It has taken three goes at retiring, but after 56 years of being a Main Street staple in Penticton, jeweller Ralph Oslund and his wife Sharlene have set their plans in stone.
At 92, Ralph will be closing up shop at Oslund Jewellers for the last time in Penticton in the coming weeks as he and Sharlene head to Nanaimo to be closer to family.
“Two daughters and their husbands are there,” said Ralph. “We have six grandkids and then two great-grandchildren there, that’s why we’re moving there.”
Looking back on his life in the valley, Ralph shared that he felt it had been a good one for him, his wife and his children. It’s not easy to be leaving the Okanagan, and harder to make the change into retirement.
“It will be pretty hard not to miss the Okanagan when you spend most of your life here,” said Ralph. “It’s a nice part of the world, and a lot of people are just finding out it and coming here now.”
The store has shifted a few spots over the years, but Oslund has stayed on Main Street, and it’s where they will be leaving after 56 years.
“We moved here in ‘65 to open our own store. We rented out where Mykonos is now for $200 a month,” said Ralph. “Seventy-two years and still doing this. Not many people can say they’re still working when they’re 90.”
That long history in the community has plenty of ties that Oslund will be leaving behind, from many years providing the city’s long service medals to memorial plates made for the Kettle Valley Railroad. Oslund was one of the forces behind the creation of the downtown Penticton business improvement area, and it was Oslund Jewellers that helped contribute to replacing the clock in Memorial Arena.
Outside of a brief stint in the oil industry, where Ralph met Sharlene, and time as a jeweller for Birk’s in Alberta, Ralph grew up and has spent most of his life in the South Okanagan. His family owned a farm in Rutland where he worked until he was 18.
In 1950, he went to Kelowna in search of a job, and with his one suit and a willingness to sell, found work at the local jewelry store for $80 a month. Eventually, he decided to strike out on his own and he chose Penticton, opposed to the other option of Revelstoke, and the rest is history.
When he came to Penticton, it was still the biggest city in the Okanagan, comparable to Vernon, thanks in part to the Kettle Valley Railway headquarters.
“They had 600 employees around then you have to remember,” said Ralph. “Kelowna was smaller, and Vernon was fairly big because they had the army camp there. Penticton was the biggest and busiest in the valley.”
With money he had saved, and a loan from the Kelowna Royal Bank, the Oslunds opened up Ralph Oslund Jewellers in May, 1965. From there, stores in Oliver, Summerland and Princeton followed. For $14,000, the Oslund’s purchased a parcel of land and a prebuilt three-bedroom home from Calgary and established themselves in the community.
Sharlene would go over the business’s books from the basement office in their home, finding time in the evenings or whenever she had a moment to herself between raising the family’s five kids.
“At night, or if the kids were in school and the others were asleep, I’d go down to the office. “It kept me busy. We enjoyed it, and we still enjoy working but we both recognize our age.”
The store in Summerland would later be sold to Sam Cheveldav, and Oslund’s eldest son Darren bought the Princeton store in 1984.
In those days, the Penticton store was much larger, with sections devoted to silver platters, Swarovski crystal items from decanters to glasses and also fine China. In addition to Ralph and Sharlene, Oslund had 12 employees when the store was at its largest.
The store would downsize over time as the giftware sales dwindled, but the core of selling and repairing jewellery remained.
“The world changes, it used to be in business people would buy silver plates and all kinds of stuff and it was big business. Now you can’t give it away. Lifestyles have changed so much, and you have to change with the times.”
Ralph has also been a lifelong Rotarian, including serving as president for the Penticton club, and he and his wife have played host to multiple international students over the years.
Their eldest son, Darren, had been planned to take over the business in Penticton, but he passed away in the fall of 2021 before he could.
It’s going to be a big change moving to Nanaimo, and the biggest change will be leaving the business of working with people behind them.
“It’s going to be a big change for us. ” Ralph said. “Not only moving, but not dealing with the public. It’s solving people’s problems.”
To report a typo, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t miss a single story and get them deliver directly to your inbox. Sign up today for the Penticton Western News Newsletter.