What do an Olympic gold medalist, a backyard beef jerky magnate who turned $1,100 into a multi-million dollar concern and a photographer who captures animal images in the clouds over Central Oregon have in common?
They’re all the same guy.
Paul Hait, 67, of Bend, also founded the Seeds of Joy Foundation to help heal cancer patients, is an aspiring screenwriter, was the youngest engineering manager for Varian Associates in California’s Silicon Valley and is a major shareholder in an innovative company that makes ultra-efficient outdoor cooking systems.
And those are just one reporter’s perceived high points from a resume that suggests Hait hasn’t slept all that much in the past 50 years or so.
When you meet Hait, you notice he’s tall (almost 6-foot-5), pulls off talking about his accomplishments without a hint of arrogance and seems to want to know as much about the person he’s conversing with as what he wants to tell you.
Whatever the variables, they’ve formed a recipe for success.
Early on, as a Varian Corp. engineer charged with developing NASA space components, he and his teammates faced extremely technical challenges.
“I love impossible problems,” Hait says.
He’s had his share.
A talented swimmer, Hait graduated from high school in 1958, enrolled at Stanford University in 1959, seriously injured his back in a freak locker room accident that same year but qualified for the U.S. Olympic team despite the odds. He went on to compete in and win the 4x100 men’s medley relay in Rome in 1960, breaking the world record and earning a hefty medal of gold to hang around his neck.
To this day, Hait keeps the medal handy, as a reminder of hard work and sacrifice.
“Never fear failure,” Hait says. “Only fear the fear of failure.”
Hait peppers his conversation with these pearls of wisdom, and somehow, coming from him, they don’t come off as trite.
If he’d let fear get the best of him, Hait, a young mechanical engineer, probably never would have ventured into the beef jerky business in 1970. But he was taken by the taste and cachet of Old Trapper beef jerky, a small Oregon brand, and, full of the entrepreneurial spirit, he invested $1,100 into raw product and equipment. Hait’s father, a prominent California businessman, matched his son’s investment, and Pemmican Beef Jerky was born. Hait experimented with seasonings and softening agents until he was happy with the taste and consistency. Before he was through, Hait had built the Pemmican brand into the No. 1 beef jerky meat snack in the land (according to Frito Lay). He sold his Aroma Taste Inc. — the producer of Pemmican — to General Mills in 1978 for a hefty profit. According to Hait, General Mills sold Pemmican and Slim Jims to Con-Agra Specialty Snacks in 1999 for $223 million.
Through the years, Hait has had his hand in numerous start-up companies, including Pyromid Inc. of Redmond, producer of Pyromid Outdoor Cooking Systems. After some setbacks, the company was “forced to close down,” according to Hait, and was liquidated. Now known as Ecoprime, the California company produces super-efficient charcoal burning grills. Hait owns a major share of the company.
“It is when things are at their darkest that the Seeds of Joy are being planted,” says Hait.
Hait and three others founded the Seeds of Joy Foundation in 2004 to help cancer patients help heal themselves. For the past four years, Hait has told his Olympic story countless times and shared his gold medal with cancer patients around the country.
“When a patient is told, get your affairs in order, you’ve got cancer, the doctor has to legally tell the patient what the facts are,” says Hait. “The hope and faith side of it, the doctor doesn’t get into that. We give these people hope. I was told I’d never swim again. But I was determined to not take that input literally, to not give up hope.”
Recently, Seeds of Joy was dissolved into Cancer Wars, a MAARS Journey, and is now a free cancer healing motivational program at http://seedsofjoy foundation.com.
Hait and his wife, Elizabeth, have lived in Bend since the 1980s. They have three children and two grandchildren.
This began as a story about Hait’s photography. He takes photos of the clouds over Central Oregon that can morph into recognizable objects in seconds. Hait captures those moments when nondescript cumulus become monkeys, elk, even stealth bombers. He also creates stunning sunset images (“In my opinion, no place on Earth has more spectacular sunsets.”).
“One of the keys to catching the clouds is to always have a camera with you,” says Hait.
He also says, “People walk by opportunity. They trip over it, they step on it, they don’t see things they should see.”
Which isn’t necessarily about photography at all.