WALLY’S WORLD: Semanski family was a big part of city past

  • Monday, January 18, 2010 5:53pm
  • Opinion

By Wally DuChateau

In the annals of Enumclaw history, Semanski used to be an important name but, owing to the whims of fate, it doesn’t mean as much now. I’m tied to the lineage through my mother, whose maiden name was Semanski.

Grandpa and Grandma Semanski were homesteaders around the turn of the last century – that is, around 1900 – on 30 acres of land at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and, not surprisingly, Semanski Street. (Of course, if you trace the ancestral chain back several centuries, you end up in Poland but any official records of those twilight days were destroyed in 1939 when the Nazi blitzkrieg reduced the “home town” to dust.) My grandparents were chicken farmers back in the days when the birds weren’t confined to little boxes for their entire lives, but were free to wander over several acres, scratching and digging and pecking.

Grandpa and Grandma had five children, my mother and four boys. Many of you may recall the Semanski brothers: Raymond, Rufus, Joe and Ed. Raymond moved to California shortly after he married and spent most of his life there. Rufus was a successful, intelligent fellow with an uncanny ability to do most anything. He was the all-around foreman for Tougaw and Olson, better known as T and O, one of the most important founding businesses in Plateau history. Rufe was also a real estate entrepreneur who bought and sold houses and property throughout the greater Enumclaw area. He also owned a logging truck or two and fooled around with the stock market. Yet, despite all these commercial investments and financial responsibilities, Rufe was out there carousing about local taverns almost every night and it’s likely that he’s remembered in this capacity more than any other. He was a hard-drinkin’, hard-workin’, son of a gun who died of a coronary at a relatively young age, only 50.

Brothers Joe and Ed were partners in the Goodrich tire shop during the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. I was familiar with their business, often visiting the place with my father or, in later years, pedaling down there on my bike. (The shop was in the building that currently houses the Hornet’s Nest, in front, and Delux Automotive in back.) I think most of their business involved the re-capping of used tires, a practice popular during World War II when rubber was rationed, but a procedure that’s rarely practiced today. Large vulcanizing presses hissed and smarted with the smell of burned rubber. Machines shaved old tires until they were bald, resulting in a pile of granulated rubber that, much to my mother’s chagrin, I liked to play in. When large steel bars were struck against iron rims or dropped on the cement floor, the resulting clang hurt my ears. It was the noisiest, most foul-smelling and dirtiest damn place I’d ever been.

Joe drowned in Lake 12 early one morning on the opening day of fishing season. He was only 38 years old.

Uncle Ed sold his interest in the tire shop. He bought the Mint when it was still a tavern – that is, it only offered beer and wine – but he only lasted a few years in that business. Eventually, he opened Edward’s Five and Dime Store (do you remember that one?) and ran that operation until he retired. He was 87 when he died.

So, that’s a capsule summary of the legacy and contributions of the Semanski brothers. Rufus and Ray never had any children. Joe had two boys, but they moved to Chehalis with their mother when they were younger than 5. Ed had a son, Eddie, and a daughter, Doris Ann. Eddie, better known in family circles as “Buddy,” was the last remaining, local descendant carrying the family name. More about him next week.

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