You might know Gary Nordstrom for serving on the PSAR board of directors for four years (2009-2013). He also has previously served on the Chula Vista Planning Commission (2004-2005) and on the boards of South Bay Family YMCA, Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista and Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce. Additional time spent on other boards and groups have included the Chula Vista Growth Management Oversight Commission, Southwestern College Foundation, United Way South County and Mission Hills Town Council.
But did you know that Gary landed a lunch date with his future wife Gail in very tricky way?
Back in 1981, Gary was managing the auto department at the Sears store in Chula Vista. Gail walked in looking for oil for a compressor owned by her stepfather. She had shopped other stores with no luck and was complaining and frustrated.
As Gary tells the story, “I could have showed her the product a few feet away there on the store shelf. But, instead I said the oil had to be special ordered through the catalog, which meant she had to return to the store to pick it up. Besides, I needed a few days to work-up the nerve to ask her to lunch. She came back to the store and said `yes’ to lunch. Later, I introduced her to my mom who said, `Son, if you let her get away, it will be the biggest mistake of your life.’ That time, I listened to my mom. It turned out to be the best by far customer complaint I ever experienced in my entire career in retail.”
Gary worked 35 years for Sears, retiring in 2002. He started at Sears after serving in the U.S. Army, which included a tour of duty in Vietnam with the First Calvary Division. He got a job at the Sears store at the corner of Cleveland and University avenues in San Diego, a store that was open for more than 33 years starting in 1952. Gary also worked at Sears stores in El Cajon, Barstow and Indio. He worked in management positions overseeing a number of Sears stores in several states at offices in Scottsdale, Ariz. and Irvine, Calif.
While in Barstow in the mid-1980s, Gary served as an elected official on the Barstow Community College board of trustees. He was appointed to fill a vacancy and then won a special election by a 70 percent margin. “It’s not easy being a politician because half the voters are mad at you at any given time,” he said. “I promised myself to never again run for public office. I was once-and-done.”
While managing the Sears store in Indio, Gary said, “I discovered there were employees who had falsified their employment applications and were convicted felons who had been charged with murders and robberies. There were a few times when I felt my life was threatened.”
In 1992, there was no doubt that Gary’s life was threatened when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he believes was caused by exposure to Agent Orange, a powerful mixture of chemical defoliants used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. Agent Orange was later revealed to cause serious health issues, including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer among returning U.S. servicemen. “Soon after my prostate was removed 22 years ago, I got involved with the American Cancer Society,” said Gary. He served from 1995 to 2002 as the state trainer for the ACS Man-to-Man program that supports men and their families cope with prostate cancer.
Today, Gary remains busy as Gail’s real estate partner. “She drives our real estate practice, I just support her any way I can,” said Gary.
Gail began selling real estate in 2002 after a career in nursing. They raised three children, twin girls Nicole and Kelly and son Paul. Gary and Gail have two grandchildren. Nicole and Kelly attended the same high school where current PSAR member Jeff Schaeffer worked as principal.
When the twins were toddlers, they appeared in ads for a department store chain, wearing the latest fashions. The local newspaper wrote about the irony of Gary, a Sears employee, and the Nordstrom girls modeling for the Broadway stores (today, many Broadway stores have become Macy’s or Bloomingdale stores).
Gary said he has enjoyed watching the growth of PSAR in recent years. “It’s a real joy to see the Association mature into a top-notch, full-service organization,” he said. “I’m impressed with its effectiveness and professionalism.”
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Don’t forget to read next week’s story. Hint: She grew up on a farm in West Virginia. She did not attend her high school prom because the family was too poor to afford a formal dress for her to wear.