2017-08-20 / Insight

Immigrants vital to American society

Chaldean family owns three gas stations in city of Lapeer
BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 •


Photo by Phil Foley Photo by Phil Foley ‘We love our customers and they love us’

LAPEER — Most days you’ll find Sam Odish behind the counter of his Sunoco gas station on North Main Street in the shadow of McLaren Lapeer Region.

He greets every customer with a smile, a wave and a “How are you,” tinged with a Middle Eastern accent. But, he’s not Arab and he’s not Muslim. Odish was born into a family of entrepreneurs in the mountains of Iraq, north of Mosul. He’s Chaldean.

Chaldeans, sometimes also referred to as Assyrians or Syriacs, represent less than 10 percent of Iraq’s population and as Catholics, both Roman and Eastern Orthodox, they have suffered varying degrees of persecution in Iraq. Unlike the majority of people who live in the Middle East, Chaldeans speak Aramaic, the language Jesus is believed to have spoken.


Sam Odish points to some of the bucks he and other family members have taken on hunting trips in Lapeer County. He said he’s found Lapeer a very welcoming community. 
Photo by Phil Foley Sam Odish points to some of the bucks he and other family members have taken on hunting trips in Lapeer County. He said he’s found Lapeer a very welcoming community. Photo by Phil Foley Their culture can be traced back 5,500 years and Abraham referred to Ur in the Sam Odish and his cousin, Keyar Odish, take a moment at his Sunoco gas station on North Main Street in Lapeer. Odish, along with his brothers and cousins, operate three Sunoco stations in Lapeer.

Bible as a Chaldean city.

When Henry Ford doubled his workers’ wages to $5-a-day at the beginning of the 20th century, it lured people from all over the world, including the Chaldeans. Still by World War II there were less than 1,000 in metro Detroit.

Today estimates put southeast Michigan’s Chaldean population at 150,000. Odish, who was born in Iraq, said he is unsure when his parents immigrated. He said his parents eventually settled in the Sterling Heights area, where most of his family still lives.

Odish said that while he, his brothers and cousins, all commute back and forth from Sterling Heights and West Bloomfield, the family also owns a house in the Lapeer area.

He said his father, who has since passed, was a shop keeper. According to the Chaldean Community Foundation, 61 percent of Chaldean households own one business and 39 percent own two or more.

“This is what I know,” he said.

Eight years ago, Odish, his brothers and some cousins, bought three BP gas stations in Lapeer after they were abruptly closed by a Southfield-based petroleum wholesaler.

Hunting was one of the things that attracted his family to the area. “We are hunters,” he said, pointing to a wall of trophy photos.

He added they found Lapeer a very welcoming community.

In 2011, in the wake of the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the family rebranded the stations, located at 9 East Genesee, 1489 North Main St., and 715 Main St., as Sunoco stations.

In 2012, after Lapeer’s Donald Lawson took home the largest Powerball jackpot ever won in Michigan Odish said the store began to develop a reputation for being lucky. That was solidified last year when another Lapeer County cashed in a winning ticket from the store, this time for $200,000.

At the time he told The County Press, “It’s a lucky store, brother. God loves us.” While tensions in the Middle East have created difficulties, especially after 9-11, for some people, Odish said, “We have never had any problems at all.”

He said, “We love our customers and they love us.”

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