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Editorial: Buzz Oates offers life lesson to young entrepreneurs

Marvin L. “Buzz” Oates built warehouses, housing developments and commercial buildings from Sacramento and Davis to Fresno to Arizona, Utah and Texas.

But his close friend and partner Frank Ramos said Oates was most proud of one edifice, the Mercy Ministries shelter in Lincoln. He built and donated the building to help troubled and abused young women get their lives together, and it was a reflection of his desire to help others.

Oates died Saturday at age 90; a funeral was to be held today.

A member of the greatest generation, Oates was a World War II bombardier and hero who returned to his hometown and turned a $2,000 investment into a fortune worth hundreds of millions.

Oates would donate generously to charities and church groups but didn’t seek public acclaim. He became rich primarily by building warehouses – “Buzz boxes” – and leasing out space. He could do complex math calculations in his head and would work extraordinarily long hours six days a week, but he reserved Sundays for worship.

“He was smartest guy in the room, but never acted like it,” said Democratic consultant David Townsend, who was Oates’ next-door neighbor for years. The two would rib one another about politics; Oates supported Republicans primarily.

He showed vision by recognizing the potential in West Sacramento. Along with Ramos and other partners, he developed Southport and the commercial area off Interstate 80 that includes the Ikea and Walmart stores. In Davis, he developed Mace Ranch.

Ramos told The Bee’s editorial board that Oates’ business philosophy was straightforward: “Work hard, be honest, and be fair. ... He didn’t have to have the whole pie.”

Therein lies a lesson for entrepreneurs who might model themselves after Buzz Oates.