Generous community comes to the rescue after vandals strike at park

jdodge@theolympian.comMarch 31, 2013 

For nearly 50 years, kids have clung to and clambered on the bronze-and-copper railings of two concrete boats that anchor Tumwater Falls Park’s modest playground.

The boats, dubbed the Coho and the Ho, were designed by Philip H. “Skip” Schmidt, a member of the iconic Olympia Brewery family and a former Tumwater mayor. They were added to the park a couple of years after it opened on the banks of the Deschutes River next to the brewery in 1963.

The playground equipment was an afterthought, since the original park design catered to adults more than families, noted John Freedman, executive director of the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, the nonprofit group that operates the day-use park.

The boats were an instant hit, a magnet for kids whose families stop to picnic in the shadow of the abandoned brewery or stroll the park’s half-mile looped trail through the river ravine.

Turns out the railing was a magnet for metal thieves, too. On a dark night last November, thieves equipped with a battery-powered metal saw attacked the Ho and slipped away with their ill-gotten booty.

In the ensuing days, they probably cut the railing into smaller pieces, then sold it to one or more scrap yards, perhaps getting enough money — probably less than $100 — to feed a drug habit.

Freedman remembers the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when he saw the vandalized Ho. By then, he was no stranger to metal thievery. The Schmidt House, also maintained by the park foundation, had been the victim of metal thievery in May 2012, Two bronze floral urns that marked the graves of brewery founder Leopold Schmidt and his son Peter were stolen from the mansion grounds.

Freedman filed another police report, cordoned off the area and called two companies in town seeking bids to repair the playground boat.

One company bid the job for $7,000. The other, Zeigler’s Welding, offered to do the work for free.

Jeff Hilts and Chad Smith, co-owners of the venerable welding shop in downtown Olympia, said it was a no-brainer. You see, they both had played on the cement boats when they were kids growing up in the Olympia area.

“It made me sick when I heard what had happened,” Hilts said.

The story of generosity gets better: Don and Erika Rollman of Olympia Powder Coating donated their services, too, applying the finishing touches to the railing fabricated by Zeigler’s.

“I thought that was an outstanding gesture of community support for a nonprofit,” Freedman said.

To save money and deter future thievery, the replacement boat railing is steel. And surveillance cameras have been installed to keep an eye on the park property 24 hours a day.

You can’t be too cautious in the ongoing battle against metal thieves.


I ran into former Gov. Chris Gregoire in the lobby of the state Department of Ecology headquarters in Lacey on Thursday just before a small ceremony to induct her into an Ecology hall of fame of sorts that honors this state’s female environmental pioneers.

I asked her what’s she’s been doing the past two months, and what the future holds now that the political buzz over her possible appointment to President Barack Obama’s second term administration has faded away.

“We’ve been undoing 20 years of neglect around the home,” she said in reference to the Gregoire family’s South Bay abode. “As for the future, I really don’t know yet.”

Twenty years ago — shortly after Gregoire was elected state attorney general for the first time and about a year after she left a four-year stint as director of Ecology — a women’s history month project at Ecology titled “Pushing the River” honored five women — Betty Tabbutt, Hazel Wolf, Joan Thomas, Doris Cellarius and Jackie Reid. Their black-and-white photos, accompanied by a summary of their accomplishments, have adorned a hallway in the Ecology headquarters ever since.

On Thursday, Gregoire’s color photo was added to the group. In a brief acceptance speech, she reflected on her years at Ecology.

“I have a lot of wonderful memories of the policies we worked on,” she said. “But I’ve become progressively more troubled about global climate change. … All the things we should be doing to address it are things we should be doing anyway.” Think promotion of clean energy and reduced reliance on polluting fossil fuels.

She also seemed a bit preoccupied by a pending speech at the memorial service Saturday of former Gov. Booth Gardner, who gave her political career a big boost 25 years ago.

“Booth Gardner picked me out of nowhere to become Ecology director,” said Gregoire, who was an assistant attorney general at the time and initially demurred at the offer. She recalled the fuss it caused with Gardner chief of staff Dean Foster, who was heading up a nationwide search for a new Ecology director. Foster tried to talk Gardner out of the spontaneous appointment.

“Cancel the national search,” Gardner said.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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