Founder, Brutinel Plumbing and Electrical
Interview by Bea Lueck
Elaine Earle and I had the pleasure to sit down with Bob Brutinel just before the holidays. He was busy planning the 30-plus rum cakes he was going to make as gifts. He hasn’t let his age stand in the way of most anything. As a long-time resident and business owner in Casa Grande, Bob has seen many changes in the community. Our animated discussion ranged from growing up during the Depression, to serving in WWII, to marrying the love of his life Maxine and raising their children in Casa Grande, to life after her passing. He credits his faith, a bit of good fortune, and his strong work-ethic for his successes. And even though he no longer owns the business, Bob still takes pride in going to work at the company he founded so many decades ago. He speaks fondly about friends and family and with great pride in their accomplishments. I hope you enjoy reading this interview!
GC LIVING: We’re here today with Bob Brutinel, of Brutinel Plumbing and Electrical fame. Let’s start at the very beginning, tell us about yourself – where were you born and raised, a bit about your parents and siblings …
Bob Brutinel: I was born in El Paso, Texas it wasn’t my idea though. My mother was a World War I bride. My dad went back to France to get her when the war was over, and he ended up staying for two years. My sister, Emily, was born in Paris. My mother was expecting me when they moved to the U.S. They stopped at El Paso to see my aunt, and I was born there in 1924.
GC LIVING: Was Arizona their destination?
Bob Brutinel: Yes. My dad graduated from Clifton High School. So did I.
GC LIVING: Did your family work in the mines in Clifton?
Bob Brutinel: No, my dad never mined. He worked for himself. He took over my grandmother’s three-story hotel and he made it into apartments after the war was over. During the Depression he had a bread and cake route. He also had a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail to Morenci, about seven miles away. I used to go with him after school. The train usually came after school, and we’d go to Morenci and take the mail and then take the mail that Morenci had back and the train would be waiting for us to load it on the mail car. Everything came from Lordsburg, New Mexico by train.
GC LIVING: Any other siblings besides Emily?
Bob Brutinel: My two brothers were born ten and twelve years later. Don Brutinel, named after my dad, was killed in the Korean War, in the rainforest. And then my brother Maurice Brutinel. His son, Robert Brutinel, is the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.
GC LIVING: Did your parents speak French at home?
Bob Brutinel: All the time. My mother got home sick and dad took her, Emily and I back for four months. I forgot all my English, all I could speak was French. We were in France when Charles Lindbergh landed near Paris. (editor’s note: May, 21, 1927)
GC LIVING: When did you leave Clifton?
Bob Brutinel: In 1942 when I went in the Marine Corps. I spent most of my time overseas. I had very, very little time in the United States. I was a paratrooper. My best friend in high school, Ace Perry, wound up in the same outfit with me, even though he joined a year later. We hit three different islands and we came back and trained the Fifth Division. We took the fated Fifth Division to Iwo Jima.
GC LIVING: Now there’s an interesting story of who picked you up in his PT boat.
Bob Brutinel: Not me, it was part of my outfit. President John F. Kennedy picked up a group of our Marines in his PT boat, PT 109. We took this island in a surprise raid. After we got separated and they were marooned next to the island. Lieutenant Kennedy and his crew were going by and they picked them up and brought them back to where the rest of us were.
GC LIVING: You were wounded in the Battle of Iwo Jima. What hospital did they send you to?
Bob Brutinel: I didn’t go to hospital. I went back to the hospital at the base at Suribachi, where the flag was raised. The base doctor patched me up. I waited a time for the operating room. The chaplain asked, “How do you feel? Do you feel well enough to write a V-Mail?” V-Mail was just an open letter, an open piece of paper folded over so if you wrote home the officers could check it out and make sure you weren’t giving any secret information. He said, “If you don’t, the War Department will write or telephone your mother, and say you’ve been wounded. Except they won’t say how or what,” and so I said, “Okay.” So my mother got my letter in the morning mail, and the telegram from the War Department in the afternoon. (laugh)
GC LIVING: At least she got it in the right order.
Bob Brutinel: She’d have gone into orbit! (laugh)
GC LIVING: Were you discharged at that point in time due to your injuries? Or were you sent back to the line?
