Good-bye REI

It just so happens I gave my notice at REI this week, just ahead of Jerry Stritzke handing in his letter of resignation over a “consensual relationship” with the head of some other outdoor company. I didn’t play a big role in REI- I was an Action Sports Specialist in the Bend, OR store for 5 years, and then again in Portland for the last two years, mostly part-time.

Les, Jerry, Lori, Doug from REI
Before the ride with CEO Jerry Stritzke and other REI high-ups- no helmet head yet.

Even so, I got to know Jerry just a bit. He came down to Bend to mountain bike, and my manager asked if I could help lead the ride, the token female. Almost everyone went down on that ride, and when Jerry hit the dirt I was off my bike fast, grabbing my phone, just for the fun of getting a pic of our CEO eating the trail. But Jerry was quicker, up and out of the dirt before I could say “cheese.”

Jerry came down to Bend again for our store of the year party- we were the only store to win the honor two years in a row– and I happened to ride the lift to the top of Mt. Bachelor with him. Our group of employees enjoyed a beautiful sunset dinner with Jerry that night on top of the mountain. Jerry showed up at our store the next morning and made us all pancakes and sausage for breakfast. We sat down and asked him questions over coffee. What I remember most from that morning, aside from the fact that the CEO of REI was cooking for us, was the bracelet Jerry was wearing. I hadn’t noticed it when we were biking, but it was one of those unmistakable beaded bracelets with the letters WWJD?

It was the first thing that came to mind when I heard Jerry resigned.

Jerry and I have a lot in common. We’re about the same age, but I’ve three years more of marriage and three more children than he has (he’s been married 37 years with three kids). I believe in Jesus, but I’ve never worn the bracelet. Maybe I’ve always been afraid I might do something to bring shame to the name- I’m certainly capable.

This is my job as an action sports specialist- hang bikes on the ceiling!
hanging a bike on the ceiling at REI!

I think Jerry wore the bracelet to remind himself to ask that question. The guy I rode bikes with and had dinner and breakfast with seemed to be a man of integrity, the man Jerry wanted, or wants to be. Authenticity became our buzz word when Jerry took the helm, after Sally Jewell was named Secretary of the Interior by President Obama. Sally left behind some pretty hefty hiking sandals to fill.

And Jerry did well, seemingly, and we all loved him. He instituted the Black Friday Boycott, paying us all to take the day off and #OptOutside. I’ve never worked for a more employee friendly company or organization. Just about everyone who worked for the co-op displayed a deep sense of pride- this company was different. We may not get paid a lot, but we had good benefits and great values.

That was the way it always felt. And that’s why it’s right for Jerry to step down. As disappointed as I feel as an employee (for 10 more days), I imagine how his partner of 37 years might feel– betrayed?– I realize I’m putting all my own history into that. But I hope he’s apologized to his wife and children for living a double life (there’s no hint of that in his statement, only how he’s let REI down…).

I hope there’s a lot of grace in his relationships and family, no matter how they all decide to go forward. Being a public figure must magnify the pain and confusion for everyone, at least that’s what I imagine.

I wonder what happened to the bracelet.

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