Old tales from muddy White Center
By Jerry Robinson, Publisher (1920-2014)
This column originally appeared in this paper 09/15/2008
In 1950, the main street of White Center was only two paved lanes in the middle of eight blocks of huge mud holes whenever it rained. The county territory was ruled by Republican Bill Sears, who probably never got a vote from the hugely Democrat citizenry.
We got frustrated with governmental neglect. We ran a series of front-page cartoons depicting the muddy life of a fictitious groundhog that loved the road even though he had to scamper out of the way when drivers splashed into his territory.
After several weeks of swamping our readers with watery woes, local businessman Omar Schau came charging into our office and after castigating us for our literary attempts, suggested that if we didn't like it we could always go back to wherever we came from.
He then left in a huff, but was back six months later to announce he had managed to form a Local Improvement District to get four lanes of paved road in the business district.
This had to cost him a bundle because he owned a lot of business frontage on the street.
I was impressed.
I thought he was just a hard-working muffin maker at the White Center Bakery but he was a lot more than that.
He owned a lot of property on the main drag and even owned the land where the White Center Fieldhouse and Mel Olsen Stadium are located. He gave that property to the county and the federal WPA built the field house in the late 1930s, a building that is still in use today by area kids.
The Seattle city limits extend south to the middle of Roxbury Street.
It has always been smooth driving. The county is responsible for the road on the south side and, until 1956, it was one ugly continuous chuckhole.
One day a boy named Byron Kinghammer was walking up the road when a car hit a chuckhole and when the driver lost control, swerved off and killed the boy.
Omar, now willing to talk to us, helped us to put the pressure on the county and since then Roxbury has been paved on both sides.
The other day I got a book written by one of the town's most famous citizens. Richard Hugo grew up in Highland Park in the Seattle side of White Center.
Called "The Real West Marginal Way," the book is the author's autobiography, a tale of growing up on the hard streets of the Depression years.
A student at Highland Park Elementary, he tells a fascinating tale of his families struggle and talks about his childhood abandoned by his father, his schoolyard haunts and boyhood buddies like Elmer Matson who worked in the back of Bunge Hardware as a pre -teen boy filling sacks with Corry's slug bait.
Mattson eventually worked his way into ownership.
And his buddy was Ralph Schau with whom he played baseball.
Hugo, a gifted athlete, turned out to be a gifted writer and poet who later served as a bombardier in World War II. He came back and graduated from the UW. He died in 1982.
His book led me to talking with Ralph, Agnes and John Schau, all still living here and all enjoying good health.
I enjoyed hearing about Omar's no-nonsense child rearing. On the job at the bakery at 4 a.m. six days a week he started training eldest son Johnny at age 16.
Johnny failed to get up one morning so Omar phoned, got Ralph and demanded he wake up Johnny. Ralph got as far as the bottom stair, sat down, yelled once and fell asleep. Omar had to rush home and yell around a bit.
John not only had to learn how to make bear claws and apple pies but he was also the delivery truck driver serving as far south as Wright's grocery in Seahurst and as far north as High Point.
Omar was a stern taskmaster but his kids all turned out pretty well.
Maybe that is what it takes.
Or maybe not.
Richard Hugo was the product of a broken home, a grandfather who beat him and a grandmother he believed was deranged.
He spent a lot of years hiding behind a whiskey bottle himself and ended up a much-decorated warrior and a remarkable teacher, lecturer, author and poet revered by thousands of readers.
A 12,000 square-foot Victorian building that once was a funeral home in Seattle is called Richard Hugo House and is owned and operated by thousands of his fans all over the world.