Coast Chronicles: Oktoberfest in Chinook's future

<I>CATE GABLE photo</I><BR>Kim Cutting returns to the Chinook gymnasium to pick up one of her silent auction wins, item 272, a ceramic salmon platter.

We've turned the corner into winter, the ocean tells me so. Even on the bay side, waking up in the morning I can hear the roar booming over the tall cedar rookery where our baby blues squawk and talk.

Or walking on the beach at high tide (what beach?), it's time to search the tide line for winter offerings. Yesterday, we nearly tripped over a partially covered badger, stout body, pointy teeth, shovel-like skull and small rounded ears.

It's the season when the dune terrain begins to wash away, our primary dune worn down by winds and tidal action.

Pretty soon we'll see the waves wash up Bay Avenue carrying sand to Colleen and Gary's Full Circle front doorway. Yup, the last gasps of fall are painting the maples, alders, and birches browns and golden yellows.

Time to start thinking about where we're going to put all the family arriving for Thanksgiving and making a place in the shed for another cord of wood.

A dark and stormy night As if to cap off the season, the Chinook School Oktoberfest fundraiser last Saturday couldn't have landed on a more blustery night. Stephanie Fritts had broadcast weather warnings of 70 mph gusts and the rain came down in sheets. Driving to Chinook from Nahcotta was like the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a downpour - where'd the road go?

But we made it, and you'd never have known there was anything inclement happening from inside the newly-renovated Chinook school gymnasium. We stepped over puddles and dodged the rain to get there, but once in, good grief, the place was rockin'!

It was lit up like - well, a jack-o-lantern. Twinkle lights were everywhere, strung along the balconies that gave a view over the main floor, choc-a-block with tables and wall to wall people. There were scarecrows and corn stalks, pumpkins and autumn leaves strung up everywhere.

A few folks were dancing to the beat of the Beach Buddies Band and, according to Friends of Chinook School (FOCS) treasurer Connie Kobes, "Folks either thought the music was great or it was too loud!" No in-between with this crowd.

There was a waiting area to get a seat for dinner or, in the meantime, you could cruise the silent auction items on the south side of the gym. Gift certificates lined the walls (for things from coffee to tattooed eyebrows), and if you couldn't find something to bid on, well, then you can't be a true-blue American, with consuming our birthright.

Made in America There were martini kits, binocular/cameras, a Graveyard of the Pacific map hand-colored by Nancy Lloyd, a set of lighthouse jewelry (pendant and earrings) by Barbara Lester, a classic knot board, crystal vases, paintings, prints (by Charles Mulvey and Noel Thomas), antique China made in Japan, Swarovski crystal bracelets, fishing gear, children's books, a pine needle basket, quilts, two ceramic fish platters, and a huge chandelier - to name only a scant few of the offerings.

Bidding early in the evening meant one of two things: 1) "I'm counting on someone bidding over me so I don't have to spend any money tonight," as one individual remarked; or 2) the need to swing back by your desired item several more times during the evening.

In fact, while hovering near one of my objects-of-desire, I leaned over two women approaching and said, "We're not bidding against each other are we?" to hear this jocular reply, "I hope not, because if we are, we're going to have to take you down."

Nansen Malin (back from a whirlwind convention of women in politics in the other Washington) hovered under a beautiful chandelier, "Don't you think it will be perfect in the tent for my daughter's wedding?" "Yes." Nan posted a triumphant photo about it later on her Facebook account. "Can't wait to pick it up Monday!"

A Moment in Time The near-completed restoration of the Chinook gymnasium (the grand opening will be next year sometime) seems to be of the same cloth as the movement to raise the Grange from the dead.

There appears to be a gestalt in the air, a sense that we as a community need to hang on to ourselves and to each other. There's a desire to remind ourselves who we are and who we were in the near-past, and, if we can, restore it and preserve it in order to send it into the future.

The "Chinook Reader" newsletter (the writing is fabulous and I think Carol Johnson should be cartooning for the Chinook Observer - check it out at says it all in their masthead, "A Community Restoring for the Future."

I really like this - it's a dense little phrase: if "community restoring" is one noun-ish kind of thing, it seems to imply a community-preserving process, like a canning or smoking. If "restoring" is a simple verb/action that the community, or a community is doing, then the community is restoring, renovating, enlivening all manner of things (perhaps including itself) in order to create a future.

Either way the purpose is right on. This amazing schoolhouse is not just wood and cement, stairways and balconies, restrooms and a stage. It is the coming together of people and it has stories written all over it.

People make the place John E. Wicks (nee) Wiik, the original gymnasium architect, was born in 1878 to a Swedish family in Vassa, Finland. He migrated to the U.S. in 1899, later turning down a Stanford scholarship because he passed by Astoria to visit his brother, Alfred, in 1904 and liked it so much that he stayed on and opened an office. He designed and built the gymnasium in 1921.

Many successful years later, coming back from a visit to Finland, he and his wife Maria (Cederberg) and his two daughters booked passage on the maiden voyage of the Titanic; but "business intervened and the trip home had to be cancelled." Lucky guy.

Then there's Angus Bowmer, who because of a run on the banks in 1928, came to Astoria only to lose his money when he was told "no problem, not to worry" and the next day found that his hard-earned savings for a University of Washington education had gone up in smoke.

He and his wife Lois took jobs teaching at Chinook School and while there created the Yellow Jackets basketball team and had a stage built on one side of the gym. (Matt Winters wrote a great column about Bowmer's endeavors in the July 13, issue of the Chinook Observer).

Bowmer went on to found the Oregon Shakespearean Festival and all hopes point to a Shakespearean revival on the Chinook gymnasium stage. (John Billups gave us a recent tour of the enlarged stage area with newly-constructed changing rooms, and plenty of space for scrims and "enter stage left's.")

New News But that's all old news (though still worth hearing) - new news is being created as we speak.

Long Beach architect David Jensen (known for the Pacific County Court House restoration, the Shelburne Inn restoration, the boardwalk, the Columbia Pacific (Ilwaco) Heritage Museum and more) picked up the ball and ran with it, and if you haven't seen the results pick up a FOCS calendar ($13 or three for $30) and see the before and after photos. Or just swing by and walk around.

The point is Bill O'Meara; Corky Wilson; Brad, Tim, Rex and Brian Wilson; Marion "Smokey" Ballinger (and the guys from Seattle Local 32 Plumbing and Pipefitting Union); Al Peterson; Eileen Wirkkala; Loma and John Billups; Connie Kobes; Laura Osborne; Ann Saalborn; Carol Johnson; Tammy Engel; Vickie Branch; Joanne Leech; Gail Messick; Jane Wilson; Jill Wirkkala; Frankie McNeal; Brittany and Inez Greenfield; Pastor Dave; Pastor Chris; Karen Leu; Mary Whealdon; all the kids who served Chef Joanne's amazing dinner ... (gasp, and sorry for all the hard working volunteers not mentioned) are creating stories in this building right now.

That's "a community restoring for the future."

To donate to the effort, call a board member or write (

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