Friday May 11, 2012

Friday, May 11th 2012

Dick Wagner

Founder Center for Wooden Boats

Scribe: Jenny Andrews Editor: Jim Kindsvater

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Dick Wagner introduced us to the Center for Wooden Boats and the opportunities for learning about and sailing classic wooden craft on Lake Union.  The CWB is open for visits from 10 AM to 8 PM in the summer and welcomes adults and students interested in the look and feel of vintage boat building.  Steve Lingenbrink praised the district conference in Coeur D’ Alene and urged all to sign up early for the same event there next year.  Our student of the month from Sammamish High School is Aries Almanza-Almonte.  Paul Osborn was honored as our Rotarian of the Month  Jeff Mason and Morris Kremen introduced 3 students from the Antigua Computer Team.

Colin Radford

Colin Radford introduced Dick Wagner, the Executive Director of The Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union in Seattle.

It has once been said that the two most beautiful things mankind has ever made are wooden sailing ships (such as a clipper or schooner) and suspension bridges. Lucky for us in Washington, we have a number of contacts to each in the Evergreen State.

Into the 1950s, Seattle had a thriving wooden maritime industry with dozens of boat shops on Lake Union. Soon after Dick and Coleen arrived (perhaps due to the introduction of fiberglass boats), the industry had shrunk to a few shops. As a way of fostering and preserving this heritage, Dick started the Center with 5 wooden boats on Lake Union, rowing and sailing. While wooden boats require greater care and maintenance, it is this care and maintenance that more closely bonds the boat builders, mariners, and owners to their boats. Living on a wooden houseboat, for example, has some elements similar to the amount of effort required to maintain a marriage; you have to be devoted to the upkeep of either or the results will be dismal.

Dick Wagner conceived the Center of Wooden Boats ( with the idea that if he did not do it, all this wooden boat history, buildings, as well as the wooden boats themselves would be lost. After he started the center, people appeared at his houseboat, ask questions, talk, laugh, have lunch, arrive early, leave late, and for some it almost appeared to be a second home. The devotion of the volunteers to the Center as well as to things associated with the wooden boats became obvious. The time spent by certain of these volunteers was huge, and clearly many of these people were missing something in their lives that working on wooden boats provided for them. Wooden boats are a labor of love, and many associated with the Center are attracted to the simpler life. Soon the Center went non-profit.

Colleen asked Dick “why are these people coming?”  And Dick answered “because they found something they were looking for.”  Listening to Dick Wagner speak, one is reminded of a frequently misquoted line “if you build it, they will come”. While the Center for Wooden Boats functions largely as a museum, it should be viewed as a living, breathing, organic piece of history instead of a place where users will observe or learn. Each visitor, volunteer, or paid staff is free to largely get what they want to out of the Center and is allowed considerable freedom to focus on what most interests each one. Obviously there are certain functions that need to be done, such as maintenance, but the center appears to operate largely by those seeing what needs to be done. The Center had become a very positive location and attracts people from all over the world, including one who traveled from New York to do a news story on the Center.

Developing the Center for Wooden Boats was definitely more than a turn-key operation. While some of the manufacturing equipment remained from the wooden boat yards, after the wooden boat industry left Lake Union (in a similar manner as the declining logging industry of the Pacific Northwest), most of the expertise left. Much of the knowledge relative to boat building had to be learned by discussing with those who remained or others in the industry, studied, redeveloped, or otherwise synthesized. The volunteers form the backbone of the Center for Wooden Boats, and by visiting the center, it becomes evident how enthusiastic those at the Center are. The Center for Wooden Boats has the oldest operating boat building -from 1936 until today.

Initially the focus of the Center was adults, but soon they focused on children with youth programs at the Center.  Dick commented on the difference in book leaning from real learning; and he had the idea (perhaps because he is a practicing architect) of introducing children from elementary and middle schoo to math and science via the boats. Each child would learn something relating to the center, and each would learn to tie a knot or two, and as such would bring home a bowline knot. Some early Principals and teachers who accompanied the earlier children complained about the lack of hand-rails around the decks. Dick Wagner commented that, when he was growing up, there were few who used handrails around docks, etc., and he felt that book learning by the principals was not the way he grew up learning. Such limitations like hand rails would simply take the fun out of wooden boats, etc.

One summer, twelve youths with police records who had been kicked out of school attended the center. There were six females and six males, with a diverse racial mix including African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics; but these each had troubled backgrounds. After having some description of boat handling, rope making, wood working, and other Center for Wooden Boat issues, the children became more active, started asking questions, started feeling more comfortable, and eventually even started singing songs. Every day the children would work on something that they felt would give them worth. Soon, two girls were the first to take a wooden boat for a ride, and they got out and made it back in. Then, everyone else wanted to try, and show that they could do it better than others. By the end of the week, each could sail small boats of Gaff rigs, Marconi rigs, and Y-boats. It appears that many of these children probably never received positive reinforcement, and each had been told more about why they could not do things.

