Interview Time: A Peek Into The Life Of Dr. Richard Old - Teacher, Scientist, Entrepreneur, Jack-Of-All-Trades, And Living Legend of Pullman, Washington
Richard Old: Owner of Estate Services
Meet Dr. Richard Old: 5th Generation Whitman County Resident, Farm Owner, Estate Liquidation Expert, Weed Identification Specialist, Forensic Scientist, Teacher, Author, Entrepreneur, Jack-Of-All-Trades
A business interview by Andreas Gross
Pictures and photographs provided for use in this article by Richard Old
Date of Interview: July 25, 2021
This interview first appeared in the the Fall/Winter 2021 4th Edition of The Pullmanic, published on September 18, 2021, a newsletter about Pullman, Washington, also produced and published by Andreas Philip Gross Enterprises. This is the newsletter being referred to in the opening paragraph of the interview. You can access that newsletter here. You can access previous editions of the newsletter on The City of Pullman Portal website, The Pullmanic page, a website by Andreas Philip Gross Enterprises.
For this edition of The Pullmanic, I was able to catch up with Pullman’s famed and acclaimed Dr. Richard Old and get him to share his story with us. Being an entrepreneurial small business owner and running Estate Services is just one venture this multi-talented 5th generation Whitman County resident is engaged in, but let’s hear about it from him, in his own words! Richard, let’s start from the beginning here, shall we? Tell us your story please…
Certainly, Andreas. And thank you for reaching out to me. I’m happy to share my story here in the Fall/Winter 2021 Edition of The Pullmanic. I was born in Colfax (due to the fact there was no maternity ward in Pullman) and raised on a farm near Albion. My Dad, Pat Old, knew everyone and everyone seemed to know him. He was well known for reciting poetry to anyone who would listen :). My mother, Dr. Leila Old, taught clothing and textiles at both Washington State University and the University of Idaho. She taught televised courses long before distance education became popular. I attended grades K-12 in Pullman (celebrated my 50th class reunion just this past summer!) and received both my baccalaureate and master’s degrees from WSU; my doctorate in plant science is from the University of Idaho. I have been doing plant identifications for WSU since 1976 and for the University of Idaho since 1984. For my doctorate, I created a computerized expert system to identify plants which became my company XID Services. My expert system and databases have been used worldwide and have led me to lecture internationally, including chairing a session at the International Botanical Conference and speaking at The Smithsonian. I have taken over 22,000 pictures of invasive plants which are used to illustrate my interactive computer databases. I started Estate Services in 1985 when I was still working at the University of Idaho; guess I just didn’t have enough to do :).
My wife Tena and I have two children. They both attended Pullman schools. My son Patrick works as a software engineer at Nike in Oregon. My daughter Hannah recently returned to the area, and is living in Moscow. She is following in my entrepreneurial footsteps, having started her own business, Clarity Pilates (https://www.clarityclassicalpilates.com), after teaching at a widely renowned Pilates studio in Seattle for five years.
Wonderful, Richard. What a life! A regular Renaissance Man, if I may say so. And you’ve got a next generation entrepreneur in your family as well – your daughter. Good on her for getting her own Pilates outfit up and running. Speaking of entrepreneurs, what else can you tell us about Estate Services? What is the focus of the company?
The focus of my business is helping people who are faced with trying to figure out what to do with large amounts of personal property, either from an estate or due to moving into smaller quarters. If contacted early enough in the process, I can relieve them of a tremendous amount of work, expense and stress, allowing them to focus their efforts strictly on the items they wish to retain.
And where exactly did the inspiration to start an estate liquidation business as such come from?
When my father moved to the farm I grew up on in 1935, he had gone through the Depression, was 23 years old, and that farm was the 23rd place he had lived. As a result, he had never had the chance to have many possessions. So after moving there, he never threw anything away (and he lived there until he was over 100)! When I was a kid, our Sunday recreation consisted of going to the dump, not to throw things away, but to see what we could find to bring home. It was, and is, deeply ingrained in me that, “To waste is a sin.” One of the tenants of Estate Services is my commitment to recycling and donating as a way of keeping things out of the landfill. My mother specialized in the history of costume (in this context, “costume” is the clothing of an era, not what is worn on stage.). The Leila Old Historic Costume Collection at the University of Idaho is named after her (https://www.uidaho.edu/cals/family-and-consumer-sciences/teaching-labs/leila-old-historic-costume-collection). These two influences, one of accumulation and the other of preservation, are what led me to establish Estate Services.
Very sound reasoning indeed, Richard. Now you’ve got me thinking about my grandparents, rest in peace, who lived through the Great Depression and kept every tin can, bent nail, and chipped coffee mug that ever came their way – even though they had plenty of those things already and everything else under the sun!
Tell us, Richard, what makes Estate Services stand out? Why should someone use Estate Services as opposed to just dealing with their stuff themselves?
The tagline for my business is “Keep EVERYTHING you want. We deal with EVERYTHING else.” Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases people do not contact me until they have exhausted themselves dealing with the stuff they don’t want. In many instances the first thing people do while handling an estate or moving is order a dumpster and proceed to throw out anything/everything they do not want or recognize to have value. See some of the stories of what I have encountered at https://webuyandsellstuff.com/pages/updates.html.
I have seen many houses that have sat vacant for months and even years while people dealt with the contents. Since they are paying taxes, insurance, and utilities, this is costing them hundreds of dollars each month. By leaving a place vacant the only thing they can gain, in addition to their monthly bills, is thieves, rodents, and broken pipes. If they would focus on just keeping the things they want and call Estate Services at the beginning of the process, they would save time, money, energy, and greatly reduce their stress. This would also allow the house to be sold much more quickly, alleviating many potential problems and expenses.
