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Friday, February 15, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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William F. Niemi, Outdoorsman And Developer Of Eddie Bauer

The name of William F. Niemi Sr. is hardly as well-known as the outdoor-apparel company he took over and developed, but it was his energy and devotion to that company that made Eddie Bauer into a household word today.

A former chairman of Eddie Bauer and one of the company's early owners, Mr. Niemi died Saturday (Feb. 9) at the Pacific Regent Care Center in Bellevue. He was 86.

He first met Eddie Bauer Sr. in the 1940s, and frequently hunted and fished with him, said his wife, Louise A. Niemi. ``The two of them were together a great deal,'' she said.

Born July 16, 1904, in Everett, Mr. Niemi was the son of a Finnish immigrant who worked as a tailor. He served in the Navy from 1920 to 1924, and then worked in the Bremerton Naval Shipyard.

He briefly ran a cabaret during World War II, but closed the business after the war ended.

About the same time, his friend Eddie Bauer asked him to take over the sporting-goods company that was the forerunner of today's Eddie Bauer.

``He had absolutely no background in merchandising, but he had a tremendous work ethic,'' said his son, William F. Niemi Jr.

``He had such a love for hunting and the outdoors that he soon became emotionally caught up in the business,'' Niemi said.

In 1947, Mr. Niemi sold the inventory from the sporting-goods shop and formed a new partnership with Bauer.

The two opened Eddie Bauer as a manufacturing and mail-order

business in a loft on South Jackson Street.

As the business grew, a retail operation was added. In 1968, Mr. Niemi and his son bought out the Bauer family. As its chairman, Mr. Niemi began expanding the company's retail business, opening stores in Minneapolis and Denver. He sold the company in 1971 to General Mills Inc. and retired.

Throughout his life, Mr. Niemi enjoyed hunting big game and fishing, and traveled to Africa and India on safaris.

Later, he took up yachting and owned a custom-built, 50-foot cruiser.

A trophy room in the basement of his son's house includes elephants, a Bengal tiger, East African lion and a buffalo from the Congo.

Mr. Niemi also belonged to the Masonic Order (Maritime Lodge No. 239, Seattle), the Shriners, Queen City Yacht Club and was a founding member of the Washington Game Bird Club.

Friends, who nicknamed him ``The Chief,'' remember him as a kind-hearted but stubborn and headstrong individual.

``He was a rugged, tough person,'' said Fred Olson, a big-game guide and hunter who frequently accompanied Mr. Niemi on expeditions in the Lake Cowichan area of Vancouver Island.

He is survived by his wife of Kirkland; a daughter, Sallie L. Filer of Mercer Island; his son of Bellevue; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

No memorial service will be held. Remembrances may be made to the Shriner Hospital for Crippled Children.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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