If anyone epitomized Old Ballard, it was honest and friendly businessman Bob Jacobsen. He grew up in a farmhouse above Shilshole Marina...

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If anyone epitomized Old Ballard, it was honest and friendly businessman Bob Jacobsen.

He grew up in a farmhouse above Shilshole Marina and never moved more than eight blocks away as he became an avid hydroplane racer in his youth and later founded one of the region’s best-known boat dealerships.

Generations of Seattle boating families have purchased their first outboard motors and other equipment from Jacobsen’s Boats and Motors, which he started with $500 in a garage on Leary Way.

Mr. Jacobsen’s secret to success wasn’t watching the bottom line. He treated everyone with fairness and respect, from his family and employees to customers and the down-and-out who were given many an odd job around the store, friends and family said. All they had to do in return was listen to his beloved Norwegian jokes.

“He taught us that business wasn’t really about numbers,” said his son, Bob Jacobsen Jr., of Stanwood. “It was a people thing.”

Mr. Jacobsen died Feb. 16 at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle from complications after surgery. He was 78.

“He was just a lot of things — a good father, a good husband, excellent businessman,” said Ballard attorney Chuck Mullavey, a lifelong friend. “You could count on Bob’s word.”

Robert Alvin Jacobsen was born on March 26, 1928, the youngest of three children. His father owned a small boat-building and rental business in Ballard, but he died young. Mr. Jacobsen’s mother was left to raise the family herself.

“He overcame a lot to do what he did,” said Mr. Jacobsen’s other son, Greg Jacobsen of Kirkland, who now owns and operates Jacobsen’s Marine on Northwest Market Street.

Mr. Jacobsen graduated from Ballard High School in 1945 and got a job delivering mail. And he started racing outboard hydroplanes, designing and building boats in a chicken coop out behind the family house with his brother Edward.

He won the coveted Lake Washington 100 Mile Marathon, the Sammamish Slough Race and a National Outboard Championship. He would eventually be inducted into the National Hydroplane Hall of Fame.

In 1953, he married Jackie Fraser and traded boat racing for family life, his children said. He raised his two sons and two daughters in a family home he built overlooking Shilshole, just blocks from where he grew up. His wife died in 1999.

He worked long hours but was an easygoing, kind and generous father, his children said.

“We were spoiled, I would say,” recalled daughter Deborah Schadt, of Kirkland. “We had cars when we were 16. He didn’t turn us down very often. I wouldn’t say he was very strict.”

All the Jacobsen children were expected to work from the time they were teens. But their father also taught them how to drive and water ski. He also loved taking his friends and family for rides in his “Amphicar,” an amphibious automobile that he could drive right into Lake Union.

As a community leader, Mr. Jacobsen served on the boards of many organizations, was named the Ballard Businessman of the Year for 1991 and helped found the National Marine Trade Association.

After he retired in 1995, he indulged his passion for golf nearly every day at the Seattle Golf Club. He and his wife also wintered on Maui and in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

In addition to his sons and daughter Deborah, Mr. Jacobsen is survived by daughter Diane Jacobsen, of Kirkland; his brother Edward Jacobsen, of Ballard; and 13 grandchildren.

Remembrances may be made to the Millionair Club Charity, 2515 Western Ave., Seattle, WA 98121. A memorial service was held at the Seattle Golf Club on Friday.

Marsha King: 206-464-2232 or mking@seattletimes.com