Soundings: Two friends deserving of community recognition

jdodge@theolympian.comJune 5, 2014 

Two members of Olympia’s Jewish community who have been close friends for 70 years will be recognized Sunday for their philanthropy and community involvement in two public events organized by another civic-minded associate of theirs.

The two men being feted are Olympia attorney Steve Bean and business entrepreneur Fred Goldberg, one of the founding members of Saltchuk Resources Inc., the largest privately held company in the state.

They didn’t seek out attention for their decades of giving back to the community, but what choice do you really have when former secretary of state Ralph Munro grabs on to an idea and runs with it? I can tell you: None at all.

Heck, Munro is so persuasive, he talked me into devoting a Soundings column to the two kindred spirits.

(Full disclosure: I play in a monthly poker game with Bean and participate in two fantasy sports leagues with him. I’ve known both men for more than 35 years, but my relationship with Goldberg is collegial rather than a close one.)

Munro almost single-handedly organized two public events for Sunday, bringing the play, “In the Land of Rain and Salmon, Jewish Voices of the Pacific Northwest: 1880-1920,” to Panorama Auditorium in Lacey at 1 p.m. and to the Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia at 4 p.m. The play is the brainchild of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society and incorporates the stories of early Jewish immigrants to the region.

Both the Goldberg and Bean families fit the bill of early immigrants. Their names have been synonymous with the Olympia Jewish community since the early 20th century.

Neither Goldberg, 74, nor Bean, 73, describe themselves as deeply engaged in Judaism, typically only attending the temple for the “high holidays.” But they and their families have been major financial contributors to the temple over the years, and Goldberg describes Rabbit Seth Goldstein as his spiritual counselor.

And their proven track record of philanthropy and civic engagement has its roots in a traditional tenet of Judaism called tzedakah (pronounced tseh-DUH-kuh), the Hebrew word for justice or righteous behavior. In other words, giving to the poor is more than an act of kindness; it’s a duty.

They remember being part of a very small minority growing up in Olympia, but they have no memories of overt acts of discrimination. Nor to they recall their parents telling them of what it was like to be a Jew in the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s while Adolf Hitler and his virulent brand of anti-Semitism swept across Germany and beyond.

Goldberg’s mother, Eva Goldberg, who died in May 2013 just three months shy of her 100th birthday, recalled in a 1986 interview for the University of Washington Jewish Archives Project oral history what it was like in the Depression and post-Depression era, living in Centralia and then Olympia, and being frightened by a pro-Nazi contingent who called themselves the Silver Shirts.

Both families helped repel the potential hatred through community charity and open arms to newcomers to Olympia, Jews and non-Jews alike.

As young boys, Bean and Goldberg were sports-loving, but not stellar athletes, nor great students for that matter. They both graduated as “C” students from Olympia High School, but it was good enough for both of them to enter the University of Washington, a telling reminder of how entrance requirements at the UW have changed in 55 years.

Bean earned a law degree and Goldberg joined his family’s furniture business. They both returned to Olympia, but Goldberg’s business interests took a quantum leap in 1982 when he pooled his resources with seven other young men to form Seattle-based Saltchuk Resources Inc. to buy Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc., an ocean transportation company providing service between the ports of Anchorage, Alaska, and Tacoma.

Today Saltchuk is an enterprise of 26 air, land and sea transportation companies with 8,000 employees and annual revenues of $3 billion.

Goldberg “retired” 18 months ago but is still a major shareholder and member of the company’s executive committee. He also serves as a trustee for The Evergreen State College, is a Columbia Bank board member and has been president of the Panorama board of directors since 1991, just to name a few affiliations.

In the world of South Sound philanthropy, Goldberg is probably unprecedented. But he gives in a quiet, understated way that masks his generosity. He’d rather be fly-fishing in Montana than earning public praise for his support of South Sound causes.

“We almost never say no to someone,” Goldberg said of his approach to charitable giving. “I kind of believe in this theory of random acts of kindness.”

Bean gives back to his community in many different ways — pro bono legal work, serving as a volunteer auctioneer at countless nonprofit fund raisers and offering workshops to doctors and other professionals on how to avoid embezzling. He’s also a co-founder of Medic One and Thurston Youth Services, which is now Community Youth Services.

He may appear gruff and impatient to those who don’t know him. “I don’t suffer fools lightly,” he admits.

But first impressions can be deceiving. He’s quick to praise my writing, and he would give me the shirt off his back, if I asked for it.

Make no mistake about it, these are two old Jewish buddies that have made Olympia a better place.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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