How do you describe Bill Mahre in a few words?
It is a difficult task former LP Gas columnist Jay Johnston attempted in his December 2014 piece, writing, “He is a true gentleman who has been an industry journeyman, educator, mentor, safety leader and friend.”
Simply put: Mahre was the epitome of a propane industry professional. He was rooted in safety, motivated by service, had an unmatched work ethic and devoted his life to the betterment of the industry. He even promoted the chemical formula of propane on his license plate.
Combined with his devotion to family, love of ski jumping and desire for education, Mahre carried a diverse résumé that earned him praise and accolades from the propane industry and beyond.
Mahre, a Minnesota native, joined St. Paul Bottle Gas Co. (Home Gas) in 1952 after graduating from high school.
Not only was this his introduction to the propane industry, but it was also the introduction to his future wife, Jeri Mahre.
“I met him because my stepfather worked for the propane company,” Jeri says. “He brought [Bill] home to help reroof our house, and one thing led to another and we started dating. We then got married and had four children.”
The two were married for 58 years.
Mahre was a from-the-ground-up propane employee, filling and delivering cylinders to start his propane industry career. He then moved into bulk delivery, service work and eventually wholesale sales. He was even part of a terminal design and construction for a Minnesota location.
“You name the job, and he did it,” Jeri says. “He was a jack-of-all-trades. He did it all. There wasn’t much he didn’t do.”
After decades in the industry, Mahre was looking for a new challenge in his career. After some motivation from Jeri, he established Propane Technical Services in the early 1990s. With this new company, Mahre performed fire investigations and was an expert witness at trials involving propane companies, helping to represent the propane industry in court.
“He was very meticulous, but he had to be,” Jeri says. “When you deal with lawyers and insurance companies, everything had to be right.”
To say Mahre was devoted to the propane industry is an understatement. He served in almost every position one could hold, including safety director, manager and vice president. He offered his service to the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA), as chairman for the NPGA Safety Committee, a member of the NPGA Technology, Standards & Safety Committee and as an NPGA liaison member of the NFPA 58 Committee. Outside of his work at the national level, Mahre was heavily involved in the Minnesota Propane Association (MPA), including as the association’s president in the 1980s.
The MPA presented Mahre with its Distinguished Service Award and renamed it in his honor.
“Bill was a hands-on guy,” Jeri explains. “He was the same with all the organizations he belonged to. They could call him in the middle of the night, and he’d jump out of bed and go help. Helping people out was one of the things he loved to do.”
A life outside of propane
Mahre’s devotion and work ethic carried over into his hobbies.
His constant search for knowledge brought him to technical school training, the University of Minnesota – St. Thomas and the University of Michigan.
“He never actually got a degree,” Jeri says. “But if you put it all together, he would have a master’s degree.”
Mahre even taught a class on propane technology and safety at the University of Minnesota.
He and Jeri golfed often and spent time with their family at a cabin in Wisconsin. When Mahre stepped back from his work, the two renovated the cabin that was in Jeri’s family since 1954.
He was also passionate about ski jumping from an early age. He belonged to and served on the board of the St. Paul Ski Club, one of the oldest clubs in the United States. When the club needed a new chalet, he partnered with another member to design and fundraise for the project. As a result, the two were the first inductees into the St. Paul Ski Club Hall of Fame, which is located inside the chalet. Additionally, Mahre is enshrined in the All-American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame as part of its 2016 class.
Ski jumping brought Mahre to the international level when he served as the starter for the 70- and 90-meter jumps at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.
No matter what Mahre did, he was dedicated, especially to his family.
“He was dedicated to his family, very much so,” Jeri says. “If one of the kids called and needed something, he would be the first one there.”
Mahre died in 2015 at the age of 80. He leaves a lasting legacy of four children, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
“He’s very much missed,” Jeri says. “That’s for sure.”