Bob Brutinel: What was left of us were brought back to Hilo, Hawaii. We were training new troops they brought from the states. While we were training, they dropped the bomb on Japan. And like overnight, they loaded us onboard ship and took us to Japan. We sat offshore the island of Kyushu in southern Japan, waiting for them to sign the armistice.
GC LIVING: Do you still have the Japanese flags from Iwo Jima?
Bob Brutinel: Yes, ma’am. I still have the Samarai sword too.
GC LIVING: What did you do when you got out of the Marines?
Bob Brutinel: I went back to Clifton. A close friend suggested I meet one of her close friends, Maxine Hancock. She wrote me, and I wrote her back. She was living here in Casa Grande, went to school here. We got married two years later.
GC LIVING: Did you move to Casa Grande or did she moved to Clifton?
Bob Brutinel: We were married in the old Presbyterian church, the rock building on Florence Blvd. (editor’s note: note the Casa Grande Historical Society) My wife had three years completed at university (editor’s note: U of A) and had one year to go. So I told her, “Let’s let you finish, and I’ll go to work.” So I went to Tucson and got into plumbing.
GC LIVING: Is that when you went to work for Don Meems Plumbing?
Bob Brutinel: Don Meems, yes I did. Then they had one of those recessions that happen every so often. A good friend, Jay Wilson, had Wilson Motors and he talked me into moving to Casa Grande. There was only about 5,000 people here at that time. So we moved back here. And it was good for me, a good move.
GC LIVING: Where was your first house in Casa Grande?
Bob Brutinel: The house where I live right now!
GC LIVING: What year was that?
Bob Brutinel: 1949. I paid $250 for the lot and $4800 for the house. The payment was $40 a month for 20 years. (laugh)
GC LIVING: Costs you more than that to fill up your car now, doesn’t it? (laugh)
Bob Brutinel: Yeah!
GC LIVING: So now you’ve moved to Casa Grande and opened your own plumbing business. And along the way came children.
Bob Brutinel: Yes. Mark is my oldest. He was born in Tucson before we left. He became a doctor and retired from Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota. And then we had three daughters. Patsy Chavarria lives in Wellton, Arizona. Diane lives in Tempe and Beth Kortsen lives here in Casa Grande.
GC LIVING: When did you add electrical to the company services?
Bob Brutinel: I think it was 1983. Wes talked Ron into coming down here from Pinetop.
GC LIVING: At first business operated out of your house.
Bob Brutinel: Right.
GC LIVING: When did you move to First Street where we are sitting now?
Bob Brutinel: First it was across from the downtown Food City. Then I built on Pinal Avenue where Central Arizona Plumbing Supply is now. Wes bought me out almost 40 years ago and the company moved here.
GC LIVING: I’m sure you’ve seen many changes in the scope of business over the years.
Bob Brutinel: (laughs) Yes, one of these things right here.
GC LIVING: Yes, computers are in every business now.
Bob Brutinel: I’m a dummy when it comes to computers. I let everybody else take care of it. Didn’t have this (cell phone) with me everywhere either.
GC LIVING: For a long time, the big push was for young adults to go to college. Now we’re seeing a swing back towards both tech and trade schools. Do you think this is a good thing?
Bob Brutinel: I think hands-on training is the best thing in the world. Start as an apprentice doing all of the grunt work and learn as you go. That’s what I did. It was a union hall and you had school on Mondays and Thursdays. Our teachers were union plumbers. I think hands experience is the best thing to learn.
GC LIVING: Let’s circle back to Maxine. She finished school at the University of Arizona. What did she study?
Bob Brutinel: Her degree was journalism.
GC LIVING: The two of you did a bit of traveling when you retired.
Bob Brutinel: I remember the day I came home one time and Wes was in the kitchen with Maxine. They both had this big grin on their face. I said, “What’s up?” And Maxine said “look”. Wes had bought two tickets to Italy with the Catholic church tour group.
Max and I went to France and Italy. When Max passed away, I took the three girls and we went to France and Italy. Wes went with us. I’m glad he did. He was the chaperone the whole route.
GC LIVING: The town of Brutinel, France – is it named for your family in some way?
