Family celebrates the life of Dick Canzler of Canzler Tree Service

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Work was his passion, believing in people was his ministry…

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” may be a timeworn admonition by now in this 21stcentury, but it remains as undeniably true today as when it originated. Looking back on the life of Dick Canzler, he embodied this wise way of interacting with the world and the people he encountered over his long life. The same could be applied to Dick himself as well, in that his gruff exterior belied the gentle, kind and thoughtful man that he was on the inside, touching the lives of everyone he met in profound ways.

Here in the Tacoma area, Dick is perhaps best known through Canzler Tree Service, coming up on 55 years in business under the adept leadership of sons Tony and Danny who carry on what their dad built in the way that he built it. Canzler Tree Service was Dick’s passion – his ministry for a devoted Christian man who did unto others in business in a way that sets an example for all of us. 

In Dick’s own words: “Success in business is to have satisfied customers… For a Christian, there isn’t any such thing as ‘secular’ work. Everything is to be done as unto the Lord.”

Born on Jan. 17, 1931 in Springdale, Ore., to Martha and George Canzler, Richard Paul Canzler was their ninth child. He served in the military for about 10 years, then took various jobs including garbage truck driver. He was in his mid-30s when he first stepped foot onto his path in owning his own business. “He started by bidding to remove a bunch of trees at Ft. Lewis at the time. He didn’t even own a chainsaw but won the bid so that’s how he started,” daughter Jamie Williams recalled. “I think it’s one, if not the, oldest residential tree service in the Tacoma area.”

Dick Canzler, around 1956. Credit: Canzler Family

Back then in the 1960s, training for Dick’s line of work was far from what is available today, but he had the smarts and plenty of gumption. “He was very good about being able to look at a tree and know exactly how it needed to be cut safely. His knowledge about trees was incredible. He could look at any tree and tell you anything about it,” Jamie said.

Dick’s knowledge of trees was vast. He could look at any tree, know what kind it was and how to cut it safely. Credit: Canzler Family

With wife Joanne by his side, his partner and business and life, over the years Canzler Tree Service grew by leaps and bounds based on the company’s honesty and fairness. Dick didn’t just work with his customers; he would bond with them, get to know them as people and enjoy seeing them again as repeat customers. Work was everything to him – that German work ethic put into action up until the Lord called him home on Sept. 11, 2019. 

He was almost 88 when he passed away, and he would still answer the phones, talk to customers, sometimes go out and bid. He never wanted to let go of the business because he loved it so.

He was pretty adventurous as well for being in his 80s, as Jamie told it. “He zip-lined for the first time four years ago,” she said, adding rock climbing to the list of her dad’s activities. “He definitely wasn’t one of those people who age and diminish as they get older.” 

Exploring the mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest was one of Dick’s favorite pastimes. Credit: Canzler Family

Work kept him fit physically, mentally and spiritually. He actively climbed trees until he was in his late 60s. “Back in the day, they used to do tree climbing competitions and would win those all the time. He was very modest about it though. He would downplay it and say, ‘I’m not the smartest guy,’” according to Jamie. But Dick was rich with aptitude. After all, there aren’t a lot of people that could keep a business like his going for 55 years and relatively injury free in such a strenuous and sometimes dangerous job, which is pretty incredible for that line of work.

“Despite all of his modesty and self-deprecating personality, he did a fantastic job,” Jamie said.

Dick’s priority wasn’t just to get someone’s business, but to be an example for others in all aspects of his life. On the job site, his employees were held to a high standard concerning their language and behavior. They were told that they weren’t going to smoke on the job site, no foul language, and to present themselves professionally. In the back of his mind, Dick was aware that a little child would be watching – and hearing – the workmen. 

Such was the case with customer John Ellingson’s little daughter, as told in his post about Dick at Legacy.com: “Our 5-year-old daughter did not like change, so when Mr. Canzler showed up about 25 years ago to remove the birch tree that cast shade across her grandparents’ garden, she went right out and told him he had to stop! Right now! This rugged and work-hardened man stopped what he was doing and while his crew waited, he sat down with her, took her on his knee, and gently explained why this tree had to go and negotiated its removal. He gave her a section of the 6-inch diameter trunk as a keepsake of ‘her’ tree and left her content. Her tears had dried and she was smiling when he left. We will never forget his tenderness and compassion. Well done, you good and faithful servant.”

Here is another equally heartfelt post: “Mr. Canzler was a true gentleman. He showed up on time and worked with the client for the best possible outcome for the trees. One time he and the crew got very creative trying to save a large branch of my 100-year-old apple tree. The tree is still going strong. See you again in Heaven, Mr. Canzler.”

Dick’s big heart for people perhaps showed best in those he hired. He took in a lot of people who probably wouldn’t be able to get jobs because of a rocky past or just getting out of prison. He gave them opportunities to learn a solid trade and believe in themselves. He understood that people have pasts and make mistakes and Dick showed them that there is forgiveness and growth. 

“Dozens of people have worked for him that probably didn’t have many avenues and had a lot of doors shut on them so it was important to him to reach out and give people a chance and an alternative to a shady lifestyle – a way to make an honest living with a solid work ethic and take care of their families and do it in a good environment with good examples around them,” Jamie said. “Even if they were not going to stay with the business, the experience would help them in whatever they did next – just having that accountability and all of that. It was important for him to be an avenue for people who needed help.” 

Tony and Danny Canzler still carry that on as owners of the business. It can often take just one person to turn someone around, to show that you have faith in them and believe in them. This is Dick’s legacy. You never know what little moment of compassion can do to change someone’s life. 

“For both of my parents, that was a big thing with them – faith in people and in their ability to be a good person. For them, they didn’t view people with skepticism. They saw the good in them first,” Jamie said.

A proud and true family man, Dick with wife Joanne (front, second from left) with sons and daughters: (back row): Jamie Williams, Juliet Cruise, Tony Canzler, Betty Selland, Mary Simmons, Robert Canzler; (front row): Danny Canzler, Dick Canzler and Juanita Thorwart. Credit: Canzler Family

This is the level of gentle humanity that is instilled in Dick’s extended family, raising up a generation of caring people with solid morals and an open heart toward their fellow man. And what a big family, too, with eight children – Jamie Williams, Juanita Thorwart, Robert Canzler, Mary Simmons, Betty Selland, Tony Canzler, Juliet Cruise and Danny Canzler – 30 grandchildren and 59 great-grandchildren. He was blessed that his big and loving family was there for him when wife Joanne passed away in May 2015 after 59 years of marriage.

Dick loved music too. He would play his guitar pretty much every day, filling the Canzler home with music. For decades he went to nursing homes and senior community centers to play and sing with Joanne, and at his church as well – hymns and favorite oldies that you don’t really hear anymore. He loved long drives in the mountains, was an avid reader, and was “the king of corny Dad jokes,” as Jamie recalled with a chuckle.

Sometimes when a person leaves this earth, their spirit is so strong that part of that person remains present, kept alive in the souls of those who love him. This is Dick Canzler, a man who lived in love and shared it with everyone he met in his own unique way. 

As Dick himself once wrote, “Memories are one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind.”

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