Posted by Peter Brennan on Jan 27, 2020
Rotary Club of Olympia
The Wheel
 
Today’s Program:  Celebration of Virgil and Barbara Clarkson
 
Meeting Called to order: President Colleen Gillespie_ @ 12:23 pm
  • Invocation by: Tom McLean
  • Pledge of Allegiance led by: Matt DeBord
  • Song: God Bless America, led by Gloria Strait
  • Four Way Test led by: Joe Scuderi,
Visiting Rotarians 
None today.
 
Guest of Rotarians 
None today.
 
Happy Bucks – hosted by Micky DuMont
  • Gloria Strait had a great time with fellow Rotarians at the Harlequin Productions production of Noises Off.  She and Skip have been hosting actors for the theater for ten years and have met some very interesting people.  She highly recommends the experience. 
  • Jim Leonard gave $82 in memory of Preston Troy.  Preston’s celebration of life was held this past Saturday.
  • Heather Antanaitis is happy that her daughter’s 3rd race car themed birthday was a total success.
Announcements
 
Greeter
Candace Allen with Morningside announced it is the last day for Dilshoda, who has been our greeter and is now looking for an office job.  She is an excellent greeter and organizer.  A new greeter, Mark, will start next week.
 
Rotary History
Christy Peters shared and excerpt from the 1968-69 club archives during which there was much discernment about whether or not to sponsor a club in Lacey.  At the time, the cities of Lacey and Olympia were considering combining and it was a concern that this was not a good time to establish a new club.  The club eventually approved the establishment of the Lacey club. 
 
Volunteers to Interview OHS Students
Jen Boelts is looking for volunteers to sit down with Olympia High School seniors to review their resumes and counsel the students on job seeking.  If interested, please contact her at jboelts@osd.wednet.edu  
 
2020-2021 Officers
Dan Lahuta presented a slate of officers for the 2020-2021 club year and opened for additional nominations from the floor. 
 
The proposed slate is:
  • President, Sean Padget
  • President Elect, Cyndi Zechmann
  • Past President, Colleen Gillespie
  • Treasurer, Ned Owens
  • Secretary, Jeannine Roe
  • Club Coordinator, Neil DeBoer (non-voting board position)
Newly nominated board directors:
  • Diane Gallegos
  • Richard Hull
  • Micki Holden-Cooper
Returning board directors:
  • Reid Bates
  • Geoff Crooks
  • Corrina Phillips
No nominations were offered from the floor.  Dan called for a motion to close the nominations, which was moved, seconded and approved by unanimous consent.  A motion was then made to elect the slate as presented.  Motion was seconded and approved by unanimous consent.
 
February “Be Our Guest” Month – Seeking New Rotarians
Tom McLean announced that February is “Be our guest” month and members are encourage to invite club prospects.  Any who buy lunch for their guest will only be charged 50% ($10) for the guest’s meal. 
 
Exchange Student Update
Thibault, our exchange student from Belgium, had knee surgery on January 2nd and last week the surgeon found an inflammation that required more surgery.  He is at St. Peter Hospital in room 724 receiving treatment.  He will have a port placed in his arm and his host family will administer antibiotics for the next four weeks at home.  The family, the Ryders, have been amazing in supporting Thibault through this medical ordeal.  Thibault would enjoy to have visitors while at the hospital, so please try to stop by to see him.  He’s pretty bored.
 
February 10 Service Project
President Colleen reminded the club of the February 10th service project DURING LUNCH, at the Food Bank warehouse by SPSCC.  Please RSVP and order a box lunch if interested.  Tokens will be accepted. 
 
Program:  Celebration of Virgil and Barbara Clarkson
 
Ralph Munro shared the remarkable and resilient contributions of Virgil and Barbara Clarkson.  (see the full text of Ralph’s comments below) He recalled several examples of segregation in Olympia and the surrounding area and the many initiatives that Virgil and Barbara led to support equal rights and understanding.  
 
Virgil Spencer Clarkson was a multi-term member of the City Council of Lacey.  He has also served as Deputy Mayor.  He is the first African American to hold these positions in Lacey city government.
 