You hear that, Pullman?! If you’re looking to liquidate large amounts of personal property, don’t haul, call! Call Richard at Estate Services, that is! And on that note, as a small business owner in Pullman, Washington, and as an individual, what kinds of people are you looking to network with, Richard?
Estate attorneys, realtors, retirement homes – really anyone or any business that has interactions with people who could benefit from my services.
What aspect of running Estate Services presents the greatest challenge to you?
Ninety percent of the time when people call me they have already spent a vast amount of time and resources disposing of things that Estate Services would have taken care of for them. Frequently they are far past the point that my services are of any value. Several times a month I hear people say, “Gee, I wish I would have known about you when . . . “. I belong to a Facebook group for Professional Estate Liquidators, and I see that everyone in my business faces this same problem. An auctioneer put it very well when they said, “Most of the time I would like to trade them straight across, what we got in the sale for what they threw in the dump.”
That has to be maddening when a situation like that unfolds and both you and your client come to realize just what has been laid to waste in the local dump – and not to mention the energy wasted by the clients themselves before calling you! On the flip side, there have to be positives to running the business as well. What aspect of running Estate Services gives you the greatest joy or would be the aspect that you consider to be the most rewarding?
Being able to actually help people that are in a difficult and stressful situation. You can see some letters from my former clients here: https://webuyandsellstuff.com/pages/references.html.
Wonderful, Richard! Yes, that feeling of knowing you were actually able to help someone out is priceless. It’s one of the primary reasons I’m in the service industry myself. And right along the same line of helping others, what would you say to someone who wanted to go down a track like yours or a similar one? You know, someone who wanted to get into running an estate liquidation business, or a similar kind of business in Pullman or small-town U.S.A. in general – any advice or words of wisdom that you would care to share?
People often comment to me about how “fun” or “glamorous” my business is. They only see the sales after the vast majority of the work has been done and have no idea as to the reality of the situation. There is a lot of work to be done in any residence. But in addition to the nice clean places I encounter, I also work in some places where I deal with lots of dust, mold, mouse poop, hazardous chemicals, garbage, pet residue, etc. I still suffer some health effects from the first estate I worked on 36 years ago.
Wow! Lingering health effects from the very first estate you worked on 36 years ago – and you stayed in business! You are performing a true service to humanity, Richard! It just shows that you can’t keep a person from doing what he or she truly loves and feels destined to do.
Now let’s talk a little bit about life in Pullman in general and how you fit into the community here beyond your Estate Services business. Let’s be honest here: you are somewhat of a living legend in Pullman. A master of weed identification – even using your plant identification expertise to deliver speeches for the Smithsonian and to fight crime with the Spokane P.D. – you’ve also written books, taught classes, developed invasive weed identification software, you own a farm here in the area…..and the list of amazing things seems to never end! I feel like there is a treasure trove of stories inside your head.
Despite the fact that I teach classes on ethnobotany (edible and useful plants) and the poisonous plants field trips for the Veterinary School at WSU, my particular field of interest and expertise is newly invasive weed species. We are operating in an informational vacuum when it comes to knowing what goes on around us as far as changes occurring in the local biota. While working at the University of Idaho, I averaged reporting nine new species of weeds per year in the states of Idaho and Washington. On average when a “new” weed species is reported and we do as much research as possible on its occurrence, we find that in reality the species has been here 30 years and occupies ten thousand acres. By this time complete eradication is impossible leading to ever increasing detrimental effects on agriculture and the environment. I love to teach and have given hundreds of lectures on plant identification hoping to expand the pool of people that can see what is going on around them. If newly invasive species were detected earlier, we would have a much better chance of alleviating their harmful effects.
The experience I gained identifying poor (sometimes fragmentary) specimens while doing plant identifications for the two universities resulted in my cooperating with law enforcement on numerous forensics cases, the most famous being the Spokane serial killer case which lead to me being included in a Discovery Channel F2: Forensic Factor episode (Season 5, Episode 5) as well as the following article in The Spokesman Review:
Fighting homicide through botany!
However you can fight it best, right, Andreas?!
Right, Richard! And how about any special Pullman stories you may have?
The funny thing about living in Pullman is all the people who knew my parents and my children. I named my son after my father. As a result, I spent the first portion of my life being known as “Pat Old’s kid” and the second portion as “Pat Old’s Dad.” J Furthermore, when it comes down to running a business in Pullman, there is still a small town component to living here. A large portion of my business is a result of word-of-mouth from people I have known and worked with over the years. This kind of support is more valuable than any advertising I could do.
Great stuff, Richard. Thank you very much for opening up to us today. It’s been a pleasure hearing about your Estate Services business along with other aspects of your multi-faceted life. Before we wrap things up here completely, how can people contact you who may be interested in learning more about Estate Services?
Certainly, Andreas; and thanks again for reaching out and allowing me to tell my story here in the The Pullmanic. My contact information is:
And, as I’ve stressed over and over again – and will stress one more time here – I encourage people to contact me as early in their process as possible, for more information or if they have any questions!
Thanks again, Richard, for your time today. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Richard Old: 5th Generation Whitman County Resident, Farm Owner, Estate Liquidation Expert, Weed Identification Specialist, Forensic Scientist, Teacher, Author, Entrepreneur, Jack-Of-All-Trades. Richard, the Pullman Community is truly blessed to have you as one of its cornerstone members.
And remember, you read about it all at Andreas Philip Gross Enterprises!
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