Richland's top volunteer spreads out tentacles

RICHLAND -- Gus Sako is one of those guys who's into just about everything -- but, he says with a smirk, in a good way.

Sako, owner of the Octopus' Garden in Richland, was recently named volunteer of the year by the city of Richland.

The annual award is given to a city resident who's contributed about 16,000 hours of community service.

Most people who know Sako say his hours of community service stretch far beyond that.

"Gus isn't just a volunteer who sits in his seat and goes with the status quo," wrote Trish Herron when she nominated Sako for the award. "You can always count on Gus to make sure we discuss all options, even playing devil's advocate when needed."

Sako, 54, is as homegrown as it gets. Born at Kadlec Hospital before it was a medical center, he graduated from Hanford High in 1975.

"Yeah, I was one of those kids who thought about getting out of this town after high school, but I'm still here," he said.

He also is the kind of volunteer who prefers to stay out of the limelight and, though honored by the award, is a bit embarrassed by the attention.

"Gus is amazing," said Raechel Mackey, who's worked for Sako for almost three years. "He's just a super do-gooder ... to anyone and everyone in his path. He never requires a favor (in return)."

Sako prefers to look upon his volunteerism as meddling into everything happening in town, making sure all his questions get answered and that events get organized that benefit the community.

During the years he's volunteered his service to the city through involvement with the Arts & Entertainment District, Richland Business Alliance, Tourism Committee, Uptown Business Improvement District, Economic Development Committee, Central Business District, Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, Business License Reserve Fund Review Committee, just to name a few.

He's also on the board for the annual Chalk Art Festival and a past board member of the Richland Players theater group.

"I have never encountered a time when Gus has declined an opportunity to help or volunteer," Herron said.

Sako's involvement in community service is as constant as his business. He opened the Octopus' Garden three decades ago as a houseplant shop.

Initially, the shop was inside the old JC Penney store at the north end of the Uptown Shopping Center. He moved the business to its current location farther south in the middle of the Uptown in 1986.

He borrowed the name from the Beatles' Abbey Road album. He's also changed the flavor of the store, now jammed with an eclectic mix of doo-dads, novelties, greeting cards and other gift items.

"Now I carry all the fun stuff you could really do without," he said.

That includes a whole wall of Bobblehead dolls in just about every popular theme, as well as cards with messages from the sublime to the outrageous.

"I think I carry all this stuff because I suffer an inherent immaturity that's natural for my gender," he joked.