Sportsman Chalet owner's estate topped $1 million. Here's how he shared it.

Steve Brewster, former owner of the Sportsman Chalet, at the 2002 multiple sclerosis walk. He died of MS in December and left most of his million-dollar estate to non-profit organizations.
Steve Brewster, former owner of the Sportsman Chalet, at the 2002 multiple sclerosis walk. He died of MS in December and left most of his million-dollar estate to non-profit organizations. The Bellingham Herald file

A former Bellingham businessman who was dealt a bad hand health-wise is making a big impact on the community after his death.

Steve Brewster died in December after battling multiple sclerosis for nearly two decades. Before MS robbed him of his ability to walk, he operated the Sportsman Chalet sporting goods store in Bellingham for nearly 30 years.. Before his death Brewster quietly amassed an estate of more than $1 million and decided to donate most of it to non-profit organizations.

Dan Robbins, the executor of Brewster's will and a former Port of Bellingham commissioner, has had the task of surprising local non-profits with the gifts. On Thursday at a Bellingham Central Lions Club meeting he presented the Lighthouse Mission and the Salvation Army with checks of $100,000 each.

Other donations have gone to a variety of non-profits, including the Wounded Warrior Project, Doctors Without Borders and the MS Bike Ride.

Salvation Army Captain Niki Woollin couldn't recall receiving this large of a donation locally from a private estate and it is coming at a crucial time. They are currently working on a project to expand the organization's food bank program, creating a dedicated space where people can shop with dignity, she said.

"It will make a huge difference," Woollin said. "I was blown away with this donation. We're just so grateful that people in this community value what we do."

The donation also comes at a crucial time for the Lighthouse Mission, said Executive Director Hans Erchinger-Davis. The organization is experiencing a bottleneck in its next step programs, which focuses on people who want to move beyond basic shelter services to get back on their feet. Those types of programs require a lot of staffing, something the Lighthouse Mission is planning to expand, he said.

Robbins, who was a lifelong friend of Brewster, said Brewster was grateful for the support he received from so many organizations while he was battling MS. Having no children, Brewster decided to focus on giving back to the community.

While Brewster was good at saving money, he was surprised at how much he had at the end of his life, Robbins said. Robbins attributed that to some wise investments and other factors like having a good health insurance plan.

Brewster's store was known for its ski, soccer, tennis and racquetball equipment, being successful during a time when national chains were taking up more market share. Robbins said Brewster was constantly at the store, talking to customers, which is one reason it was successful. His interactions with the community became apparent to Robbins after Brewster was confined to a wheelchair and Robbins took him to places like the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden.

"We couldn't go 10 yards in the wheelchair without someone coming up and giving Steve a hug," Robbins said.

Robbins said he admired Brewster's attitude: As he battled MS, he tried to keep his sense of humor, no matter how difficult it got.

"It was a tough, tough case of MS," Robbins said. "My job was to make him laugh."

Brewster's sister, Carol Garguile-Dominic, said donating to organizations was typical for her brother, noting he also would regularly help children who wanted to purchase sports gear. For her, Steve Brewster was a father figure to her sons, teaching them how to ski and taking them on hikes. It was difficult to see him become inactive, but agreed with Robbins that he was able to keep his sense of humor.

"I miss my brother a lot," she said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz