Prominent Albany business owner Bill Yutzie was a gregarious man who lived life to the fullest with a smile in his eyes, relatives said on Saturday, the day after the 67-year-old was killed in a head-on car crash on Highway 20.
“He worked hard, he played hard and he loved his family,” said son Tyler Yutzie of Roseburg. “He would come into the room and his laughter and his smile would pretty much take over. You always knew when he was around.”
Yutzie was quick to make a joke, and with a ponytail and beard, he even looked like he'd be the life of the party. But brother Steve Yutzie said he also was loyal and kindhearted.
“Once you were a friend of his, you were always a friend,” he added.
Yutzie owned Bill’s Flower Tree in downtown Albany, at 305 Washington St. S.W., for about 40 years and had retired in January 2014 after selling the business to his niece, Tami Yutzie-Morin.
While attending Albany Union High School, Yutzie was active in sports and sang for a rock band. He also worked for Gilmore's Florist in Albany.
After graduating, a stint in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and a job with a flower shop in Washington, he returned to his hometown and bought Gilmore's.
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Mayor Sharon Konopa expressed sadness about Yutzie’s death in an email Saturday.
“He was extremely supportive for years with many local nonprofits and his flower business is a landmark in Albany. Bill’s beautiful creations will always be remembered,” she said.
Oscar Hult, owner of the Natty Dresser and former executive director of the Albany Downtown Association, said that Yutzie was helpful to new businesses in town.
“He was always friendly and outgoing, and I think this is just a horrible, horrible thing. What a tragedy,” he added.
The fatal crash happened at about 11:40 a.m. Friday on Highway 20 just east of Albany. Yutzie was headed westbound in his 1999 Dodge van when a 2003 Jaguar sedan headed eastbound swerved into his lane.
The driver of the Jaguar, Gary Ramsey Jr., 49, of Boring, also died in the crash.
Witnesses told Oregon State Police that the Jaguar looked like it was moving to pass another eastbound vehicle.
Steve Yutzie said his brother survived a health scare about three months ago, when he almost died due to a bad reaction from a medication.
“He came back and now to have him taken this way … totally devastating,” Steve Yutzie said.
Tyler Yutzie said his dad was finally learning how to enjoy retirement after selling Bill’s Flower Tree.
On Tuesday, Bill and his wife Linda had returned from a month-long trip through Arizona in their mobile home. They had another RV trip planned.
Now the Yutzie family is mourning, as are other mid-Willamette Valley residents.
“He’s going to be missed by a lot of people,” Tyler Yutzie said.
Yutzie is survived by Linda, son Tyler Yutzie and his wife Regina, daughter Jill Brown and husband Jeremy Brown of Vancouver, Wash., stepson Mike McKenzie of Portland, and five grandsons.
Kyle Odegard can be reached at email@example.com, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.Â