Interview with Richard Mahar
It is my great honor and pleasure to be able to introduce our readers to the man who actually started Exodus. My uncle Richard Mahar is with me here for a little while to provide us with his perspective of what Exodus was meant to be and what it has become.
Richard, thanks so much for giving us some of your valuable time for this interview!
Eli, thanks for the opportunity to answer some questions about the beginning of Exodus.
So, my first question is: What (or who?) inspired you to start Exodus?
I had much inspiration. First and foremost the numerous commands, wisdom, and examples (good and bad) from scripture in one form or another for God’s people to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
It hit me in a very practical way with our first son. A few years before Exodus, we sent Jacob, our oldest, to Skamania School kindergarten. It only took a couple weeks to start noticing his attitude about authority started getting goofy. We decided to pull him out and homeschool—and never looked back. That was a significant experience and trigger for us to think a deeper about the nature of education, government, and purpose. And we did.
We ended up moving back to Oregon City. We were getting plugged into a very supportive church for homeschooling. These were also the days when homeschooling was not too popular and there were some political/legal challenges. The church was very helpful on all these fronts.
That was the period in the early ‘80s when Dennis Tuuri, PEAPAC and OCEANetwork were working to get the first home school friendly laws passed in Oregon. I remember my parents started home schooling us shortly after that, due, in large part, to your influence!
I had developed a good relationship with Curt and Jenny Bumcrot who ran Basic Skill Assessment Service. In those days there were annual homeschool conferences in the greater Portland area and we had worked together in some of those.
While I don’t remember the exact details, I believe Curt may have suggested the idea to me of starting a retail store and maybe even pointed me to the original lease space next door to Basic Skills to start up. His customers became my customers and visa versa. A win/win.
Definitely a great combination. I have come to appreciate the Bumcrot family so much over the years. OK, second question: What was your original vision for the store?
The original vision was to provide a retail outlet of homeschool materials for parents. There were mail order options at the time, but to have a place where people could browse, touch, and ask questions up close and personal seemed to be a good and right thing to offer at the time.
At that time, I had another full time job and I was not sure if I could pull this off to such an extent that I could afford to quit my other job.
I remember the Great Christian Books, Family Christian and Life Books & Gifts “Always Incomplete” Catalogs when I was first starting–all gone now! Good memories. But yes, an actual walk-in store was (and still is) a real need. This brings me to question three: How did you come up with the name?
With the original name, Exodus Multimedia Services, I had the idea of more than just books. I wanted to include videos and other media to provide help to parents and children. This was the age in which other forms of media, other than just books, were developing. I remember we had dial up internet at the time. Audio cassettes, computers, floppy disks were in ascendance. By adding “Multimedia Services” we were trying to communicate we were more than just a bookstore.
You’d shortened that to Exodus Provisions before I came along. That name began to suggest the idea of generators and foodstuffs during the Y2K craze, which is the main reason we later switched it to Exodus Books.
The “Exodus” was to imply children and parents can be enslaved to misinformation and unhelpful ideas about the purpose of life and family and government AND there is a way out. The borrowed paradigm was from Israel enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt; Israel cries out to God and God delivers them by taking them out of that bondage to set them free to obey the living God and giving them provisions for their new life. Get your kids out of government schools and teach them to enjoy and learn God’s creation; teach them about freedom. Freedom is not licentiousness, but rather power to do what is right.
Our government schools are philosophically atheistic in practice. All education carries a narrative of the world. The narrative of statist tax-funded education is that the world just is and we (human creatures) must try to make sense of it. Their narrative is not that God created the heavens and the earth and has communicated to His creation how we should then live. While they may argue that they are not teaching one way or the other, by default they are teaching the other. They take God’s created world, cut His interpretation out, and fill in the missing data with the ever changing interpretations of rich power brokers and lobbyists and ideology pushers.
Such good words! Yes, education is never neutral! I think you were able to clearly express that vision to me, and the essence of what you’ve said is still our mission statement.
I was only around a little bit during the earliest days. Do you have any notable memories of the period?
Many good memories. Probably the most notable memory was when we decided to start selling used curriculum on consignment. The attraction to people of being able to sell their used books and to be able to buy used books was powerful and timely. However, the record keeping needed for the consignment model was onerous.
