Enumclaw Chamber celebrates 120th anniversary

One of the night’s top-billed speakers was Dorothy Sleigh, the Chamber’s first female board president.

One hundred and twenty years — only Enumclaw’s most solid institutions can boast of such a lifespan.

The local Chamber of Commerce is one of those, having opened its doors for the first time on Sept. 23, 1902, more than a decade before the city of Enumclaw was incorporated. In fact, it’s not only one of the oldest organizations on the Plateau, but the oldest Chamber in the state.

The Chamber is currently headed by Executive Director Shannon Solveg, Events Coordinator Kerry Solmonsen, and Board Chair Kim Elias. In the year-of-our-Lord 2022, an all-female leadership team isn’t anything to blink at — but that was a completely different story just five decades ago.

So to celebrate this momentous occasion, the Chamber invited its first-ever female member and woman board president Dorothy Sleigh to speak at the Chalet Theatre, along with Enumclaw’s first female Mayor Liz Reynolds, current Mayor Jan Molinaro, past Board President Steve Cadematori, and historian Rich Elfers, to recognize how much the Chamber, and the Enumclaw community, has changed over the years.

The bigwig of the night was — of course — Sleigh, who was also the first woman member of the Chamber.

“It’s been an interesting ride,” she exclaimed.

Growing up with six brothers, Sleigh continued, meant she “learned to hobnob with the men” early on in her life.

This served her well when she was in the Air Force, doing translation work for an American general, a British wing commander, a French army colonel, and an Italian navy commander while she lived on a Paris base.

After being discharged, Sleigh came back to Enumclaw, married her husband Deryl, and started to work for the First National Bank in town. She left her position to start a family, but never being one to stay out of work for long, eventually got a job with noted inventor and philanthropist Dwight Garrett.

“Dwight and I got along really well,” she said, though “he was king of an ornery bugger at times.”

Garrett and several other men decided to open a another bank in town (Cascade Security Bank) in 1963 and asked Dorothy to help them get it rolling.

What was supposed to be a two-week gig ended up with Sleigh becoming an officer of the bank.

Then 1968 rolled around, and “gender” was added to Affirmative Action’s non-discrimination list, and “that was when [the Chamber] were supposedly required to integrate women into the program,” Sleigh recalled, and her bank board asked her to represent them in the organization. (The Courier-Herald could not confirm Affirmative Action required the Chamber find a woman member.)

“It’s a good thing I didn’t have a jealous husband, I’ll tell you that,” she joked.

The first meeting left quite an impression on Sleigh, who ended up sitting across the table from a man named Clyde Baird.

“He looked at me, and he says, ‘Who the hell invited you?’ And I said to him, ‘Clyde, I paid my dues, did you?’” Sleigh said. “They couldn’t get that meeting over fast enough.”

But the day wasn’t over, because as soon as official business was out of the way, out came the cards and dice table; Sleigh said she just sat back with a glass of wine and enjoyed the scene, occasionally rolling the dice for one of the men.

“Basically, they didn’t really do anything,” she said in a later interview. “It was like a good ol’ boys club.”

Sleigh, of course, wasn’t going to let that stand for long, and over the next several years, got more women to become members.

Fast forward to 1976, and Sleigh was a full-on board member, spending six years serving until it was her turn to take the presidency in 1983. But even after more than a decade of Chamber experience, the men of the group were surprised when she was, in fact, going to take the top leadership role.

“They said, well, you’re not going to take it, are you Dorothy?” she said. “I said, why wouldn’t I? I’ve been sitting on this board for six years!”

One of the first things she did as president, Sleigh said, was to get rid of the “horsey award” the Chamber presented to someone in the community every year.

To hear her tell it, it was an actual trophy — in the likeness of the rear end of a horse — that was passed around.

“They called it ‘the Silver Stallion Award’, and they awarded that to the guy in town that did the most worst thing; he might’ve got caught sleeping with somebody’s wife or something,” she said. “It was awful… I’ve often wondered what happened to that trophy.”

In its place, Sleigh started the Business Person of the Year Award — something she was honored with in 1987, even though she never owned her own business.

Sleigh also led the charge to get an actual Chamber office going in town, located on Griffin Avenue, a couple of block down from the Griffin & Wells restaurant.

All in all, “it was a grand experience,” she said, thanking her husband for being her biggest supporter during those years.

The one regret she had, she said, was that the Chamber could never get any of the larger, national businesses to build a location in town.

“Consequently, everyone is shopping now at Four Corners and Bonney Lake,” Sleigh concluded. “There goes the tax dollars.”

After all presentations were over, Solmonsen led the audience in a champagne toast.

“Let’s raise a glass to every Chamber member, Board member, and community member. Let’s raise a glass to the many relationships formed, the businesses built, and the many thing things this community has done as a result of commerce. Let’s raise a glass to the future, and teach the next generations about the importance of an organization like ours,” she said, glass raised. “We have so much to be proud of in our rich and storied past. And so, [I’m] looking forward to the future for what it has in store. Cheers!”

Dorothy Sleigh has kept a few things from her time with the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce, including an entire scrapbook of news clippings, photos, and awards. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Dorothy Sleigh has kept a few things from her time with the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce, including an entire scrapbook of news clippings, photos, and awards. Photo by Ray Miller-Still