Obexer’s is more than a market or marina. It’s the name of an influential family that is synonymous with the West Shore and boating life. After a tragic boat yard accident took her father’s life when she was an infant, Sarah Obexer became the sole successor to the Obexer dynasty, which includes the Obexer’s Boat Company, General Store, and Water Sports. She met her husband of 14 years, Keith Fields, at the Concours d’Elegance, Tahoe’s annual wooden boat festival. Together they are raising sons Jacob, 8, and Kaleb, 4, and proudly leading the family’s successful business into its second century. Dave Wilderotter, last month’s “Tahoe Stories” interviewee, was kind enough to lead me to charming and down-to-earth Sarah, who is the antithesis of what one might expect of a local empire heir.
What is your favorite Tahoe summer memory as a kid?
One of my favorite memories is putting up the mail with my grandmother, who was the postmaster of Homewood. I would get so excited when someone would open up their mailbox and I could guess who it was. People knew my grandmother so well. When they took their mail they would put a little piece of candy in [their post office box] for me, or a little present. It was so exciting to be part of the post office behind the scenes!
The Obexer family has famously been part of local history for over a century. When did you realize you were part of something so legendary?
I always wondered when I was young why people were interested in this little red haired, freckle faced girl. My grandparents were always like, “This is Sarah!” I didn’t get it! I figured out along the way it wasn’t me; it was my family. It was the roots that were laid in 1908 by my great-grandfather, and his impact on the lake and the economy. There were a lot of conversations at home between my grandparents and me. They were always very humble. They said, “We work very hard, and our family is well known because we’ve worked hard.” I think also there was always a curiosity about me because of my father’s death. I was only 6 months old when my father was killed, and I think people thought, “How is this going to play out?”
The Obexer’s business thrives in the summer. Are you also a winter enthusiast?
I love winter because it’s our off time. Keith and I get to spend quality time together, and we get more family time. We get to finally take a breath. Summer is our on time. There are weeks when Keith and I will work seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day. It doesn’t bother us. Yes, we get tired, but we truly love what we do. It’s a joy to come to work.
Part of “Tahoe Stories” focuses on the struggle a lot of locals face to make it work in Tahoe. Is this something you can empathize with or do you see it amongst your employees?
We go from about 45 employees in the summer to about 20 in the winter. Most of our employees that leave us and come back have a good job set up in the winter. They save cash to get through that month between jobs, they decompress, go visit family, and then they are able to hit here for the summer. Then they do the same thing: stockpile, stockpile, stockpile. They get into a rhythm of having a summer job and a winter job, and I think that’s how a majority of people are able to make it here.
You and Keith are very hands on with the daily operations of the business. I think a lot of readers will be surprised you aren’t sitting on the West Shore sipping cocktails.
It’s the funniest thing! People will say, “You rung me up this morning for coffee at the store, then you answered the phone when I wanted to get my boat, then you were pumping gas, and now you’re making a sandwich. What do you do?” I do it all! I was on the fork lift with a skirt on the other day! They’ll see Keith doing the same thing. He’s out doing a water ski lesson, and then he’s making a lunch or changing an alternator. The first time we left work early this summer was when we had that thunder and lightning storm. It closed our business. We said, “Oh my God! Let’s go! Run!” We opened up a bottle of wine and sat on our porch.
Well, cheers to the occasional thunderstorm!
Sarah was not able to suggest our next interviewee, so we turned to last month’s Tahoe Stories’ subject, Dave Wilderotter, for his pick: Theresa May Duggan, local Kings Beach activist.