Bob Brutinel: I’ve been there a couple of times. If you blink your eyes, you’ll miss it. It’s a small community that they main deal with escargot, snails.
It’s right at the foot of the French Alps and they take excursion trips into the Alps. The clouds sit right on top of the mountains. And work down until they disappear and the new ones would come up. It was so pretty.
GC LIVING: What do you remember most about the early days of Casa Grande?
Bob Brutinel: Hmmm … the makeup of the town. There used to be a fig farm out where Home Depot is… and the Gilbert brothers owned both sides of Trekell Road clear up to the Santa Cruz wash. And the way everything developed.
GC LIVING: Were you part of when Harlyn Griffiths developed Rancho Grande?
Bob Brutinel: Yep, I did most of the houses up there.
GC LIVING: Did you ever think Casa Grande would get to be as big as it is now?
Bob Brutinel: No. (laughs) Somebody said why didn’t you buy some land, look how rich you’d be now. I said, “yeah with what?”. I had to raise a family… I couldn’t raise thousands of dollars and buy land.
GC LIVING: Do you remember back in the late 60s, early 70s, the Los Conquistadors?
Bob Brutinel: Oh, yes. I can name almost all of them.
GC LIVING: So what did you guys do? Besides, take your Jeeps out in the desert and have fun.
Bob Brutinel: Very seldom was it a family outing, just the men went out. We’d go fishing on the weekend up in the White Mountains or go to Mount Lemmon. We’d bring home Christmas trees. I wasn’t much of a drinker, but we would go out pulling a trailer and drink beer and such in the desert. Just hang out.
GC LIVING: How old are you right now?
Bob Brutinel: 95. And counting.
GC LIVING: Okay. That’s the chronological. How old do you feel mentally?
Bob Brutinel: (laughs) Well I don’t feel 95.
GC LIVING: How long were you and Maxine married?
Bob Brutinel: 58 years. She was a good one, great mother. She was so smart, intelligent. She used to make the kids Halloween costumes and they had closets full of them. Kids in the neighborhood asked my kids, “Do you think your mother has any extra”? She was a wonderful cook.
GC LIVING: What was your favorite thing she’d make you?
Bob Brutinel: (laughs) Her chicken and dumplings.
GC LIVING: You still miss her, I can tell.
Bob Brutinel: Yeah, every day.
GC LIVING: Do you still have her recipe book for that?
Bob Brutinel: I have my own recipe.
GC LIVING: Is it any good? (laughs). I hear you are quite the baker.
Bob Brutinel: I make 30 rum cakes for Christmas.
GC LIVING: Nice! How do I get on your Christmas list? When I say Casa Grande, Arizona, what’s the first thing you think of?
Bob Brutinel: Geez, this is hard. It’s hard to say. You know where Cuco’s is on Main Street? That used to be True’s Trading Post. That was the first building I was in in Casa Grande. They made B-24s in San Diego and would fly to Phoenix to put the armor and stuff on them. If you were in the service, you go down there and hitch a ride. My sister was going to university in Tucson, so I caught one going out and went to Tucson for a weekend. I took a Greyhound Bus back to San Diego and it stopped in front of True’s Trading Post and I got out to stretch and I thought, “who in the hell would love a place like this.”
GC LIVING: And fast forward a few years and you’re living here.
Bob Brutinel: Yeah.
GC LIVING: You still go to work every day, don’t you? So what kind of things do you do when they put you to work here? I know you’re not on the computer in the corner.
Bob Brutinel: Nope. I’m not on the computer. No, I mostly run the supplies to guys. And if we are short someone I work the backhoe.
GC LIVING: So what’s your favorite place to eat in Casa Grande?
Bob Brutinel: Well, I like Ricardo’s because of the waitresses. I like getting hugs. (laughs)
GC LIVING: You went to what is now called Arizona State University (editor’s note: formerly Tempe Normal School and then Tempe State Teachers College) and Max went to the U of A. Do you have a favorite between the two – are you a Sun Devil or a Wildcat?
Bob Brutinel: Well naturally (laughs). But when I went there it wasn’t the Sun Devils, it was the Bulldogs.