Clarkson was born on March 19, 1932 in Houston, Texas.  He obtained his Bachelor of Science in mathematics and physics from Texas Southern University, did graduate work in public administration at Pacific Lutheran University, and completed one year of law school at the University of Puget Sound.  Virgil married A. Barbara Huggins in 1989.  He worked for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources from 1965 to 1972 and the Department of Transportation from 1972 until he retired in 1999 as its Resource Operations Manager.
 
Virgil moved to Thurston County in 1965.  Three years later, in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, he helped get open housing ordinances passed by several local jurisdictions.  These ordinances eliminated housing discrimination based on race, gender, religion, culture, or age.  The Clarksons have been strong advocates for a sustainable environment, understanding its connection to the local economy, community health, and the overall quality of life in the area.  Virgil later became one of the first Western Washington political leaders to request the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study the cumulative environmental impact of new coal terminals in Washington and Oregon.
 
Since they have lived in Thurston County, the Clarksons have given their time to many community organizations, becoming a role model for young people, especially people of color.  They have provided leadership, compassion and spread kindness in our region for decades.  Because of their many contributions to our community, they were recognized by Olympia Rotary.
 
Mr. Snappy: Jim Leonard won $20 gift certificate to Phoebe’s Cafe, donated by Kalo Wilcox
 
Meeting Adjourned: 1:15 pm by President Colleen.
 
Ralph Munro’s Prepared Remarks:
 
We live in a wonderful country…and we can visualize it nearly every day.  I stand with the little kids at McLane Elementary School or here in this club …and recite the pledge…one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
 
Olympia is a terrific place to live…I came here in 1966…54 years ago…and went to work for a Republican Governor named Dan Evans.  He strived for a united state…one that provided liberty and justice for all.   Some of you have been here longer…Steve Bean, Gerry Alexander.
 
During WWII, Olympia was a closed city.  African American servicemen and women could pass through here, but not stay here.  They could transfer buses or trains here but had to stay in the depot or the immediate area of the station.
 
Twenty years after the war, there were no Negros seen in Olympia except Scotty, the window washer downtown and John Grace, the blind piano tuner.
 
Following the assassination of President Kennedy, our new President Lyndon Johnson declared a ‘war on poverty’ as demanded that civil rights laws be passed.  The southern states were the focus of the headlines and the movement…but there were also activities here that played out in a much different way.
 
Racial barriers were high and hard to break down.  Forgotten terms like ‘red lining’ were prevalent in almost every community.  Lines drawn on the map where Negros could live and where they could not live.   The red line in Olympia was basically the city limits. 
Our leadership teams, our fire departments, our police departments, our state patrol, and most state and local government bodies had NO African American employees.  There was one black in the State Legislature, a Republican from Seattle named Charlie Stokes. 
Things were very different then.  
 
Many of us remember when The University of Washington Huskies, with an outstanding African American running back and kicker named George Fleming, went to the Rose Bowl.   In the early morning hours of 1961, the team and the cheerleaders lined up for the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena.  It was a very cold morning and athlete Fleming offered his sweatpants to one of the cheer leaders who was shivering cold in her cheer outfit.  She accepted his offer and pulled on the sweatpants.  The story was carried on the front page of the Seattle Times…”White cheerleader pulls on a Negro players sweat pants” was the jist of the story…
 
As the 1960s progressed, the federal government began to fund programs to include more minorities.  The first African Americans began to arrive in Olympia to carry out this work
John Finley and his wife Sylvia arrived when John was appointed Deputy Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.  The office was in the old Olympian Hotel downtown.  No one in Olympia would show John a house in any of our neighborhoods.  He was told that the only house available to him was the little house on the hill below the Capitol where the Restaurant SWING is now located.  That place had no neighbors.   So, John and Sylvia settled in Lacey. 
 
Sylvia, with her degree in library science, started a volunteer library in Lacey… Lacey’s first library… The Lacey Moose Club heard of Sylvia’s work and invited her to receive an award for her efforts.   When she arrived at the Lacey Moose Club, they realized that she was a Negro and would not let her enter the building. 
 
In Olympia there was anger and resentment.  A few of us remember the attempts to form a branch of the Tacoma Urban League in South Sound.  It was a difficult time, but I also should point out that a number of people in this club had the courage to stand up and assist.   Steve Bean, Gil Olson, Paul Zech, Jim Dolliver, Howard Perry, George Kinnear, come to mind.  I am sure that I have missed some names.
 
