Greek Dancing in the Streets of Soap Lake (from Marina Romary collection)
Not so long ago, Soap Lake, WA, was known throughout the Northwest for its Greek community. Settlers like the Pappas, the Arvans, the Christs, the Malonas and the Nortaras had come to Soap Lake early in the 1900’s.
These families were friendly and social with a great love of fun and parties. Marina (Notaras) Romary recalls that the Pappas family had three kids; the Notaras had seven; the Arvans had twelve or thirteen. “We’d all go to the Arvans for a big get together and then they’d come to our house. It was just like that.”
“I remember one party especially. We cooked a whole lamb. People came from Dryden and Wenatchee—a lot of Greeks—and, of course, all the Greeks from Soap Lake. We were doing this party and Mr. Munski—the baker, he had the bakery for years (Randy from his family married Norma Zimmer)—well, we had that lamb and we were putting the garlic and oregano on it—and we put it into his oven and cooked it there. How he let us do that, I’ll never know. Though in the old days, the old guys would just get along. And then, the party would go for two or three days. They’d dance the Greek dances out on the lawn—and they’d sit up at night and talk in the Greek language”
Soon the Soap Lake Greek community threw open their party to the public. The first Greek Festival was held in the early seventies. “We had one lamb and we hosted the party in the high school gym and the grade school gym. We cooked the lamb out back. Many of our Greek ladies—Lulu, Georgia Brown, Helen Larson, Margie Arvan—came and taught the people how to do our traditional Greek dances. And, then we ate that good lamb. That was the first Soap Lake Greek Festival.”
The biggest Greek Festival was 1980, the year we joined forces with the Great Canoe Race. Thousands of visitors were in Soap Lake on that day. Marina recalls that Don’s Restaurant fed over 1600 people. “We had belly dancers, music and lots of good food. I would always do the lambs’ heads for the Greeks. They loved it. The men from Seattle were just tickled by what we were serving. We would also do kokoretsi — which are the offal of lamb. Greeks never throw any meat away because we’ve learned how to prepare and eat it.”
When the Festival was growing strong, wire was strung from the Notaras Hotel over to Don’s Restaurant, and then parachutes were put up for shade. A couple of big circus tents were also erected behind the Soap Lake Businessmen’s Club. It was a big and festive sight.
Eventually the Soap Lake Greek Festival came to an end. Marina sadly explained: "The Spring Festival in Moses Lake decided to go on our weekend — the rodeo in Coulee City — and one other thing, the weather — it stopped treating us well on that weekend. But, above and beyond all that, our Greek dancers decided to do a Greek Festival in Seattle. And, my Greek band was a part of that — and the Greek kids who came. So, those were the knockout punches for the Greek Festival in our town.”
Young Coast Girl Swims Across Soap Lake to Win Wager
Lenora Bushnell of Bremerton, while camping at the beach with her parents, swam the lake one day last week from the south end against the waves to the north end, a distance of three miles in 2 hours 45 minutes. The girl is but 14 years old and weighs 145 pounds.
There was a man started out but he did not make over one-half the distance.
The reason for the race was a wager between the girl and her father, who thought it impossible.
Lenore came to Soap Lake from Bremerton with her father for his health (he had rheumatism and is now completely healed).
The 1st Great Canoe Race
As we all prepare for the Great SLAP race on July 20th, here’s a look at the group who originated the Soap Lake Great Canoe Race in 1980.
They sure had the right stuff. The race was originally scheduled for just after Mt. St. Helens blew. Not only were they able to reschedule the event, 26 canoes raced that first year.
What a group!
Back 4: Kurt Graham, Jim Fronsman, Cliff Osborn, Bryan Westover
Middle 4: Marina Romary, Debi Bishop, Karen Ball, Jeanne-Marie Peterson
Front 4: Bob Anderson, John Poling, Danny Carter, Gene Norley
Could a paddle race ever be a kind of love letter?
In 2006 Alex Kovach and his dad, Andrew, finished the last Great Canoe Race. For 26 years, competitive paddlers from all over the Northwest and beyond descended on Soap Lake, Washington for a challenging 17.5 mile—five lake—paddle and portage. The Great Canoe Race had its last run in 2006.
The race—over its 26-year history—was really something special. Imagine 75 colorful canoes. Imagine 6000 enthusiastic spectators in profile against the stark basalt cliffs of Park, Blue, Alkali, Lenore and Soap Lakes. Imagine a race competitive enough to attract Greg Barton, double gold medalist in kayaking at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Imagine airline pilots jetting in from Japan and Puerto Rico to compete in the race. Pretty amazing in little, tiny Soap Lake, WA.
