Rick Myers was raised on hamburgers at the Puyallup Fair.
In 1938, when the current $5.95 burgers cost 10 cents, 7-year-old Rick started taking orders at the stand owned by his father, Al “Hamburger” Myers.
“That was my dad’s middle name, because it was all he ever did,” Myers said.
The retired teacher reminisced Monday about a lifetime of flipping burgers and running the grill at Hamburger Myers at the Washington State Fair.
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As the fair was dismantled for the year, the 84-year-old said goodbye to the longtime tradition of serving loyal customers. He and his wife of 62 years, Joan, are ending their ownership of the iconic food stand.
“It’s been a good run,” he said, adding that his age was the primary reason for stepping aside.
The name lives on at two locations, including the Red Gate stand that sits in the same spot as it did when it opened 100 years ago. Even a major fire in the 1970s couldn’t force it to move.
Now the Tacoma couple is passing the torch to longtime manager Sheri DeVore in what she and others say is the end of an era.
“We have separate lives,” DeVore said. “But we’re family during the fair.”
Myers, DeVore and company were among the throngs who cleaned up remnants of the 17-day event that ended Sunday, following weeks of mostly sunny skies and big crowds.
Fair spokeswoman Karen LaFlamme said more than a million people enjoyed the annual end-of-summer celebration, which will extend its dates to include Labor Day weekend starting next year.
Myers said Monday that many of those visitors are repeat customers at Hamburger Myers.
Joan Myers said it won’t be easy to say goodbye. The couple isn’t leaving behind a business, but rather an extended family.
“It’s the people who have made it successful,” she said.
Most employees return every year. Out of 65 workers, only one or two each year are new hires, Joan Myers said.
Many employees work alongside family members — four generations at once in some cases.
One cook retired last year after 40 years at the grill.
Throughout the century, Hamburger Myers employees say the stand has accumulated many heartfelt stories.
A couple got engaged in front of the stand and now return every year with their two kids.
Another couple, married for about 30 years, met while working there and take a photograph in front of the stand each year.
Hamburger Myers even has a connection to Frosty Westering, the legendary longtime Pacific Lutheran University football coach who died in 2013. Westering’s wife, Donna, worked at the stand for about eight years, Rick Myers said.
“She said, ‘You run this place like my husband coaches football,’ ” he said. “That’s about the highest honor you can get.”
Choking back tears, Myers said a surprising number of people also travel to the fair to get a hamburger for their ill spouses.
“It’s the dying wish of so many,” he said.
Those stories make Hamburger Myers more than a hamburger stand, employee Ann Weber said.
“Myers is interwoven in everyone’s lives,” said Weber, a Seattle Public Schools employee who has worked at the stand for 27 years. She was one of the first female cooks along with her sister, Sue Fox, who works at Starbucks’ corporate headquarters.
“It’s a magical place,” Fox said.
Working at the stand is still fun, they said, which is why people keep coming back and sacrificing days off from their regular jobs to be there.
Workers sing songs while they cook, some of which date back to the 1920s.
“We’ll fix ’em up your way,” one verse of a song says.
Those fixings have never changed, nor will they, new owner DeVore said.
“It will be the same burger,” she said.
Rick Myers, chuckling, said he doesn’t expect anything less:
“It better be.”