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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – John Jurkens once said that he had “no business being in business.”
The founder of Octopus Car Washes, who lived in Albuquerque since 1969, grew his empire into 30 car washes in eight states at its height – despite having a background in art, not business. He died at age 90, on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.
“He really was a pioneer for the car wash industry,” said Ray Morton, Jurkens’ longtime accountant. “Many people admired him for what he was trying to do and really tried to emulate the system that he developed.”
Jurkens, who was born in Sterling, first pursued a career as an artist, attending the American Academy of Art in Chicago and the Whitney School of Art in New Haven, Conn.
He volunteered for the Army Air Corps 2 weeks after Pearl Harbor and served 4 years during World War II. He flew more than 36 missions over Germany and received the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Medal and the Purple Heart.
In 1950, when he was working with an art studio in the Chicago area, his Air Force Reserve group was activated for the Korean War and he served another 2 years.
In an officers club at the end of the war, Jurkens and three other officers decided one of them needed to get out of the Air Force and into business.
“We flipped a coin and I lost,” Jurkens told the Albuquerque Journal in 1987.
The officers pooled their money and Jurkens built a car wash in Rock Island, with a stake of $11,000. Each of Jurkens’ partners decided not to join the business and he bought their investments.
He quickly began expanding, first in Madison, Wis., and then further west, purchasing two car washes in Albuquerque, moving there in 1969. He at one time owned car washes in Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Jurkens became obsessed with creating a car wash system that didn’t use brushes, believing they left marks on cars. He felt the only thing that should touch a car was water and chemicals, Morton said.
“He spent untold hours developing the system over the years, mainly developing a chemical that would provide a perfectly clean car,” said Morton. “That was his goal.”
Alice, his wife of 66 years, with whom he had four children, said when they went on vacation, he would visit car washes while she would go shopping.
She said he never returned to his art career.
“John always threw himself into whatever he was doing, whether it was art or car washing, his total interest was in that one vocation,” she said.
Although they’ve sold some of the car washes, the Jurkens family still owns 14 shops – six in Albuquerque; three in Madison, Wis.; two in Rockford; and one each in Farmington, Pueblo, Colo., and Lakewood, Colo.
Asked about other hobbies, his wife said he had “absolutely none.”
“Family and car washing, that was his total life,” she said. “And he loved it. He loved every minute of it.”
He is survived by his wife, four children, three grandchildren, and two brothers.
This originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.