In Seattle, a fine African American leader named Ed Pratt, who was an acquaintance of ours, was working on local legislation to open up more neighborhoods for blacks to live in.   On Christmas Eve, his doorbell rang.  Ed answered the door and was hit with a blast from a shotgun.  Assassinated in front of his family next to their Christmas tree.
 
These stories could go on and on, but they won’t today.  That is not the purpose of this meeting. The program today is to honor two individuals, one who arrived in town in the midst of it all, and one who came a bit later. 
 
They each held their heads high…they each suffered from racial prejudice.  They each kept moving toward the goal… they each had faith in God…they each carried out the words of our pledge…one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. 
 
Virgil Clarkson was born in 1932 in Houston, Texas.  Life was not easy.  There was little money and he recalls one Thanksgiving when the preacher brought two turkey legs for his family of five to share for dinner.  He went to a segregated high school and college opportunities were almost out of the question.  But another black student applied to the University of Texas Law School and was rejected because he was a Negro.  The NAACP sued the state…and rather than integrate the law school…the state legislature in Texas approved construction of a new University for blacks only…Texas Southern.
 
Virgil graduated from there in 1953 in math and physics…and immediately joined the Army.  He served our nation for 15 years in Texas, California, Europe and finally Seattle.  He was an expert in guided missiles.  Following the Army, Virgil applied for a job with the State of Washington and was eventually hired by the Department of Natural Resources.  The agency had two black employees…Virgil and an African Exchange Student.
 
When he arrived in Olympia, Virgil sought out other African Americans…and couldn’t find any.   The census indicated that there were about 20 blacks living in the South Sound area at the time.
After being rejected by several rental owners, friends in Virgil’s church and office helped him locate a place to live. As time went by, he was able to buy a home in the Bigelow neighborhood.  In 1973, Virgil transferred jobs to the Department of Highways.   He and his African American friend Jim Wilson were the only blacks that worked there.   
 
One morning Virgil found a noose in his top desk drawer…on another day, Jim Wilson opened his desk to find that someone had had a bowel movement in his desk drawer. 
It wasn’t easy.  Virgil didn’t give up.  He joined Kiwanis and helped to lead many benevolent efforts in our community.  The Elks Clubs across the state said that they were not prejudiced…they just couldn’t find any qualified minorities for membership.  Virgil was nominated and he accepted membership in the Olympia Elks.   It was a huge step forward for the integration of private clubs in the Pacific Northwest. 
 
Virgil received nominations to serve on numerous boards and commissions, public and private.   He never turned down the challenge.  His biggest step was to seek public office, to put his name on the ballot…and he was elected time and time again in the City of Lacey, on the council and as the mayor of the city.  He is credited with much of the incredible progress that Lacey made during the following decades.  Today the Lacey Senior Center is named after this pioneer and he continues to serve us in many ways. 
 
We in the Olympia Rotary Club honor Virgil Clarkson.
 
Barbara Jenkins, now Barbara Clarkson, was born in the Charity Hospital in New Orleans…the only hospital that would take Negroes in the Parish.  A very bright young girl she went to the Laboratory School on the Campus of Southern University of Agriculture and Engineering.  She graduated from high school in 1957 and entered the University. 
 
Avoiding her parents’ advice, she eloped with her boyfriend and headed west toward a potential job offer that he had in Denver.   When the two newlyweds got to Colorado, the employer realized that they were black…and suddenly the job disappeared. 
 
So, they moved on to Seattle and she tried to enter the University of Washington School of Nursing but they didn’t take blacks.   So, she pursued a degree in sociology and criminology and eventually graduated. 
 
Everywhere she went, she was known as the ‘lady who makes things work’ Seattle Public Schools, SOIC, Washington Mutual Savings Bank, job training programs for laid off Boeing workers, and others.   She was honored by Governor Spellman for making 1100 + placements in six months.
 
After marrying Virgil, they became quite a team.   She helped him and he helped her.  She was appointed as a trustee at South Puget Sound Community College, helped develop the Barbara Clarkson Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Center, received numerous honors for her work ………
And has helped scores and scores of young people in their goal to pursue a degree beyond high school.  Truly a woman of achievement.
 
Today the Rotary Club of Olympia Washington honors Barbara Clarkson for her many efforts to improve our South Sound region.