We eventually decided to just buy the used books outright for resell. I would offer what I thought was fair, the seller could take it or leave it. If they took it, they were paid up front. We then owned the books and took the loss if something would not sell. It turned into a huge opportunity for us and anyone who wanted to get rid of books they no longer needed, and gave a better value to folk wanting to pick up something less expensive than new. It was a win/win/win.
The process of buying used books was one of the main lessons you taught me, while I was considering the idea of taking over. It is definitely the most requested service we offer! Ok, so #5: What did you find fun and/or challenging about starting a bookstore?
It was very challenging. I had another full time job, a family with 6 children. I made a lot of mistakes on several levels. It was never “fun” like a trip to Cabo. However, I did enjoy aspects, especially the fruit and thankfulness.
And don’t forget you were an elder in a church! Even with the amount of work it is now, I can’t imagine that heavy of a load! But yes, it is a very rewarding place to work. OK, a rather self-serving question: Do you remember your first impression of the idea of my buying it?
Details are a bit fuzzy, but as memory serves me, we got to a point where the business was growing significantly and I was getting too stretched. Also my children were growing and having plans of their own that did not include running Exodus. Though, I should add, several of our children helped us a ton in the store and at the homeschool conferences that we would set up for.
Anyway, I did not want Exodus to die, but could not see how to keep it going. After some prayer, you came along. You were young, energetic, smart, and capable. Being my nephew I had known you since before you were born. You may remember better than I the details, but somehow in the mix you rose up to the occasion and I was happy to negotiate a deal to make you owner, and I have never regretted the decision; rather, I have rejoiced in your work and growth with Exodus ever since.
Thank you! Your encouragement and support has always meant a lot to me.
What do you think of what Exodus has become? Do you think it still aligns with your original goals for the store?
I know there have been some interesting changes and challenges for you in the last few years, but overall, I have been very pleased with what you have accomplished. It has far surpassed my original goals. I pray Exodus continues to grow and be fruitful for the kingdom of God.
Through some sinful failures on my part and other circumstances outside of my control, the present does not fully reflect my goals from the 90’s. But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting and He can cause everything to work together for good and throw curveballs one never expected. As William Cowper wrote in a hymn in 1771, “God moves in mysterious ways.”
I know that after you left Exodus, you spent a period of time working for Silver Star Cabinets, and I was always thankful when you let me know about fixtures they were getting rid of cheaply! They helped make the store much more beautiful! So, what are you up to nowadays?
I have since moved back to Skamania County and have been elected County Commissioner, and currently in my second term. While the County Commissioner job does not directly deal much with government education, I do get the opportunity to be exposed to much more direct cultural and political stuff than in my prior life.
I have recently learned that the tax-payer cost of education for one student for one year in Washington State is over $18,000. While there are examples of remarkable students, the overall accomplishment package of the graduates is not a good value for $18K. And while this is bad enough, as a commissioner I have learned there is billions more taxpayer cost than the $18K. These billions are funneled through several other federal and state programs to help address the failures of the government schools.
I have consistently voted against any school levy I have ever been asked to vote on. It is not a money issue; it is a nature of the American system issue as well as a theological issue.
As an unintended consequence of the Covidization of reality the past couple years, homeschooling has seen a significant growth. Maybe more people are waking up to the disaster of government-funded education. Maybe more people are waking up to understand the purpose of tax-funded government vs. our US Constitution. Maybe people are waking up to their obligation to nurture their children in truth and guard their children from foolishness. I hope and pray so on all the above.
While today, in 2022, I am not directly involved with selling homeschool materials, my heart has grown in conviction and hope for a healthy separation of education and state, and the promotion of parents bringing up their children in the paideia of the Lord.
I hope and pray for these same things. It seems to me that God is actively knocking down our idols–government, money, education, sex. Our culture is being shaken to its roots! I have always appreciated how you are able to connect political topics back to theological roots, and usually find your comments insightful and convicting. No less today.
I want to express my sincere thanks to you and your family for the work you did to use all these beliefs to create a practical outlet that now can serve many!
Thank you, Eli, for the questions. And God richly bless you in your Exodus, and other endeavors.
Richard, thank you again for taking the time to look back at the beginnings of Exodus. I pray that God blesses you in your future endeavors, as Commissioner, husband, dad, grandpa, and whatever else He has in store!