Makinsi Garoutte, Dara Garoutte and Mary Lee Robinson (L-R) are three generations that worked together at the Robinson Licensing agency in downtown Sunnyside. Robinson is now retired, but picks up the mail for the business on her daily walks.
As of Monday, August 6, 2018
SUNNYSIDE A lot has changed since Jack and Mary Lee Robinson started selling vehicles licenses for the state, back in 1977. A gallon of gasoline cost 65 cents, and Star Wars was just one movie.
Through all the changes, the Robinsons continued to sell licenses at their downtown agency. The business is still in the family 41 years later.
Mary Lee Robinson is retired now, having passed the keys of the business to her daughter, Dara Garoutte. Her granddaughter, Makinsi, also works at the agency.
“When we started, we had to fill out paper cards,” Mary Lee said. “Then we’d type it up on official forms.”
Garoutte said the typing was often a full-time job for one person every morning.
Mar Lee said she and her husband started the licensing agency when the county auditor and others asked if they would take on the work in addition to Jack’s existing insurance business.
“That year the timing of tabs changed,” she said. “Before 1977 they were all purchased in December and lasted a year. The new system let you purchase any time. We wouldn’t have taken it on if it was still only one month a year.”
Robinson helped at the business and took over in 1986 when her husband passed away.
“I elected to keep the licensing business, but not the insurance,” she said. “I would have had to take classes and get a license to sell insurance.”
The next year, her daughter joined her at the licensing agency. It was supposed to be a temporary job while she looked for another career.
“I’ve been here 31 years now,” Garoutte said. “It’s not a bad job at all. I get to be at work with my dogs, with my mom, and now I work with my daughter.”
In the late 1980s, the paper-based system was converted to computers. About the same time, card catalogs started to disappear from libraries, the state moved to a DOS-based program to run its licensing system. The Robinsons kept up with the technology, which stuck around in mostly the same form for nearly 30 years.
In the meantime, Dara took over the business and her own daughter, Makinsi, joined the agency. Robinson continued to work part-time until the state change technology once again, moving to a Windows-based system in January 2017.
“I took all the classes,” Robinson said. “But in the end I decided to fully retire. There wasn’t much point in adjusting to a new system when I was only going to use it part-time.”
Robinson is a native to the Yakima Valley. Her parents moved from Nebraska with her two older brothers, and she grew up on a farm on Bishop Road. She graduated from Sunnyside High School, and she noted she’s getting ready for her 60th high school reunion. She went to college and trained as a secretary, but eventually became a business owner. She said she’s grateful that the opportunity came her way.
“What other job can you work part-time until you’re 76?” she asked.
The licensing business is not lucrative, she noted. Sub-agents of the state have to follow strict rules and stay in compliance at all times. The fees are decided by the legislature, so if she wanted a raise, she’d have to lobby the government for it. Even so, she said she’s been blessed in her work.
“It’s been a good business for the family,” she said. “I felt like the Lord provided.”