No Hollywood screenwriter could have come up with more fitting final words for Milt Neumann.
On Dec. 5, the founder of A to Z Rentals had just celebrated his 56th wedding anniversary with his wife, Alice, at their winter home in Mesa, Ariz. That night, however, Neumann passed away from heart failure.
“His last words to before falling asleep that night were, ‘Happy anniversary. You know, I really love you,’” related the Rev. Bernard Coughlin at Neumann’s memorial service last week.
After she told him that story, Coughlin then said he told Alice that all things happen for a reason.
“I guess God said, ‘Well, Alice, you had him for 56 years. Now I want him to come to his new home.’”
Those in attendance at the Dec. 16 service, held at Hazen & Jaeger Valley Funeral Home, heard how Neumann, 78, was a tireless worker who lived to help fill the needs of others and who was a lover of Gonzaga basketball.
“At a game, he once gave me a silver piece,” Coughlin said. “It was for good luck for Gonzaga.”
Neumann was born Nov. 1, 1932, in Elgin, N.D. In the late 1950s, Neumann first got the inkling to start a rental business while visiting his brother in Missouri and noticed two workers trying to start a compressor – which, as it turned out, had been rented.
Upon returning home to Bismarck, N.D., he approached the owners of a failing rental store about purchasing the business. He and Alice then went to the bank, borrowed $15,000 and bought the shop.
After expanding to Minot, Dickinson and Grand Forks, N.D., along with Lewiston, Idaho, and Walla Walla, his brothers joined Neumann in the venture that eventually came to Spokane Valley in 1960. A to Z was initially opened at Sprague and Herald, where a Wells Fargo bank branch now sits.
Along the way, Neumann made many friends and concentrated on making his customers happy by offering a wide variety of goods for rent, everything from chainsaws to wheelchairs.
“Milt was a friend of Spokane Valley and small business everywhere,” said Dick Behm, a fellow Sprague Avenue businessman. “For many years, Milt was very active with the Spokane Valley Business Association and served on its board.”
Neumann had difficulty in the corporate mindset of not having personal approach to running business. After selling to RentX, a company out of England, in 1996, Neumann eventually bought his stores back.
“The problem was they wanted to run it from their ivory towers,” Neumann states on the A to Z Web site. “But this is a hands-on business. It just has to be.”
As recently as last October, Neumann stood before the Spokane Valley City Council and testified that the city should revert Sprague back to a two-way arterial.
Mr. Neumann is survived by his wife, Alice; three children, Cheryl Kettrick, Steve Neumann and Jody Neumann; six grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and brothers, Erwin, Roland, Duane and Virgil.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the charity of one’s choice.