Third in a Soap Lake Centennial series featuring
Soap Lake Entrepreneur and Former Mayor, Marina Romary
In 1969, Marina Romary left her job at Moses Lake’s Porterhouse Restaurant. Moses Lake’s loss was Soap Lake’s gain. The Soap Lake Businessmen’s Club was in trouble; patronage had slipped; and the Club’s manager, Doyle Rushton, was tired. Within weeks of landing back in Soap Lake, Marina was appointed the new manager. Within a year, she’d purchased the Club-- beginning a nearly 50-year tenure of colorful ownership.
"When I got involved with the Club it had been going since, I think, the early 1950’s. When they started the Club, it was closely associated with the Lion’s Club, which was very influential in Soap Lake. The businessmen met downstairs. They’d bring their own liquor and the Club would provide mixers and ice. In its heyday, they had slot machines against the wall and five or six gambling tables. It became a hot gambling spot until everybody went to jail. The things that went on in Soap Lake in the 1950’s—well, let me just tell you, it was the party town of Grant County."
An important reason that Marina was able to return the Businessmen’s Club to its former glory was the effort she spent securing good entertainment. She began hiring talented folks from Central Washington and quickly moved on to nationally known groups and singers.
"My first entertainer was Stan’s Jazz out of Wilson Creek. 'One more time!' He always said that. It’d be twenty after two in the morning and, 'One more time…!'. He played the trombone and his kids and wife were the rest of the band. They were a wonderful group. I first saw Billy Nickels leaning on a lamppost on the street next to the Club. He says to me, 'I’ll do your music for a hamburger'. 'You’re on', I said, and he played the Club for years. Slim Dossey was also a great guy. He played at every dinner we had in the back yard. He was an old timer—he knew all the old songs—and people really enjoyed him. Hank Thompson was another of my favorites. He drew the biggest crowd we ever had in the Banquet Room, He loved us; he just loved us."
An early entertainer who Marina brought into the Club was a Burl Ives impersonator. He stayed—as did all the out of town entertainers—in a small place Marina called The Music House. One day, when Marina and he were visiting, he remarked that Bonnie Guitar would love playing Soap Lake and staying at the Music House. At about the same time, Grant County cattleman Ken Ardell, who knew Bonnie from rodeos in Auburn, was talking her up to Marina. So, Marina took a leap and contacted the famous country singer. Soon Bonnie was playing the Club, staying at The Music House, and the rest is Soap Lake history.
"Bonnie was an idol of mine and so here she comes the Club. She loved it, she really did. In the beginning, she was playing five nights a week—then we went to three nights—then we went to weekends. But, she was my house band for 13 years. She lived in that little Music House.
We had lots of great acts during that time, but I did have my favorites. The Ink Spots—they loved it here. They almost lived with me. We had an Elvis impersonator—he was always a good show. And, when The Hager Twins from Buck Owen’s 'Hee Haw' played the Club, well, that was a really good time."
Great entertainers weren’t the only entertainment at The Businessmen’s Club. Mud wrestling drew large and enthusiastic crowds.
"The pit was in the empty lot behind Notaras Lodge. We mixed mud from the lake with clay mud. We even brought in stadium stands for it. Donny Merrill was the event announcer. A lot of people mud wrestled and a lot of people did a good job. The contestants were all of Soap Lake’s young people. Mike Arvan’s daughter was a tough fighter—as was my daughter, whom I actually wrestled. And then people would just show up to wrestle. We had a rodeo queen—I think she was from Omak—she was tall and strong. She did a good job.
Both men and women wrestled. But, except for me, we never had the men wrestling the women. We kept that separate. I did, however, mud wrestle the Chief of Police when I was mayor. Dick Robinson was Chief then, and he won the first round. So, the next round, I poured a bunch of olive oil all over me and shocked Dick by running through the mud and jumping on him. I did; I jumped on him. I got him and I scared him to death—and I won that round! Then, he got himself back together and he won the next round. Everyone had lots of fun for the three or four years we mud wrestled at the Club."
The Hooker’s Ball was an annual Halloween Event at the Club. For a time, it was wildly popular with folks from all over the state of Washington coming to Soap Lake to party.
"We did it for five or six years. The women would dress as hookers—furs, sparkly jewelry, sexy clothes--and the guys would be suave. It was just a great time—a Halloween costume party.
The idea came up first from our young bartenders sometime in the early 2000’s. We actually had a little pushback; we did get feedback—not all good. But, I loved the idea enough to do it. And people loved it enough to come from the Coast—from all over our area—and pack the Club. Eventually, an idea like that wears out—and that one did, too. But, we did have some great times."
How quickly a half century can pass. By 2015, Marina found herself as tired as Doyle Rushton had been 50 years earlier. It was time to sell all of her historic Soap Lake businesses, the Businessmen’s Club among them.
"Those were hard days. I was tending bar at the Club because it was hard to keep somebody there. I was cooking in Don’s kitchen because my sister, April, was gone. My daughter was coming from the Coast three days a week to help me, and that was killing her. It sadly became clear that it was time to sell."