‘Tapestry’ of history and community celebrated at Southwest Seattle Historical Society gala

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

A big year for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society culminated in a full house at Salty’s on Alki (WSB sponsor) today – celebrating and hearing about the past, and raising more than $37,000 to help continue the organization’s work into the future.

With executive director Clay Eals emceeing the event near the end of his first year leading SWSHS, the Champagne Gala Luncheon pulsed with attention-drawing events-within-an-event, from silent auction, to special guest speaker Dave Beck, to the inspirational speakers from the deep-rooted Hallberg family.

The nearly 200 people on hand included a long list of West Seattle luminaries, from entrepreneurs to civic activists to politicians present and past, including City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and former Mayor Greg Nickels – but you didn’t have to have a famous name to be part of the “tapestry.”

The fundraising total came from not only tickets to the event and the silent auction, but also from a raffle, dessert dash, and special Fund-a-Dream cash-donation round.

It was more than a party – it was also a chance to gain knowledge, including a surprise declaration regarding the fate of the Alki Homestead:

Eals drew cheers and applause when he mentioned the fire-damaged landmark, asking who wants to see it restored and preserved. He noted it’s been a “trying time” since fire heavily damaged and closed the historic Fir Lodge four and a half years ago. You might recall the rally three-plus years ago:

Though SWSHS hasn’t held Homestead-specific events since then, Eals says it and other organizations are banding together to work on saving it: “We’re not going to let that building go down … I want you to know that even though there’s not a lot of physical progress, we are on the case.”

And that’s just part of what the Historical Society is doing – part of the work funded by this event.

As gala-goers finished their lunches, Eals introduced the featured speaker, longtime local broadcaster Dave Beck, now on the air at KING-FM after 28 years at KUOW.

He’s lived in West Seattle since 1969, Beck noted, when his family came here from Huntsville, Alabama. He talked about going to Gatewood Elementary, as did his daughters, now 20 and 18, calling himself a “geeky kid,” showing photos on screens around the room (SWSHS recorded the event on video and we’ll add a link to their site/video when it’s up), from his school classes to family photos at Lincoln Park, including his “first-ever swim at Colman Pool” – getting a mouthful of its salt water, “a huge shock!” (which drew laughter).

His reminiscences included numerous changes in the area. His theme: “Connectedness.” He talked about how that is embodied by people involved in the community over the decades he’s been here – including longtime West Seattleites such as Fauntleroy centenarian Morey Skaret. And he had many remembrances involving The Kenney (WSB sponsor), including the uproarious tale of how he helped chase down a flag thief – recovering the flag, leading police to make an arrest, “and we returned to the Kenney Home as heroes!”

Beck also shared highlights of his KUOW years – including interviewing Cheech and Chong (big, considering Beck described himself as a “child of the ’70s,” thrilled when he got Tommy Chong to say, “Dave IS here, man”!

Beck has lived across the peninsula during adulthood, too, from his first home in Westwood in the ’90s to his current home in Admiral, and talked about the tapestry woven by the people here, envisioning the weaving continuing into the future, with the help of the up-and-coming generations of West Seattleites, including South Seattle Community College (WSB sponsor) students (one of whom happens to be one of his daughters).

The “inspirational presentation” featured three sisters from the Hallberg family. Aly, Nancy, and SWSHS board member Tia Hallberg, who asked for a few moments to tell “our West Seattle story,” as everyone gathered for a common purpose to share “the heritage of this wonderful peninsula that we call home.”

They gathered around the microphone to talk about their parents, Bob and Ada, who met on Alki, fell in love there, and lived out their lives together there. Both passed on last year – we published the obituary for Ada in summer 2012, a few months after the one we published for Bob.

“They are the reason our families are still here. What they instilled in us will live on in us forever.”

Family photos were displayed on the screens around the banquet room as the sisters talked about Hallberg family members who first came to West Seattle and “thought they had arrived in paradise.” Their mom (left, in the family photo shared with us for her obituary) and dad met each other as teens. “Later as young adults, they fell in love, and did just about everything together.”

Their memories turned to Richey’s Drugstore, on the site that later became Alki Bakery and is now Fatburger. Their mom told about gathering there during World War II, when their father was overseas as a Merchant Marine (family photo from his obituary, at right) – with his name mistakenly appearing on a list of casualties at one point, and agonizing days passing before she learned he had survived. He returned to West Seattle and they married.

There were humorous stories too, including a canoe trip that went somewhat awry in the south sound.

The three of them and two brothers comprised the Hallberg’s five children.”THey had a lot of respect for people, people from all walks of life.” Their dad, they recalled, had a firewood-gathering competition on the beach with “the original Alki rebel, Phil Ceis.” The basement of their home on Marine Avenue in Alki was “crammed full” with items from the beach.

They moved on to Angeline St. in “what was then known as South Alki.” But it wasn’t about place as much as about people, and the community created by those people. One of the sisters now lives in their parents’ home “just off Beach Drive”; others live nearby. They are held by “the land and the sea” and are “in complete awe of this place.”

The family now has five generations here, they said. “We are rooted just like our parents and our grandparents … The place is about people as it is as much about their stories.” They showed engraved bricks at the Statue of Liberty Plaza. “We are so lucky that our parents are who they were. They had a vision for a better world … Think about it. We are all here for a reason, and if we want to keep the essence of that, we will be part of historic education and preservation.”

Every person in the room not only knew that with all their heart, but also, just by being present, had devoted time and treasure to being part of it.

“It was a wonderful day for heritage on the Duwamish peninsula, and we are all so very grateful,” Eals told WSB tonight.

WSB was a media sponsor of today’s event.

You can get involved with the Historical Society and its Log House Museum any time – by donating, by volunteering, or even just by visiting; find more information here. The museum at 61st/Stevens is open Thursdays-Sundays, noon-4 pm.

ADDED: Provided by SWSHS, here’s the text of the Hallberg sisters’ speech:

Hallberg sisters' speech @ SWSHS gala

3 Replies to "'Tapestry' of history and community celebrated at Southwest Seattle Historical Society gala"

  • miws November 10, 2013 (7:57 am)

    Wow, great article in so many ways, but especially appreciate the Hallberg sisters contribution!



  • Elizagrace November 12, 2013 (8:49 am)

    Yeah mom! (and Aunties) What a great event and I love hearing about grandma and grandpa and all that Alki meant to them.
    Thank you for sharing!

  • Vicki Schmitz-Block November 12, 2013 (11:14 am)

    Congratulations on this fabulous event!! The Schmitz Family was in full attendance and represented by three generations. I’m going to mention their names – Patsy Schmitz Carpenter, Nancy Schmitz Wilson, Dietrich & Mary Schmitz, Ilse Schmitz & Gunnar Schmitz.

    I was unable to attend as I flew to Houston to help my daughter Julie Schmitz after knee surgery.

    I want to thank all the volunteers and members of the SWSHS who worked so very hard to make this gala a great success….and special kudos to Clay Eals for his vision and outstanding leadership!!

    On behalf of the Schmitz Family, thanks to all!

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