A Peninsula Life: Clyde Sayce: The idea man

<I>KEVIN HEIMBIGNER photo</I><BR>Clyde Sayce, the idea man, discusses everything from oysters to square dancing to cameras to school consolidation at his home on Bay Avenue. One of his goals in life is to walk on the Beach to Bay Trail when it is completed this fall in Ocean Park, another idea of Clyde's.

OCEAN PARK - Clyde Sayce likes to take a walk twice a day from his home near Willapa Bay to Ocean Park, where he can have coffee and visit with his many friends he's made over the past 57 years on the Peninsula.

One drawback is that he has to walk along heavily-traveled Bay Avenue and there is no scenic trail for him to use, but that should change soon when the Beach to Bay Trail is completed sometime this fall.

"I got the idea in 1988 to put in a trail from the ocean to the bay, so I joined the Ocean Park Area Chamber of Commerce to talk about it. The trail was almost built in 1989, but for some reason it didn't get done. I told Jack Downer I was better at having ideas than I was at completing projects," he jokes. "The trail would have cost less to build then than it cost to just to survey now."

Clyde has been a fixture in Ocean Park and on Willapa Bay since he took a job managing an oyster company in Nahcotta in 1951. He grew up in Tona, northeast of Centralia. His dad was a coal miner and a master mechanic and Clyde became an electrician apprentice when he graduated from high school in 1938 in Olympia. "Both my dad and I went to work at Grand Coulee Dam, making a dollar an hour. During the war we put in 48 hours a week and I had enough money to have a 3-year-old Chrysler when I was in my early 20s."

Sayce enjoyed life in Eastern Washington. "I skied and skated in the winter and fished and swam in the summer."

World War II interrupted his fun when Clyde signed on as a Navy Petty Officer. "Because of my electrician background I was assigned to a radar unit. That was brand new back then. I went to Texas A&M for classes and decided I liked college, even though I was in the service." After a tour of duty on the Solomon Islands, Sayce eventually returned state-side and attended the University of Washington.

"I met my wife of nearly 60 years at college and we became Clyde and Bonnie. When the gangster movie came out I suddenly got second-billing and we were called Bonnie and Clyde," he quips. "We used to square dance and do the fox trot and other ballroom dances. Bonnie volunteered at the Ocean Park library evenings and would walk home after dark. I was worried she would fall into the deep drainage ditch, so I got involved in getting the road widened." Bonnie passed away May 15 of this year and Clyde still often says "we" when he talks of the future.

Clyde earned a degree in fisheries and also took marine biology courses at the University of Washington. He was hired by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department (WFWD) before coming to Nahcotta and the oyster company. He returned to the WFWD after four years and became manager in Nahcotta, where he made many significant contributions during his stint of 25 years and one day.

"I designed and built the lab and I made sure there was a wet and dry lab. I did a great deal of research on the spawn and set cycle of the oyster. I worked with the local companies to help meet their needs."

"My research found that it took 14 to 16 days from spawn to set and not the three weeks the books said. In 1956 we had a great set on the bay and I had my reputation made," he says with pride. "The truth was there were so many larvae that year the workers had to move fast to keep them from setting on their boots." Sayce used thermographs and other research equipment to determine when and where the oysters grew best in Willapa Bay. "There were some years the oysters grew too big and too fast for the pickers to get enough small ones to meet the demand."

Learning from the Japanese

Sayce visited Japan four times and the east coast twice to study oyster practices there. He was instrumental in 1949 in getting Japanese oysters to the Willapa as he worked under the direction of Professor Trevor Kincaid. When a nuclear plant was suggested in Ocean Shores, Sayce proved that razor clams died when water temperature was raised near the 70-degree mark so the plant was scrubbed. He discovered that the channel of the bay moved 7,000 feet to the north in just one winter, saving countless mishaps.

"Most of what I did to help was because I was curious," he humbly explains.

His work on the bay wasn't always without mishap. "Once I slipped off a leaky barge on a clear night and went under. I started swimming for all I was worth for the shore and then discovered I was in only three feet of water, so I stood up," he laughs. "Another time I was about to toss out an anchor when I fell in. I was under water about 10 feet when I remembered to let go of the anchor. Both times I had my full gear on, including my boots and I'm here to tell you that you can swim with all that on."

Sayce has three children, Kathleen of Nahcotta, Jim in Seaview and Cindy in Beaverton, Ore. When he retired he was told not to go dancing one Saturday evening, but instead to go to the Ark Restaurant for dinner. "I thought that was funny because I was the square dance caller. Then I started seeing all these oystermen coming to the restaurant for dinner, so I knew something was up. I was honored by 75 people and I said something about each one."

Involved in many ways in community

Besides being a chamber member, Sayce was active in the electrician's union for 50 years, lectured at least four times a year at the University of Washington, was elected a Fellow in the American Institute of Fisheries Research Biology and he's had nine research papers published.

Closer to home he was a volunteer fireman and designed the original fire hall in Ocean Park. He was a school board member for four terms and chaired the committee that consolidated the four schools into one Ocean Beach District. He has been on the board of Port of Peninsula since 1988 and still is secretary.

"We used to have some pretty active meetings, but things have calmed down significantly over the years," he says with a wry grin. "Some of the oystermen could get pretty worked up."

These days Sayce reads a great deal and still visits the library regularly. He collects antique cameras "and they all work" he assures. He has a digital camera he's experimenting with and also has a Schwinn bicycle he wants to fix up. He and son Jim have purchased a new boat and the pair enjoys golfing. "Jim is a better golfer than I am, but I only lost by two strokes last week." Clyde has a 60-yard golf range in his back yard. A few years ago he built a deck and now is considering selling his home and putting up something "all on one level" somewhere on his mini-golf course.

"I've been retired almost as long as I worked," Clyde relates. "I just turned 86 and I want to be able to walk on that Beach to Bay trail before I go." Hard telling what Mr. Sayce, the idea man, will think up next while walking on his dream trail.

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