ANACORTES — Richard “Dick” Nelson, who co-founded the Dakota Creek Industries shipyard, was honest, humble, loved what he did, and put employees first, say those who knew him.
Nelson died Thursday after a battle with cancer, Dakota Creek Industries announced. He was 78.
“The biggest thing is first and foremost he cared about the employees,” said his son Mike Nelson.
Mike Nelson said his father first got into the shipbuilding industry at age 20 painting the bottoms of boats in Bellingham.
At 33, Dick Nelson co-founded Dakota Creek Industries at a small shipyard in 1975 in Blaine. In 1977, the company relocated to a larger facility on Port of Anacortes property on the Guemes Channel in Anacortes.
The company has grown to about 350 employees today, Mike Nelson said.
The shipyard has built fishing vessels, scientific research vessels, high-speed ferries, tugboats and more, and also serves as a repair facility for clients such as Washington State Ferries.
“It’s a pretty powerful business for the marine industry and a pretty powerful business to Skagit County and Anacortes,” said Don Wick, former director of the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County.
Dakota Creek Industries is known nationally and internationally for its high-quality work.
“(Dick Nelson’s) striking quality was his humility, he was so humble,” Wick said.
Dan Worra, executive director of the Port of Anacortes, said Dick Nelson was loyal to his employees and they were loyal to him.
Worra said one longtime Dakota Creek Industries employee, Brad Breckenridge, who was recently honored by the port with a partner service award, got his first job from Dick Nelson and eventually became shipyard foreman.
“Like many, many people he thought so highly of Dick,” Worra said.
Dan Peth, an Edison rancher, served with Dick Nelson for over a decade on the Skagit Bank board.
“He was very quiet, but when he talked, people listened,” Peth said.
Former Anacortes City Council member Erica Pickett said Dick Nelson was always willing to help out. She recalls how he once lent a manlift to help a local group set up a Christmas tree.
“He didn’t have to do that, he had his hands full with a shipyard,” she said.
Mike Nelson, who started working at Dakota Creek Industries at 18, said he admires his father’s work ethic and how he treated employees as equals.
“I would like to continue that,” he said.
He said his father was proud of many shipbuilding projects and had friends in the business throughout the world.
“It’s what meant everything to him right to the end,” Mike Nelson said. “I talked to him every day about what was going on in the shipyard, and he didn’t lose track of what was going on at all.”