My Friend, Skip Yowell

51HlaoPjadL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Ed’s Note: Skip Yowell, a co-founder of Jansport, author of The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder and Other Mountains, and leading voice in the outdoor industry for decades, passed away yesterday at 69. There has been an outpouring of sadness, love and remembrance from the many who knew him. We asked his longtime friend Larry Harrison, who is currently the director of sales for adidas Outdoor, to write  about Skip, how he changed the outdoors and how he loved life.

My friend Skip Yowell will be remembered by many names:  Icon, Legend, Founder, Father, Adventurer, Teller of Tales, Husband, Writer, Philanthropist, Gardener and Surfer. And that’s just a few. To me he will be forever my friend.

I met Skip in the dawn of the 70’s. I had heard he and his cousin Murray were absolute animals; swinging from the rafters of restaurants, cutting a wide swath as the founders of JanSport (along with the more demure Jan) through the outdoor business. He was my competition though. I was with a small pack company Mountain People and later on Wilderness Experience. We battled one another but became friends.

Skip hired me in 1985 and I worked for him for 23 years. It was a remarkable time in which we brought backpacking/camping to a broad audience and daypacks to every student in America. Along the way Skip helped found the Outdoor Industry Association, assisted the development of Big City Mountaineers, and was on an Everest Climb with Lou Whittaker.

I was born in Illinois, Skip in Kansas and when together artifice slid away, we were just some Midwestern boys who spent so much time together that he would say, “I spend more time with him than I do my wife.” But everyone was Skip’s friend, there was always time for a conversation, or the familiar greeting, “Hey buddy, how the heck are you?”

Preaching the gospel of JanSport took us on an endless series of sales, promotions and clinics–retail the way it used to be, down in the trenches with customers. The JanSport Mt. Rainier climbs were another way Skip passed on his love of the mountains and the camaraderie of climbing. Thirty years ago I married my bride with Skip at my side on Rainier.

Catch this man late at night and you were apt to enjoy some great stories of adventures past, but you also would hear what his wife Winnie was up to, their plans for upcoming trips, or tales of the grandkids. There was always a special look in his eye when he spoke of his brilliant daughter Quinn. He was a man grounded in family with a heart open to all.

I will remain forever jealous of Skip’s green thumb. When you receive enough bottles of hot sauce, popcorn and gorgeous pictures of sunflowers, peppers and tomatoes you start to wonder does he have more hours in the day than me? Is it fertilizer, water, sun or love that makes his plants grow so well?

One the best known Skipperism’s has to be “The best is barely good enough.” Maybe it began as a JanSport meme but took on greater meaning through the years. I always viewed it as his commitment to others that was evidenced in the traditions he created, the institutions he founded, and the caring heart selflessly offered.

12170056_10153755032464309_1718555302_oSkip worked tirelessly to make the outdoor industry what it is today, a thriving business that takes the time to share the lessons of wilderness with all that will listen. The marginalized, the young, the handicapped, and more have a voice because he stood up for them in Washington, labored in not-for-profit board rooms and backed them with cash from JanSport. People were Skip Yowell’s full time job, that and the knowledge that the outdoors opened a pathway to personal fulfillment for everyone.

Do not canonize my friend. His great beauty was his humanity. You can take a man out of Kansas, but you can’t take the simple beauty of Kansas out of the man. That humanity, that kindness of spirit, was his gift to each of us.

I am really going to miss you Skipper.

5 thoughts on “My Friend, Skip Yowell”

  1. I met Skip Yowell the summer of 1985. I was a fledgeling cook for RMI working one of the biggest programs RMI had to offer, The Jansport Mt Seminar. He welcomed me into the fold with such warmth and humor that I was instantly star struck. 30 years of his warmth and support got me back on my feet when I needed a boost. I am privileged to have shared beer, summits and lots of laughs with Skip. Many tears will be shed and you will be missed.
    Cate Casson
    ps. Larry I am pretty sure I cooked for you and your love at 10,000 feet after the wedding.

  2. I am sorry to hear of Skip Yowell’s passing. I knew Skip briefly while working for Norm and Murray Pletz. I don’t want to take anything away from Skip’s later accomplishments, but I do feel the need to correct the record of his early involvement with JanSport.

    Murray Pletz won the Alcoa Aluminum design contest in 1967 with his innovative backpack frame. The design utilized milled aluminum fittings and tubes that were assembled without welds. Murray’s father Norm Pletz, a talented machinist, designed some primitive jigs to form the frames and Murray set up a shop in 1968 above Norm’s torque converter repair business. The front of Murray’s shop was divided between Jan’s antique store named the Pokeweed and Murray’s display of JanSport backpack’s.

    The Pletz’s were long time family friends and when I needed a job for the summer after high school, my parents contacted Norm and asked if I could get a job working for them. They agreed and I became JanSport’s first full-time employee. I worked there with Murray and Jan all summer. Skip was not around. The process of making the packs, including bending the frames, was all done by hand. The work was often interrupted when I had to go out front to wait on people who came in to look at the antiques.

    The following summer (1969) I again worked there, only this time, I worked for Norm. The JanSport operation upstairs had changed a lot over the winter. Norm had designed new hydraulic equipment for bending the pack frames and the process was much more mechanized and there were several new full-time employees, including Skip Yowell and Murray’s brother Ken.

    I worked for Norm again during the summer of 1970 and JanSport was thriving upstairs and soon would need more space. It wasn’t long after that JanSport was bought by K2 and then by a succession of larger corporations. Skip continued to play an important role with the company.

    While he certainly played an important part in the success of JanSport, Skip did promote, through his book and his marketing efforts, an “enhanced’ version of his role in the early days of the company. The real credit for the creation of JanSport should go to Murray, Jan and Norm. Without them, JanSport would not exist.

      1. Mickey, (Diana), you know the truth. George Bryant was a long time family friend, very quiet. He was a dear friend and worked only briefly, at times, at JanSport. When you worked for me, you were my top employee, and I asked you not to go back to
        Colorado. You know that Skip only did the shipping, after you left. Your father, my uncle Harold, worked for my dad. All your brothers, at one time worked for JanSport. Skip was a natural in Public Relations, and that is why I hired him.
        But never did the job, even when K2 owned the company. Skip was created by Vanity Fair, from the corporate giant acquisition of JanSport. JanSport was the creation of myself, my father, and Jan. Skip had nothing to do with JanSport, when we made it all happen. Who wants truth, no matter how seemingly insignificant? Someone, somewhere, does.—Murray McCory (Pletz).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *