of his perseverance, Rosenkrantz was named this year’s Polson Museum Pioneer of the Year.
“He really captures the pioneer spirit,” said Polson Museum Director John Larson. “They’ve been through a few hard times at Western Steel, but they’ve stuck around and I think that’s because of how Oscar runs the place. When you talk to him, you really understand his business philosophy. He sees his business relationships as friendships and you don’t see that anymore.”
Rosenkrantz will be honored at a reception hosted by the museum at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Grays Harbor PUD’s Nichols Building in Aberdeen.
Western Steel & Supply is nearly as old as Rosenkrantz — he was born in 1923, and the company was incorporated in 1924. Back then, the business was called Western Machinery Exchange and its main purpose was to salvage and refurbish old mill machinery.
Remnants of Western Steel & Supply’s history remain at the company’s warehouse: the old welding shop, the former machine shop and the train tracks that run through the building’s tall doors. Goods used to be delivered to the business by train, and the rail cars were parked inside for loading.
The building has undergone several changes, too. The roof was replaced after a 2008 storm, the warehouse is now filled with steel building materials instead of old mill machinery and the floors are made of concrete.
“The floors weren’t like this when I was 10 years old and was hired to sweep,” Rosenkrantz said. “They were made of wood — long, wooden boards.”
As a 13-year-old, he was given a promotion: he became the company’s crane operator. He remembers climbing a thin, wooden ladder into the rafters of the building and operating the 35-ton bridge crane from a crows nest.
“But it could lift more than (35 tons),” Rosenkrantz said. “We once lifted 50 tons with it because we thought it was a 50 ton crane. But I’m sure it could have lifted 75 tons.”
He worked at the company until he graduated from Weatherwax High School in 1941 and left for college. Soon after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Rosenkrantz enlisted in the Navy. He attended flying school and later served in the Pacific and the occupation of Tokyo Bay.
Rosenkrantz’s father, William Rosenkrantz, died suddenly in 1945 and left the business to Oscar Rosenkrantz and his siblings, Alex Rosenkrantz and Minnie Sternoff. Instead of returning to college, Rosenkrantz moved back to Aberdeen upon leaving the Navy in 1947.
He’s lived there ever since, working at Western Steel & Supply the entire time.
“I had a lot of help from the mill owners,” Rosenkrantz said. “We would have never made it otherwise.”
He and his wife, Jacqueline, were married in 1950 and the couple had four children: Jill, Jody, Julie and William. Rosenkrantz also has several grandchildren.
He has also attended Temple Beth Israel in Aberdeen for many years, and is especially proud of a large candelabra hanging near the door — which he designed and helped weld.
“Underneath it is a sign that reads, ‘let there be light,’” Rosenkrantz said. “And you can take that in more ways than one.”
Rosenkrantz said that overall, he’s lived a happy, lucky life — through the “glory days” and hard times.
“I’ve seen a lot of different days,” Rosenkrantz said. “But you learn that they’re all glory days when you get older.”