Third generation of local owners takes the helm (err ... the counter) at Peninsula Pharmacies

Sue and Jeff Freese have sold their interest in Peninsula Pharmacies Inc. to Casey and Jeff Harrell. Sue Freese, right, will stay on as an employee at the three pharmacies - in Long Beach, Ilwaco and Ocean Park. Freese's brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Garnette Sutherland, left, will continue on as part-owners. New part-owners Casey and Jeff Harrell, center, don't plan many changes to the popular businesses, they said, but will be expanding their products for diabetics and compounding of medications at the pharmacies.

PENINSULA - Longtime partners in Peninsula Pharmacies Inc., Sue and Jeff Freese, have sold their share of the business to Jeff and Casey Harrell. Sue Freese emphasizes she's not retiring and will continue at the Long Beach, Ilwaco and Ocean Park branches of the business as an employee for two to three days a week.

Freese's brother, Tom Sutherland, and his wife, Garnette, will continue as part-owners of the business.

Jeff Harrell, 29, is an Ilwaco native who graduated from Ilwaco High School in 1993. He continued his education at Washington State University School of Pharmacy, working for Freese during the summers while he was in school. "He and Tom (Sutherland) hit it off immediately," Freese said.

After he received his license, Harrell worked for Peninsula Pharmacies for about a year and a half, moving to the Seattle area after he married Casey. The couple met at WSU. Harrell continued to work on the Peninsula one weekend a month and about a year ago, told Freese they were going to relocate at the beach. They took over the part-ownership July 1.

"I'm not retiring," Freese said. "Our twins are starting college in the fall and another is on their heels, I'll have more time to go to their sports events."

The Harrell's have been very well received according to Freese, who said "They're very professional. It was an opportunity for them and for us. We have such a good relationship."

No big changes are in the offing for the stores. The pharmacies will continue their compounding practice, preparing medications specifically for individuals as well as veterinarians. And, they'll continue to facilitate prescriptions for people on the Medicare Part D program.

"We met the first of the year when Part D began," Freese said. "We told people 'Don't worry, you'll get your medicine.' Big pharmacies didn't do that. It's the greatest thing we have to offer and it will only get better."

The stores will be carrying a full line of diabetic shoes and supplies such as walkers and will facilitate Medicare billing for diabetics. Long-time employee Punky Suomela is a certified diabetic shoe fitter. Flu shots by appointment will continue so people won't have to wait in line for their shots, Freese said.

"Tom will continue his involvement with soccer and I'll continue with the Ocean Beach School District Education Foundation. Jeff and Casey will be getting involved too. The schools are a big deal to us. It's come full circle. Jeff was raised in the local school system and thought enough of the area to come back and is keeping up his involvement with the schools. I'm really excited about it. It'll be a great team and a good partnership for the future. We'll continue with our great customer service."

Sutherland, Freese's brother, agreed. "The seeds were planted over the last few years and we'll continue what we started now that we have more pharmacists and young blood to continue what we started. It's a seamless transition. We've been working together for a long time. The faces will be the same, just the names on the papers will change."

Harrell said the compounding service will be expanded. "We're the only pharmacies on the north coast that do compounding," he said. "Casey will be publishing our newsletter." She said the stores take all insurance plans. "There's no point going anywhere else," she said. "We'll also be expanding our stocks of natural higher-end vitamins and herbal supplements. I'm really excited for the opportunity to be here."

Freese came to work for Peninsula Pharmacies in 1977 when the businesses were owned by David Aase and Fred Lawrence. "I was going to be a summer intern," she said, "but they asked me to stay on for a year after I was licensed. I was still there 10 years later when David retired and sold his half of the business to me and my husband. I had twin girls and three stores, all in one year."

Freese and Lawrence were partners for 10 years. Lawrence retired and sold his share of the business to Sutherland and his wife Garnette, who manages the stores.

"I just couldn't be happier," Freese said. "Jeff and Casey will be a dynamic team. They're conscientious and caring. Their personal service sets them apart."

Pharmacy founders worked long hoursDavid Aase, Fred Lawrence and Dewey Dee bought the Long Beach and Ilwaco pharmacies and formed a corporation in 1959. Aase and Lawrence were fresh out of pharmacy school at the time and continued operating the two businesses until the 1970s when they bought the Cadenau Variety Store in Ocean Park and added a prescription room.

Dee retired in the mid-1970s and was killed in an auto accident in Ocean Park more than 10 years ago.

Aase graduated from Ilwaco High School and from Oregon State University School of Pharmacy. He said he worked as a soda jerk at the Long Beach drugstore, at that time near where Long Beach City Hall is located, before going to college. "I started out jerkin' sodas at the drugstore fountain," he said.

After graduating, he came back to the Peninsula and borrowed money from his uncle and his dad to buy the business. "It's a nice sequence of history with the new owners," he said. "Being a pharmacist is a very good lifestyle and a nice business to be in. I encourage people to go into pharmacy, especially women."

After he retired in 1987, he has operated his 20-acre Red Berry Plantation cranberry farm. "After 30 years in the drugstore, it's nice to be on the farm," he said.

Lawrence graduated from high school in Hoquiam, then served in the U.S. Army as a pharmacist at the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. At one point, he said, he filled a prescription for famed physicist Werner Von Braun. "That's my claim to fame," he laughed. He said after getting out of the service he thought he and his wife would just move to the beach for a year or so. "Forty years later, I retired in 1997."

Recalling the old days of the businesses, Lawrence said he and Aase worked long hours. "We had every other Sunday off and we stayed open till 10 or 11 p.m. We also worked nights at the hospital pharmacy filling prescriptions."

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