Through the week, all the youths learned much about sailing, wood working, rope making, craftsmanship, boats, and last but not least the history of Lake Union. These children soon became the best ambassadors for the Center. Dick Wagner commented on how one woman approached her 9 years later from this group and commented on how it changed her life. She was able to convince her principal to let her back into school, and when he asked her if he could trust her, she said yes. Because of her experience, she continued with education with a Master’s Degree in Oceanography. The Center taught this girl not only a love for boats and the sea, but also how to believe in herself and find her a life’s profession.

The Center for Wooden Boats has grown into over 40 centers both nationally and internationally, including such locations as Seattle, Sausalito CA., Provo UT., Montana, two in Australia and New Zealand. As it grows, it still relies primarily on volunteers, which in Seattle number over a thousand. It still reminds us when Seattle and America were filled with skilled wood craftsmen. And, perhaps best of all, it is still an organic, growing positive center that allows each volunteer and visitor to get what they want from their participation. Such desires can range from sailing, rowing, living a simpler healthier life, spending a lovely day by Lake Union or doing memorable things with children, working on a boat, researching the above, or perhaps in the case of those school children with police records, a little more purpose and reason to do well in life. The Center for Wooden Boats is always looking for and gets many volunteers, and there is an orientation for new volunteers the second Saturday of every month.

John Martinka thanked Dick with a 1000# donation of food to Northwest Harvest.

Tim Leahy and Norm Johnson

Norm Johnson opened the meeting by reciting the Navy Hymn and leading the Pledge of Allegiance.  Tim Leahy then stepped forward to greet visiting Rotarians and Guests.

Steven Lingenbrink mentioned the great success of the District Conference, and along with Wendy provided a presentation and film about next year’s conference with the theme “To Russia with Love”. It would be good to reserve early because the rates are low now, and some were not able to get a room at the last Conference.

Aries Almanza-Almonte

Student of the Month, Aries Almanza-Almonte has shown herself to have strong leadership skills and is a leader at Sammamish High School, where she is considered to be an excellent student, cares about her studies, and wants to succeed. She demonstrates service above self, and devotes an incredible amount of time serving her high school and her community. Aries has taken 7 AP classes during her high school career, and is a great role model.

She has been a Director for the Walk for Aidan Foundation, named for a 1st grader stricken with Muscular Dystrophy, the largest student-driven fund raiser in Washington having raised thousands of dollars to combat MS.

Aries is a leader amongst the Hispanic/Latino community at school serving as president, vice president, and secretary of the Latino H.E.A.T. club, and she has participated in many of their events with the H.E.A.T. Club. She has been committed to Sammamish HS Drill Team and the Link crew club where she serves as a mentor to younger students. Aries was nominated by her counselor for Summer Search Leadership program and got selected. She went to North Carolina 2 summers ago and participated in their Wilderness Outward Bound program; and she travelled to Peru to take part in their program to build greenhouses for a poor community there.

From her presentation, it is evident that Aries is a genuinely nice person and cares greatly about others while striving to do well and be a positive influence. Aries plans to attend Western Washington University, where she is planning to minor in Spanish, and perhaps major in psychology. With her caring personality, presence, and her resume; there appears to be little stopping her from succeeding.

Paul Osborn

Bill Prater  received his blue badge. Congratulations!

Paul Osborn was awarded the Rotarian of the Month plaque for his work on the Reveille and the BBRC website.

Chris Lapler described the experience traveling to Group Study Exchange. He spent 30 days in Nepal with four others; and five from Nepal spent 30 days here. It is evident the Government does not do much for the people in Nepal, and such programs as Group Study Exchange can make a considerable difference in these people’s lives.

Howard Johnson said that we need 26 people to show up for the next Northwest Harvest work party to secure our claim to the Golden Donut.

Paul Chapman commented that May 24th will be the first meeting of our virtual satellite club.

Jeff Mason, Morris Kremen, and John Martinkaintroduced three students who worked in the Computer in Schools program in Antigua: Shane Kautz, Austin Ponten, and Christine Kim.  There is obviously extensive networking skill and talent among the students, but they were also able to teach those in Antigua and a neighboring island how to use the computers and set up networks. They also installed a video conferencing system between the two islands.  The Antigua and Barbuda students, some of whom likely had never dealt with computers before, showed great interest in the instruction they received. The students who traveled to Antigua clearly received much for their efforts, not only by being able to apply their computer-networking skills, but also by learning about and dealing with the different cultures.

The Antigua Computer Team


Anyone who doesn’t miss the past never had a mother.  Gregory Nunn

About the Speaker

After leaving grad school in the late 1960s, Dick Wagner and his wife Colleen moved to Seattle and started living on a houseboat on Lake Union, while Dick practiced his profession as an architect.