Local business owner reflects on career after being diagnosed with terminal cancer
This could be Chet Willie’s last Thanksgiving.
The Pocatello business owner has been a pillar of the community for years, but he is now having to say goodbye to the city he loves.
The 53-year-old Willie, who owns the Chevron gas stations on South Fifth and North Arthur avenues and the A&W restaurant on North Arthur Avenue, was diagnosed with stage four cancer in late July of this year.
According to Willie, doctors said his cancer was “terminal and extremely aggressive.” He began chemotherapy, but made the decision to stop treatments two weeks ago. He is now in home hospice care.
“I figured I only have weeks or months left,” Willie said. “I’d rather feel decent than being sick every day from the chemo.”
Willie said his diagnosis came as a shock.
“I’m totally healthy besides this,” he said. “No heart problems or liver or kidney. Nothing caused it. It was just wham, bam, here it is.”
“It was just sort of like being blindsided,” his wife, Kathy Willie, added.
Though Chet said he has been feeling better since stopping the chemotherapy, he is no longer well enough to run his businesses. The couple said their son and daughter-in-law have taken over for them.
Chet, who spent 12 years in the Army National Guard, said his father used to own the Chevron on Arthur. Willie helped him run it, and in 2006 he bought it himself. A year later, he bought the Fifth Avenue location, and in 2016, he opened the A&W.
He has made a name for himself throughout Pocatello by making it a point to hire workers other businesses might not employ. Forgiveness, he said, is key.
“Always just treat people the way you want to be treated,” Chet said.
Chet and Kathy often hire former convicts or recovering addicts, including former inmates of the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Kathy said. “That’s always been our philosophy. You treat somebody like they’re a human being, and people usually live up to the expectation that you have.”
The couple also frequently donates to the Idaho Foodbank and the Pocatello Kiwanis Club. And since Chet’s diagnosis, the community has paid him back in kind.
Hundreds of people attended a spaghetti dinner hosted to raise money for Chet’s medical bills. Additionally, a GoFundMe account has been set up, and donations can be made at gofundme.com/chet-willie.
“We’ve got a good community here,” Chet said. “They all know me, and they’re so supportive. We’ve helped a lot of people out, and I guess some of it is coming back to shine on us.”
Kathy added that many of their previous and current employees have reached out to the couple to let them know what a massive impact Chet has had on their lives.
“It’s been nice to hear people say, ‘Hey, you made a difference. You gave me a second chance,’” Kathy said.
“We’ve had a good time watching people grow and come into their own, and that’s rewarding to hear. And humbling, very humbling.”
Looking back on his life and career within Pocatello, Chet said there’s not much he would change.
“It’s scary when you open your own business,” he said. “Owning your own business is tough. But I think we did a pretty good job overall.”