(WSB photo, 2015, Clay Eals @ announcement of new owner for Alki Homestead)
Congratulations to Clay Eals – author, historian, heritage advocate, and journalist – who has just been announced as this year’s recipient of the Orville Rummel Trophy for Outstanding Service to the Community. It’s awarded each year in connection with the West Seattle Grand Parade, presented by the Rotary Club of West Seattle, this year on Saturday, July 23. The official announcement continues:
Eals is perhaps best known locally as editor of the “West Side Story” history book and for his leadership of the successful drive to secure city landmark status for the Admiral Theater and, more recently, as executive director of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society.
He is a lifetime member of and volunteered in many roles for the historical society since its founding in 1984. In 2013, the organization’s board hired him as its first executive director. Besides staff oversight of the historical society, he is directly responsible for its volunteer recruitment, fundraising and outreach.
(2014 photo by David Hutchinson)
During his tenure as executive director, the organization has restored, raised, and unveiled the Admiral totem pole at its 1904 “Birthplace of Seattle” Log House Museum on Alki, culminating in a 2014 ceremony drawing 1,300 people, including 950 schoolchildren. The historical society also facilitated the transition of ownership and in-progress restoration of the beloved 1904 Fir Lodge/Alki Homestead and staged “Group Hug” photo events for the Homestead (1,000 schoolchildren in 2015) and the Admiral Theater (750 schoolchildren earlier this month):
(Photo by Jean Sherrard, courtesy Southwest Seattle Historical Society; click here to see full-size version on SWSHS website)
In that span, the organization broadened its ranks of donors, sponsors, members and volunteers, strengthened the collection and exhibit operations of its museum, built its annual Champagne Gala Brunch to capacity crowds at Salty’s on Alki, revived and revamped its annual “If These Walls Could Talk” home tours, and created two ongoing monthly series: “Words, Writers, & West Seattle” featuring local authors at Barnes & Noble Westwood Village and “SouthWest Stories” featuring local history speakers rotating among the Seattle Public Library’s five branches on the peninsula.
Along the way, the organization won honors from the Association of King County Historical Organizations for Best Single Impact Event (for the 2014 totem unveiling) and from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce as Nonprofit of the Year for 2015.
(WSB photo, 2015, Westside Award for SWSHS as Nonprofit of the Year)
Eals’ earlier achievements came during and immediately after his 15 years as an editor, reporter and photographer for four Northwest newspapers.
During his five years as editor of the West Seattle Herald and White Center News (part of Robinson Newspapers), the papers produced “Bridging the Gap,” a 104-page special section in 1984 that chronicled local transportation history and the opening of the high-level West Seattle Bridge, and followed that by publishing in 1987 the first local history book, “West Side Story,” which took its inspiration from “Mr. West Seattle” Normie Beers. A yearlong project that involved the papers’ entire staff and scores of volunteers, the 288-page “West Side Story” remains the definitive account of local community heritage.
Soon after his departure from Robinson Newspapers in 1988, Eals was elected president of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society board to succeed founder and first president Elliott Couden. In his first month of three years in that position, faced with the imminent closure of the Admiral Theater, Eals involved others, including local elected officials, in staging a closing-night picket event that led to an intensive community campaign that six months later secured city landmark status for the moviehouse, whose lobby operated as the Portola Theater starting in 1919 and which was expanded and opened as the 1,000-seat showcase Admiral Theater in 1942.
Because of its landmark status, the Admiral was saved from potential demolition. It reopened in 1992 under the new ownership of the Gartin family, which owns it to this day. It will undergo a massive renovation this summer, including conversion to four screens and the exposure of long-covered underwater auditorium murals, while preserving the building’s historic features.
Over the years, on behalf of the historical society, Eals also served on Earl Cruzen’s “Murals of Seattle” team in 1989-1993, led several yearly “Homes with History” tours in the 1990s, participated in the 1994 campaign to secure Alki voter approval of the historical society’s purchase of the building that became its museum, emceed dozens of society events and worked to deepen the organization’s partnership with South Seattle College. After a fire damaged the inside of the city-landmark Fir Lodge/Alki Homestead, he represented the society in a coalition of four heritage organizations behind a “This Place Matters” effort to ensure preservation and restoration of the log building one-half block from the museum.
The society’s most recent campaign, to seek city landmark status for the Campbell and Hamm buildings in the West Seattle Junction, stems from the yearlong West Seattle Junction Historical Survey, for which Eals participated on the steering committee.
In his professional life in addition to his journalistic positions, Eals worked 13 years as an editor and writer for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, five years as communication officer for the Encompass children’s services nonprofit in North Bend, and two years as a journalism teacher and adviser at South Seattle College.
As an author, he wrote and secured publication of two books, both biographies, on child film actress Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) in 1996 and singer/songwriter Steve Goodman (“City of New Orleans”) in 2007. He also wrote for and designed a third book, “Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest,” in 2005.
Eals, who turns 65 in July, was born in Seattle, grew up on Mercer Island, and secured a journalism degree from the University of Oregon in Eugene. “My mother was born and raised in West Seattle, across the street from the wading pool at Hiawatha Park, and when I was a child we often visited my grandparents,” Eals says, “so I developed my love for West Seattle at an early age.” He and his wife, Meg, moved to West Seattle in 1982. They live in the North Admiral neighborhood. They have a daughter and granddaughter who live in Philadelphia.
“Looking back, I think that in my professional and personal roles I have evolved into a pied piper,” he says. “This reflects my belief that no matter what we think about how or why we are all here on this earth, we are not meant to be hermits. We are meant to connect with other people, to engage and inspire them – and to appreciate the gifts of those who came before us. We stand on the shoulders of giants. And no matter what we pursue and how we spend our time, it’s not about the physical things, but rather it’s about bringing people together, in real time, for common purpose.
“One of my favorite words is the verb ‘champion,’ and my favorite phrases include ‘a sum greater than its parts’ and ‘making something out of nothing.’ What all of that means is that we accomplish anything in this life only when we build relationships with others. And over the years, I have been fortunate to collaborate with a great number of extraordinary people. When you come down to it, it’s all about gratitude.”
ABOUT THE ORVILLE RUMMEL TROPHY: It’s named after the man who founded the parade in 1934, Orville Rummel – lots of background in the story we published the year we were honored with it, in 2010. The award was first presented in 1984. Here’s the full list of recipients from 1984 through 2015:
1984: Charles and Ann Gage
1985: RB Chris Crisler Jr.
1986: Morgan and Carol McBride
1987: Margaret Miaullis
1988: Charles Jung
1989: Aurlo Bonney
1990: Katie Thorburn
1991: Dorothy Poplawski
1992: Dan Wiseman
1993: Virgil Sheppard
1994: Dorene Smith
1995: Doris Richards
1996: John Kelly
1997: Dick Kennedy
1998: Jim Edwards and Barbara Edwards
1999: Lt. David E. Cass
2000: Husky Deli/Miller Family
2001: Stephanie Haskins
2002: Forest Lawn
2003: Sue Lindblom
2004: Edgar and Ann Phipps
2005: Karen Sisson
2006: Walt DeLong
2007: David and Doreen Vague
2008: Tim St. Clair
2009: Morey Skaret
2010: West Seattle Blog
2011: Cindi Barker
2012: Shirley Vradenburgh
2013: Judy Pickens
2014: Earl Cruzen
2015: Donn Weaver
2016: Clay Eals