Dutch Bros. co-founder dies at 55

Dane Boersma, who 17 years ago founded the Dutch Bros. coffee empire with his brother, Travis, died Thursday morning from Lou Gehrig's disease with his family by his side.

"My brother's free," Travis Boersma said.

Boersma, 55, was diagnosed with the debilitating disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2004.

Since the two brothers founded the company in the early '90s, Dutch Bros. has expanded to operate more than 150 coffee stands in seven states, with more than $50 million in sales in 2008, Travis Boersma said.

Travis said he communicated with his brother shortly before his death. Although Dane was unable to speak, he smiled.

"A smile said 1,000 words," Travis said. "It was time to celebrate him home, and let him be free with God."

Dane went on a ventilator in February 2006, and had been confined to his home ever since. The disease gradually erodes all bodily function, but Dane was able to continue with his love of music, his brother said.

"He was so strong, so selfless and so brave through all of it," Travis said. "Over the past five years he got to see four grandkids come along. He persevered even though he was faced with this brutal disease.

"It brought a smile to his face to see his kids step up in the business."

Daily Courier photographer Tim Bullard recalled he bought a cup of coffee the first day the Boersmas hauled their espresso cart out in the Town Center Plaza next to the railroad tracks in February 1992. He commented on their 6:30 a.m. "early start," and Dane replied, "We're dairy farmers. We slept in."

The Boersma family sold the dairy herd in 1990, went in on Dutcher Creek Golf Course in 1992 on the property west of town. They started the coffee business at the same time.

"What seemed devastating at the time turned out to be a blessing in disguise," Travis said. Travis said Dane was responsible for the upbeat atmosphere at the company.

"He did it so well in his personal life, he brought it into the business."

A passage written by the family includes:

"Most people will remember Dane for his role in Dutch Bros. However those closest to him knew him first and foremost as a fun-loving family man; his family was everything to him. Dane gave more of himself than anyone could imagine. Through his faith, family, work and friendship, he touched so many lives, and helped so many to learn, grow and persevere. He had a contagious smile, and with it, countless people have shared in his laughter, joy, fun and passion to live in the moment and make it the best."

Dane Boersma is survived by his wife, Sandy, his daughter, Dana Sawyer, and sons Brant Boersma and Jonah Boersma. Donations may be made to Danesdrive.org, a fundraiser to assist the Muscular Dystrophy Association in efforts to find a cure for ALS.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at Parkway Christian Center, 229 N.E. Beacon Drive, Grants Pass.

Jeff Duewel is a reporter for the Grants Pass Daily Courier.

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