Over the last 90 years, hundreds of businesses have come and gone. Needs change, families change, businesses change. In fact, sometimes the only constant is change itself.
But for the last nine decades, Home Oil in Raymond has rolled with those changes and is stronger than ever thanks to those who own and operate the fuel provider.
“When I started, I was filling 300 gallon overhead tanks. Now one tractor in a shed has a 300 gallon tank on it,” says Jerry Wagahoff, who owns Home Oil with his wife Donna, son Neil and business partner Wayne Foster.
Wagahoff started working for the company on April 1, 1974, while he was a senior in high school. Within a few years, he would purchase shares of the company and would become president and manager of the business in 1980.
His commitment to the business has kept Home Oil in Raymond as other similar entities have folded up shop.
“Some of it was through retirement and they didn’t have anyone else to hand it down to,” Wagahoff said of the businesses that weren’t blessed with the longevity of Home Oil. “Also the competition got stiffer and a lot of it was when the fuel prices went so high in the 1980s. I know one guy got out of it when his accounts receivable just got higher than he could handle.”
That could have easily been Home Oil too, as Raymond had three similar companies when Wagahoff started in the 70s. Instead, the business has become a stalwart in the area farm industry and in the community.
“We chose to grow instead of get out, and we have grown a lot,” Wagahoff said.
With an initial investment of $3,000, the Home Oil, Co. was started by John F. Foster of Raymond, Ed Lessman of Harvel, Ross Lessman of Raymond and Champlain Oil Co. representative Chas. Z. Johnson of Springfield and began supplying fuels and oils to area homes, farms and businesses on April 27, 1931.
Soon after, the business began supplying products from another fledgling business, the Phillips Petroleum Company, which was started in 1917 and operated the bulk plant at 212 North Railroad Street.
Over the years, the company’s stock changed hands, with Roman and Ethyl Herman, Lester Lessman (son of Ed Lessman), Lester Foster (son of John F. Foster) Cecil Pitchford becoming owners by the 1960s. Pitchford, who ran the West End filling station previously, started with the company in 1945 and spent 31 years as manager before retiring in 1976.
After working out of Louie Lessman’s automotive garage on Broad Street until 1950, the company’s first permanent office was established at it’s now familiar spot at the entrance of downtown Raymond at 104 East Broad Street.
Darrell Pitchford would take over for Cecil Pitchford as manager in 1976, leaving his route to one of the company’s younger employees, Jerry Wagahoff.
Wagahoff would acquire Ethyl Herman’s shares of the company in the late 70s and became president and manager of the newly formed corporation for the business in 1980. He would add Lester Lessman’s shares of the company in 1983 as he, Cecil Pitchford and John “Wayne” Foster, who took over Lester Foster’s shares in the late 1970s, became the owners for the company.
In 1981, a new building was constructed by Poggenpohl Construction on the same site as the old office building, with employees Dennis Matli and Jerry Wagahoff, along with Robert Wagahoff, assisting in the construction and interior.
In 1986, Home Oil added the Amoco line of products after purchasing Herman Oil of Raymond from John Herman, who continued to work for Home Oil until December 2019. Another purchase would come in 1987, when Home Oil purchased Nokomis Oil, another Phillips 66 marketer.
That year was also the final one the bulk plant on North Railroad Street was operational as the company moved everything to its bulk plant on Southworth Street, which was acquired with the purchase of Herman Oil.
In 1990, Home Oil partnered with C&S Food Mart owner Shirley Clevenger to install new tanks dispensers and a canopy for the gas station on the western edge of Raymond. Four years later, Home Oil would purchase C&S and change the name to West End Food Mart, a tribute to the filling station’s history.
“Home Oil has always sold fuel to West End and when the owner was thinking about selling, we figured if we were going to keep supplying them fuel, we were probably going to have to buy it. Otherwise, somebody else might buy it and have their own supplier,” Jerry Wagahoff explained. “So I went home and told Donna that we were going to buy it. She was staying at home with the kids, but Kelly was going into first grade so she took over and has ran it well.”
The company also saw an addition to the Home Oil office, which added office space. Wayne Foster oversaw the construction and owned the addition until selling it to the company in 2002.
In 1993, Home Oil purchased the 100 shares of stock owned by Cecil Pitchford, leaving two remaining stockholders, Jerry Wagahoff and Wayne Foster.
The business continued to grow as it took over the delivery route and accounts for Hughes Oil Co. in Litchfield in 1995 and began a remodeling project at West End that added on 960 square feet to the rear of the building. Home Oil also purchased Rays Phillips 66 in Kincaid in 1998 (which was sold in 2010) and continued their steady growth.
In 2006, Neil Wagahoff, Jerry and Donna Wagahoff’s son, graduated from the University of Illinois and joined the company, assisting in fuel deliveries and accounting for Home Oil, which also purchased the assets of Blanton Service, Inc. in Pawnee around the same time.
“I wanted to move back to this area and this was the best fit,” Neil said. “It kind of worked out well, because when I graduated college, we had just bought out Blanton in Pawnee, which added to our service area.”
“It was really good because we needed him more and he was willing to come back,” said Jerry, whose other children, Blake and Kelly, have also helped out at Home Oil and West End before venturing out on their own path.
In 2008, a new bulk plant was built, located at 806 North O’Bannon Street in Raymond, with the first load of fuel delivered to the new facility came in on March 19, 2009.
In 2015, the house attached to West End was demolished and a 12-foot new addition was added to the east side of the original building. The new addition helped accommodate new bathrooms, a new office and a larger kitchen area.
In 2017, Wayne Foster transferred 50 shares of stock to Neil Wagahoff as Wagahoff joined his parents and Foster as shareholders in the business.
“It’s made it easier for us to know that we can pass it on, for Donna and I both,” Jerry said about Neil’s investment into the business. “It’s been great to have somebody interested in it, not that the other kids wouldn’t have been, but Neil chose that path.”
In recent years, the business has continued to thrive, both through their fuel service and with the West End Food Mart, which is part gas station, part restaurant and part gathering place for the Raymond community.
While much has changed since the days of 17-cent per gallon gas in the early 1940s, Home Oil’s commitment to serving its community’s fuel needs goes on stronger than ever.
“It started out with four guys and we’ve been lucky enough to keep it going for 90 years,” Jerry said reflecting on the anniversary of the business.
“We really appreciate our customers, and I think it shows,” Donna Wagahoff said. “The community has been very good to us.”