Back to Alex Kovach in 2006. “It was grueling and hard. At the end of the race, I said to myself, I will never do that again. It was so much work.”
But, over time, Alex has come to think fondly of the race, how challenging it was, how special the time was with his dad, and how much fun it was to be a part of such a significant Soap Lake event.
“You think about Soap Lake at that time. All towns go through ups and downs—and Soap Lake is no exception. To come up with something that brought that amount of interest to the town, those crowds, that competition, well, that was really remarkable.”
Fast forward to the Soap Lake Centennial year of 2019—and the genesis of an improbable love letter: “As the Centennial was being planned, it was suggested that one of the events might be something like the Great Canoe Race. It was such an important part of Soap Lake history. There was interest, but no one stepped forward to take the lead. Well, since I had been involved with it before, I decided to take the helm.”
What Alex has planned for Saturday, July 20, is a tribute race to the Great Canoe Race. It’s titled the Great SLAP (Soap Lake Adventure Paddle). Instead of a five-lake course, the entire race will be staged on Soap Lake with five legs representing each of the lakes of the original race. There will even be a portage challenge built into the event.
While the Great SLAP itself is much shorter in distance than the race it honors, the scope of the race has grown. Four categories of craft will race: Kayaks, Stand-up Paddle Boards, Canoes and “Other”. The largest team accepted for one craft will be four paddlers, though Alex laughs, “We won’t turn down a war canoe if one shows up”.
The prizes will be Soap Lake Centennial medals. There were only 100 of these medals cast. A few were given out at the recent Fun Run. A few more will be awarded at the Suds and Sun Parade and at the Centennial Moonlight Paddle but, the majority of the medals will be awarded at the Great SLAP. Because the medals are so rare and beautiful, they should become the most highly prized collectible from the Soap Lake Centennial.
Another fun component of the Great SLAP is how this race will pay specific tribute to the Great Canoe Race. Competitors will be encouraged to learn more about the Great Canoe race and then be rewarded for their knowledge. At each checkpoint of the race, there will be the opportunity for racers to answer a trivia question. The answers will be represented by tokens. The racer selects the correct token and then resumes the race. When the racer crosses the finish line, he or she turns in the collected tokens. All correct tokens will result in a time discount—five minutes subtracted from race time for every correct token.
Alex expects that the fastest paddlers will complete the Great SLAP in about an hour, but that slower racers and craft may take up to four hours to reach the finish line. What can be done to encourage everyone to stick around for the awards ceremony and post- race festivities?
At the conclusion of the race, each paddler will be given a packet of clues. This part of the tribute is based on the popular Escape Room game. The idea of Escape Room is that a player is locked into a room and escapes by solving a series of puzzles and riddles. There is a time limit—sixty minutes. Alex explains how the Great SLAP game will work: “So, we’re going to have a story based on the Great Canoe Race that race finishers can play as they wait for other racers to finish and the awards ceremony to begin at 1pm. For the racers who finish their puzzles and riddles within the allotted time, there will be an additional subtraction of 30 minutes from their race time.”
“If paddlers get serious about the trivia, they can “cram” ahead of time by following the Great SLAP Facebook page. The history of the Great Canoe Race will be detailed there with all the information needed to solve the trivia questions and puzzles. Obviously, no phones will be allowed on race day as paddlers work the puzzles after the race!”
As for other post-race festivities, they are a work in progress. Sadly, the race associated beer garden originally planned has been nixed. “At first we were planning a Celebration Garden that would have beer available for racers and spectators. However, because this is a water event, the insurance folks said that they couldn’t insure us if alcohol and water were anywhere near each other. So, we can’t sponsor a Celebration Garden.” Still, local businesses are being approached about giving out coupons to encourage folks to patronize their establishments. Alex continues, “It would be perfectly fine for businesses to open up their own beer garden on the same day of the Great SLAP.” So, there are lots of ideas—and Alex and crew are in conversation to get some fun post-race activities going.
