When Debra Jackson joined the Oakhurst office of Suburban Propane in February of 2015, she found herself at the company’s temporary location on Highway 49 instead of its usual spot on Highway 41.
In August the previous year, the Junction Fire torched the company’s office shortly north of Glacier High School as well as two homes, seven other structures, and 650 acres.
So Jackson, who chose the job as customer service center manager after seven years working at the company’s Fresno office, and 40 years within the propane sales industry, found herself in her most memorable mountain moment yet.
“Right after I got here and got started was when they moved forward with breaking ground,” Jackson said. “That was an adventure because it was the first time to actually be involved in the planning from the ground up.”
Assisting in the planning wasn’t the only reason the experience proved more memorable, Jackson said. As she got used to the new job, she found herself falling more in love with the Mountain Area and its community.
“What’s really cool is how many people from here would come in to pay their bill and talk about the progress of the new building, watching it as it moved along,” Jackson said. “That was so cool. It made me feel more involved in the community, and it made me realize I was in one that was tight knit, and excited to see something come up out of the ashes.”
The new building, built over the former location, has Jackson and her team constantly at work to keep customers happy and their propane tanks filled.
She said back in 1976, while working as a computer programmer with the goal of becoming a systems analyst, it was that drive to help people that made her move into customer service.
“My philosophy has always been if I don’t have that customer, I don’t have a paycheck,” Jackson said. “And so making every customer happy to the best of my ability is what I do. Sometimes you can’t resolve everything, but my goal is to be as close and helpful to all of them as possible.”
There’s other benefits to the job, Jackson said.
When she moved to Fresno after 30 years in Las Vegas, Jackson, born and raised in a “truly country” family in Texas and Oklahoma, thought it was a transition from a big-city atmopshere to more of a small town.
But the move from Fresno to Oakhurst is where she found herself at home.
“When I came to Oakhurst I was like this is it, this is the place,” Jackson said, looking out her window upon the Sierra National Forest. “I mean it’s more laid back here, it’s relaxed, it’s a new atmosphere, it’s a new venture. And I mean come on, look at what I get to look at every day. How can you not like it here?”
And as far as being in what she said was a male-dominated industry, particularly back in the 1980s, Jackson applied her customer service style to her leadership.
“You had to earn your right,” Jackson said. “I had to be able to show people that I was leading, that I could do the job ... I had to show them that I could respect their position so they could respect mine. And I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it.”
Suburban Propane offers propane services throughout the Mountain Area.
Details: 1-800-PROPANE (776-7263), suburbanpropane.com.