Does His Raley's Success Make Him a Hometown Hero? Yes !

His Life and Times

Point Arena Lighthouse

Hero's Always Have Humble Beginnings


The Charles Nordby’s Story

Charles was born in San Francisco on August 8th in 1924 and lived in Point Arena, the tiny lighthouse community on the Mendocino County coastline in Northern California.

His father was a sailor and his mother was a local teacher and big band singer who eventually ran off with a big band leader who was playing at the Rio Nido Resort along the Russian River in Sonoma County. She abandoned Charles at the age of two who then went to stay with his grandparents. His grandfather was the judge and post master in this little town.

With little supervision from his grandparents he spent much of his childhood hanging out at the local filling station with the local men who would gather to play poker. This is where he got his start at mastering the game, reading people and their faces, honed his skills with numbers and learned how to beat the locals at whatever game they were playing. He became a regular in the game and a favorite with the men in town who marveled at his gambling skills at such a young age.

Charles Nordby as a WWII Veteran

Once he graduated from high school he enlisted in the merchant marines and served his country during WWll. While in Egypt he caught malaria and was thought to be dying. As he laid on his death bed in the hospital, he heard his ships engine starting. He recognized the sound well since he had docked at many ports. His ship was deporting and he refused to die there so he jumped out of his hospital bed and ran towards the harbor as fast as he could. He reached his ship just in time to board and was treated by the crews doctor and recovered from his illness. In retelling this story you could hear the emotion of fear that he felt at the time that he was going to die in Egypt.


Another story he once shared with me was the time his crew were having a fun day out at sea. They decided to pick up Charlie and throw him overboard. Little did they know that Charlie couldn't swim. The only friend on the ship at the time who knew that he couldn't swim wandered onto the deck and asked what all the excitement was? They said "we just threw Nordby overboard" his friend screamed out "WHAT? Charlie can't swim" they all hurriedly began a frantic rescue and just as he was going down under the water, they were able to pull him back up to the ships deck. Once again, he faced and escaped death. He had a faith in God since he was a little child because his grandmother was the Sunday school teacher.  His whole life was full of challenges and dangerous situations. I remember talking to him later in life and he reflected back over the years and would say "I know that God was with me or I wouldn't have made it through all those years". 

From War to Grocery Stores

After he finished his military stint on the high seas and survived delivering weapons and supplies all over the world, he docked in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was in the Oakland area and went into a little supermarket where he saw a cute young lady. He struck up a conversation with her and soon discovered that she shopped there all of the time. After his flirtatious talk with her, he went over to the store manager and asked for a job there. The manager asked Charles if he knew how to work produce, he replied “yes, of course”, though he knew very little about fruits and vegetables, he knew he could fake it long enough to get a date with this cute girl.

And so he did. But he picked up the skills to keep the job, marry the cute girl and they immediately began a family. Not any family but a big family. The first child, Charlie Jr. was born in 1946, the next was Karol in 1947, then Thomas in 1949, John and Claudia in 1950. Frank came along in 1951 and five years later in 1956 I was born. Then in 1960,  Jerry and Terry were born. The last of the clan of nine.  

Ten years after starting in the market as a produce clerk, Charles broke his back lifting a heavy case of lettuce. This injury changed the course of his life. With six children at home, Charles was determined to get back to work as soon as he could. But it was soon determined that his back injury was too severe and that made it impossible to return to the market and resume his position there as a produce clerk. In his ten years as a clerk, he realized that his math, people and what he called a “sixth sense”, made him attuned to areas of the retail environment that made him realize that there was more to the market than lettuce and tomatoes. And he was able to convince the owners of the market to let him look at the overall operation of the stores and make changes that would save the company money from cost effective business practices, mismanagement and losses suffered from customer, employee and supplier theft. Once he was able to view the complete operation of this grocery store, his eyes and ears were open to every conceivable way that retail stores could fail and then he began educating the owners of better practices that would help them achieve higher profits.

He appeared before the state of California in the 60’s to convince the state that retailers statewide were experiencing more loses from theft than which the stores were able to write off. At that time all retailers in California were allowed a 1% write off for theft losses. With Charles Nordby’s expertise and his testimony, the State of California change the law and began allowing all retailers statewide a 2% write off for theft losses. That one percent increase has saved retailers billions of dollars in theft loss write offs over the last fifty years.

In Berkeley, 1969, he suspected an assistant manager of one of the stores that he was consulting was stealing money from the cash drawers. It was a Sunday afternoon and Charles began watching the assistant manager all afternoon through binoculars from across the street from the store. It was closing time at the store and after 5 hours of watching the employee’s every move, he figured this employee wasn’t going to steal money on this shift. So Charles drove off to a 30 minute drive home in the East Bay Area. After going a few blocks he abruptly made a u-turn and realized that something was wrong in the grocery store. It occurred to him that all of the clerks working in the store were not acting like they normally would. Each of them were carrying their cash drawers and all marching in order in the front lobby of the store. He quickly pulled into the store’s parking lot with his car lights off. He got out and ducked down so he could peek into the front of the stores plate glass windows. His hunch was right. There was something going wrong. He saw 3 African American men aiming guns at the clerks and taking them to the backroom. Charles called the police and when they arrived at the store they immediately broke out the front window of the store. Gun fire began and it was thought that the gunmen were executing the clerks inside the meat locker. Once Charles and the police were able to get into the store they immediately headed for the backroom and found all of the clerks in the meat locker without any harm. The three gunmen were caught and prosecuted. Had not Charles not followed his intuition after leaving the store after watching it all afternoon, there is no way to know what might have become of these grocery clerks.

