Owner of new Richland waterfront hotel dies from cancer at 64
By R.J. Marx and Brenna Visser, The Daily Astorian, & TCAJOB staff
The owner of Richland’s newest waterfront hotel died Sunday morning at his home after a short illness. He was 64.
Tom Drumheller envisioned The Lodge at Columbia Point as a regional boutique hotel unique to the Tri-Cities. The $8.5 million lodge, which features 62,773 square feet of space, opened earlier this year.
The chief executive officer of Escape Lodging played a key role in the region’s hospitality industry and beyond, serving on the board of directors of Travel Portland. He was inducted this year into the inaugural hall of fame at The School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University.
“I’ve known Tom for 30 years, and we’ve been business partners since 1999,” said Patrick Nofield, president of Escape Lodging. “There’s nobody like him. It’s a huge void — not just for those who loved him, but for our community, and the people of Eastern Washington where he grew up.”
Escape Lodging also owns Cousin’s Restaurant, Tri-Cities in Pasco, Cousin’s Country Inn and Restaurant, in The Dalles, Oregon, The Ocean Lodge, Inn in Cannon Beach, Oregon and numerous other lodging properties and restaurants in Oregon and Washington.
Drumheller was diagnosed with metastasized colon cancer in August, Nofield said. “When they were in the hospital they found cancer was all over his body,” he said. “It was totally unexpected.”
Nofield said Drumheller did not want to spend his last days in the hospital, so he returned to Cannon Beach for home hospice care.
He had friends and family members visit from all over the Northwest, Nofield said. “For the last week of his life it was like one continuous party. Tom was greeting everyone, engaging people, meeting with employees, sharing stories, sharing humor.”
A career in hospitality
John Thomas Drumheller, known as “Tom,” was born and raised in Walla Walla on Aug. 15, 1953. His family worked in the hardware business for generations.
Growing up, he watched how his father used humor and respect to develop strong relationships with customers.
That set the foundation of his philosophy toward the hotel and restaurant industry, where he worked for 25 years before establishing his own business.
A key experience came when Tom turned 9; he was hit by a baseball, Nofield said.
The ball concaved his skull and he lost all ability to talk. “They were able to do surgery and put the skull where it needed to be, but he had to reteach himself to talk,” Nofield said.
His mother, a schoolteacher, read him the Dr. Seuss classic, “Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose.”
The incident inspired Drumheller’s future career direction, Nofield said.
“Thidwick always wanted to take care of his guests, and of all the people I have ever met, Tom was the most hospitable person to anyone, whether it be a housekeeper at one of our hotels, or whether it be a billionaire developer,” Nofield said. “He treats them all the same. All with love and all with encouragement.”
After graduation from the Carson College of Business at WSU, Drumheller participated in the Hyatt Hotel management training program before establishing Escape Lodging of Cannon Beach in 2001.
Drumheller served on the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association Board of Directors, Washington State University Hotel and Restaurant Advisory Board of Directors and Travel Portland Board of Directors.
In 2014, Drumheller and Tom Krueger teamed to open Tom’s Fish & Chips restaurant in Cannon Beach.
Drumheller said in a 2014 interview his goal was to “try to make it really, really cozy, especially during the offseason for the locals.”
Drumheller and Krueger opened a second location in Seaside this summer.
“I was very fortunate to have some great mentors I admired and learned a great deal from,” Drumheller said in an alumni magazine profile. “When one of them passed away, it spurred me, along with my future business partner, to take what I had learned and start my own company. It was both very scary and exciting. The risk-to-reward ratio has been better than I could have imagined.”
Friends and family gathered in his last days to salute the man they had grown to know and love.
Robin Risley was among the founding members of the Cannon Beach arts commission when Drumheller served as chairman.
“He was such a fun person to have at the meeting,” Risley said. “He did things with a sense of humor. We didn’t all come from the same place, but he was so inclusive that most of the decisions were made were fair and forward thinking. I just appreciated him so much. He always had such a twinkle in his eye.”
Ryan Snyder, president and owner of Martin North, a family of hotels and restaurants in Cannon Beach, worked with Drumheller beginning in 1995 and together at Martin Hospitality at the time it was owned by the late Steve Martin.
“Tom was a mentor and a friend,” Snyder said. “He helped me and my family through the times of transition after the passing of Steve in 2000.”
Snyder and Drumheller served on the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association Board of Directors together.
“He was a steady, peaceful, funny, charming, and simply a magical human being,” Snyder said. “He was a great husband and father, a loving grandfather, and a genuine friend.”
Cannon Beach police Chief Jason Schermerhorn knew Drumheller as a member of the Tourism Advisory Committee.
“When I started with the city five years ago, the city manager at the time said, ‘There’s a list of people you need to meet,’ and he was at the top of the list,” Schermerhorn said. “He always had a smile on his face, and very generous when he gave back to the community.”
“He was a huge rock here in Cannon Beach,” said Court Carrier, the executive director of the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce. “He was important — a hospitality executive for decades.”
Dates for a memorial service have not yet been scheduled.
Read the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business’ previous stories on Tom Drumheller:
– Richland hotel owner among those inducted into hospitality program’s hall of fame
–Richland’s new waterfront hotel aims to provide unique hospitality experience