The Seamen’s Club

The most enduring institution in the Pacific Northwest is the monthly, labor-management, fund-raising luncheon in Seattle’s Catholic Seamen’s Club.

The simple formula for each luncheon was established before I was introduced to the Club in 1960. A restaurateur or other business leader, sometimes a labor-union official, hosted each such meeting. Ivar Haglund, of Ivar’s Acres of Clams, was the only one of them who demanded something in return. He insisted that he be allowed to sing and play his guitar whenever he donated the food and the services of his cooks.


Regardless, every one of the attendees was happy to kick in a nominal fee that the Club used for maintaining a home away from home for merchant seamen. A master of ceremonies who was knowledgeable of the goings on in the Puget Sound region, who was uninhibited, and who had a reputation for extraordinary wit, completed the formula. The two most qualified for the job were Don Venable, a reporter for Seattle’s Marine Digest and Ed Donohoe, the Editor of the Teamster’s newspaper.

Don Venable had a peculiar way of talking that always sounded as if he was mumbling. Yet, every word he mumbled was understood by most of the sometimes-rambunctious crowd that regularly attended the luncheons. I remember one Maritime Day when Miss Maritime, selected for the honor from the young women who worked in the marine industry, had a place at the head table. Seated alongside was Joshua Green, then about ninety-five, a businessman of considerable reputation and wealth, and the last living member of the group that operated Puget Sound’s Mosquito Fleet. Don, in his role as the emcee, was well into an announcement when, in a perfectly staged manner, he turned slightly away from the microphone, glanced down, interrupted himself, and indignantly said, “Josh! Take your hand off of her knee!”

The Club rocked with laughter.

Don then invited Joshua Green to address the luncheon. Upon being helped into position, the old gent grasped the microphone stand to steady himself. His hand was shaking and the sound of his large gold ring hitting metal was amplified as he spoke. What the crowd then heard Joshua Green say was, “Click click I click want click click to click thank click click Don click Venable click click for click that click tremendous click click compliment!”

Josh’s voice rose into a high pitch when he said tremendous and he gave a mighty sigh as he uttered the word compliment. With that, he seemed to be exhausted. Grinning old Josh was then helped to his seat by Don whose extemporaneous accusation caused the hilarity.

Ed Donohoe’s finest moment occurred when an opportunity arose for him to twice fire his caustic wit as if he was a double-barrel shotgun. We members of the Club’s board had made a special effort to invite Seattle’s Mayor Wes Uhlman to attend a scheduled labor-management luncheon. The mayor turned us down, maybe because he thought that we were of no political significance, and offered one of his minions whom we refused. However, at the start of the luncheon we were surprised and pleased when Governor Dan Evans showed up. Rather than always being in the State Capital in Olympia, he sometimes worked out of an office on 1st Avenue, near the Seattle Center. It was easy for him to pop in and surprise us. A city-hall type immediately grabbed a phone and notified the Mayor that the meeting seemed to be important enough to attract the Governor and that maybe the Mayor should attend after all. Uhlman showed up within minutes.

The subsequent proceedings disclosed the political pecking order; the politician who commanded the greatest power spoke last. He was neither the Mayor nor the Governor.

Democrat Uhlman led off and used the opportunity to lambast Republican Evans for being tight-fisted with State money. He wanted the State to provide funds for a number of programs that were on his agenda for the betterment of Seattle. He ended with the inference that his goal was to make Seattle like New York City by saying, “I want Seattle to be known as Fun City West!”

Governor Evans was dubbed by the press as Straight Arrow. As a youth he had achieved Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America, and as an engineer he was not encumbered with the cynicism associated with a lawyer turned politician. He spoke next and went directly to the Mayor’s beef by telling a story. He said, “In the early 1900s Seattle’s Mayor found himself in the same position as Mayor Uhlman says he is in now. He also had ambitious plans and not enough money to implement them. However, unlike Mayor Uhlman, Seattle’s Mayor at that time thought about the problem and conceived a solution. He licensed the red-light houses south of Yesler Way and taxed them. The male citizens of Seattle recognized their duty, a good time was had by all, and sufficient funds were raised without asking for State money.”

That brought down the house. Out-of-character Dan Evans was far ahead in the contest for the crowd’s esteem.

Then Ed Donohoe rose to the microphone. His demeanor was that of a grizzly whose hibernation was interrupted. He glared at the Mayor and fired, “Fun City West! I almost lost my lunch! I hope I never hear that term again!”

Slowly Ed turned, drew a bead on the Governor and fired the other barrel, “For two years now we have been praying for expertise in the state house. We just heard that all we have is expertise in how to operate a whore house!”

The subsequent laughing and howling could be heard for blocks around and we never again heard about Fun City West.


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