Undercover Agent

In 1971 as he would visit the gaming rooms in Sonoma County, he discovered that nearly every one of the gaming rooms were drugging, cheating and robbing the clients who were gambling at these local card rooms. He convinced Sonoma County’s District Attorney to let him go into these card rooms as an undercover poker player and report back to him what he was able to see just playing cards in these rooms. When his undercover work was finished and his report was submitted to the District Attorney’s office, it shook the gaming industry to its core and 12 of the 14 card rooms were closed down.

In 1971, Nordby designed and built a two-way mirror that was created to help company’s survey their businesses. Looking through these windows enabled owners and managers to watch employees, customers, vendors, hold up men and their operations as a whole without anyone knowing that they were being watched. Next to every one of these 32”x32” protruding mirrors was a sign equally as big, warning people exactly what these windows were doing and that there was a person behind the window watching every move that they made. These windows are in hundreds of stores and various businesses all over Northern California and Nevada.

1973 Saving Tom Raley's Stores

In 1973 Charles had heard that there was a small chain of stores in the Sacramento area that was experiencing hard financial times. He called the President of the company to set up an appointment to tell him what he could do to help his company survive the challenges they were facing. The company was Vans Markets and Pete Stathos was the company President.  Charles drove two hours from the Sonoma County area to Sacramento. When he arrived at the Vans offices, he was told by the secretary that Pete Stathos was on the golf course and probably forgot that Charles had an appointment with him.  Disappointed that he drove so far only to be stood up, Charles had heard of another company in Sacramento that was also experiencing financial problems. He looked up there number and called them from a phone booth.  The company was Raley’s Supermarkets, based in Sacramento. Charles called Raley’s and a man answering the phone identified himself as “Chuck” Collings. Chuck turned out to be the President of the company. He was answering the company phone because the company could no longer afford to have a fulltime secretary.

Charles Nordby told Chuck Collings who he was and what his program could do for their company. Collings invited Charles to the Raley’s main office which was in downtown Sacramento, it was an old dirty building, evident of a company going bad. Charles Nordby met with Chuck Collings and explained his profit increasing program. Collings was very interested in what Charles had to say and asked him if he could come back in a couple of hour and explain his program to the other two vice presidents. Charles came back and explained to all three men exactly what his program would do for their company.

After hearing what he had to say and offer, they had nothing to lose. They knew they were at the end of their game of "Robbing from Peter to pay Paul" All three men knew the financial straits they were in. Charles Nordby didn’t. He had no idea what he was stepping into. But he saw this 50 store chain as his way to prove his program and expertise to save any company. And he knew that this was going to be his BIG payday when he did. He realized that he was going to take mom on the vacation he was never able to give here because she was always home with children. There were only 3 children at home at this time and I was one of them and old enough to watch the younger two, the second set of twins, Jerry and Terry.

In the last quarter of 1973, they agreed to allow Nordby to implement his program into 6 of their worse stores in the Sacramento area. Because his program was going to require some upfront expenses to implement, Nordby was shocked that this 50 store chain had no money to even get started with his program. Knowing what he could do for this company, that their profits were going to skyrocket, and he knew that he was finally going to get the pay and recognition for his years of refining his program, so he went to a friend of his in San Francisco and borrowed the money on behalf of Raley’s so he could get started.

The first thing he did was he began going into every store unannounced and watched the operations of that store. In walks Charles Nordby, with carte blanche to do what he deemed necessary and begins to write reports as to why the company is going bankrupt and what needed to be done to keep it from happening. 

The mismanagement was overwhelming. The employees were stealing, vendors were cheating on their invoices and customers were blatantly shoplifting because no one had ever stopped them. He then hired a couple men that he could train in exactly what they needed to be doing for this company. One of the men became one of his best friends and confidants and an eye witness to almost everything our father was doing, his name is Warren Millar and is still alive to this day. We are very thankful that our father had a friend like Warren. 

Nobody in the Raley's operation could understand the scope of problems they had accumulated over years of mismanagement and an absentee owner, Tom Raley.

He immediately began re-writing company policy. Every time he saw something wrong he would write a policy to change it. He installed his loss prevention two-way mirrors and warning signs in every location in the stores that would make the most sense which included being the most visible in areas that were a shop lifters paradise.

These strategies created a buzz within the employees, vendors, store management and customers. Everyone thought that they were being watched by the mystery men manning the security mirrors.

Within this first quarter of his program, the stores were already turning a profit. Millions began rolling in and Raley's experienced their highest profits ever! 

To Catch a Thief ~ The Wolves in Sheeps Clothing

Charles Nordby could catch anyone at anytime. But the con men at Raley's were so entrenched in evil, yet they put on their finest sheeps clothing, that even Nordby didn't realize that Chuck Collings and James Teel were the biggest thieves he had ever encountered until after it was all over. It appears that their whole purpose for Nordby from the beginning was to steal, and to kill, and to destroy

And they stole from him the information they needed to survive.

 And they killed him off like criminals do to their victims so there isn't a witness.  Little did they know that one of his sons was witnessing their crime.

 And then they tried to destroy his legacy by removing him from their history and the pages of their success story. Not realizing that their                                  history book actually holds the DNA of their crime. 

Most criminals don't realize when they are leaving their DNA behind at the scene of their crime.  When Raley's wrote their false narrative of Tom Raley's success story, that was them not only leaving their DNA at the crime, it was also the criminals returning to the scene of their crime.