An event like the Great SLAP takes the help of many volunteers but not nearly so many as the Great Canoe Race. “Because of the controls needed to make Hwy 17 safe, some years they needed 85 volunteers just to staff the highway. That was a huge undertaking. For this race, I have worked out a skeleton crew of ten—but, the event will run more smoothly with more volunteers. My dream is that 20 people will volunteer.” If you are interested in a fun day of water and sun-- and making your own Soap Lake history, Alex would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
So much time and creativity and love is being poured into this event. What’s the reason for this touching love letter to a long-ago Soap Lake paddle race? Alex grows serious for a minute: “All of this could grow again and that is the hope. We will gather people together again to race. Maybe they will talk and exchange what they liked and didn’t like. Maybe they will want to do it again. So, maybe something greater will grow out of this event this year. It’s always a hope.”
If you are interested in participating in the Great SLAP, click the button below for entry forms and event information:
See you on the water—or watching from the shore-- in Soap Lake on July 20th!
[Editor's note: You may think that since Alex will be so busy running the event that he still would be able to say "never again", but he has already tested the course twice - in a sit on top kayak and a canoe - and plans to do it again on a SUP as well. All part of the careful preparation Alex is doing to ensure the success of this event.]
A Forgotten Tradition: May Day
May Day marks the halfway point between the first day of spring and summer solstice. However, in the United States during the late 19th century, May Day took on a new meaning. International Workers’ Day commemorated Chicago’s Haymarket Massacre where workers, striking for an 8-hour working day, were shot and killed during police conflict.
During that time and into the 20th century, America continued to celebrate the innocence of spring. Flowers, candies and other goodies were gathered in handmade baskets and secretly hung on the front door knobs of friends, neighbors and loved ones. The gifter rang the doorbell and ran away. If the recipient of the gift caught the giver, a kiss was allowed.
May Day Festival was an important celebration in Soap Lake for many years. Our town held beauty pageants, parades and grade school programs with proud parents watching from the side lines.
May Festival 1926 – Princess Mary McWillis, Mayor George Krau, Queen Ruby Russell and Princess Honora Thorson (Grant County Museum)
1927 – Scheib and Finney families celebrate May Day (Grant County Museum)
1928 - School children perform May Day program on Soap Lake’s sandy beach
(Grant County Museum)
by Michael Collins
When I was growing up in a small town in Eastern Washington, wintertime was not to be wasted by sitting around the house. We had cold winters, sometimes with temperatures that fell below zero, and always some snow. The snow would melt or get blown away by gale force winds eventually, but before it did we made full use of it – every flake of it. We built snow forts and snowmen. We also sledded, skied and tobogganed. We threw thousands of snowballs: I’m pretty sure that’s why I became a pitcher in Little League and excelled at it in high school.
The real treat came when the ponds froze over, and when the weather got really cold the major lakes in the area would freeze solid as well. That meant ice skating, which in our day was nothing like what you see in today's indoor ice rinks in major cities. We could scatter out for yards or miles in all directions, and we built huge bonfires on the shore out of old tires that kept us warm and emitted towering plumes of black, stinky smoke.
The larger lakes in the area were up to three miles long, and if there was no wind on the night of the first freeze the surface of those lakes would turn into glass. Dodging the occasional snowdrift, and watching out for holes dug by ice fishermen, we would turn into speed skaters on our hand-me-down skates as we formed high-speed conga lines and tried to lose the younger skaters in the darkness.
In those days there was no such thing as light pollution in the winter night. We had a few scattered streetlights in town, and lots of porch lights, but the moon and the stars were always visible if it wasn't cloudy or snowing. When we got out on the lakes, away from town, it was pitch black. Skating in such darkness seemed almost like flying.
While we were skating on small ponds, some of our classmates would train their car headlights across the pond so that we could see each other in those crowded spaces. Even though gas was cheap then, and I remember gas wars with prices as low as 14¢ per gallon in the 1950's, we didn't have much spending money so couldn't let the cars run too long at night. Besides, it was more fun just to skate by the light of the bonfire.
One evening of skating became etched in my memory for a different reason. Four of us, all juniors in high school, decided to head north from town to enjoy the glassy surface of Soap Lake after dark. The ice was very smooth, and it was extremely cold. Heading away from the lights of downtown, it became pitch black and we could see absolutely nothing ahead of us.
As was pretty common, our leisurely skate became a race to see who could cover the two miles to the other end of the lake first. I was in the lead by a few feet, and skating as fast as I ever had, when the ice under my feet disappeared and turned to water. As my three classmates skidded to a halt behind me, my momentum carried me most of the way across a large crack that ran the width of the lake. I found myself in water from the knees down, but able to pull myself out on the ice on the far side of the gap. We were in the middle of the lake, over a mile from town, and the crack--which was about 8 feet wide--ran from shore to shore. There was no way that I could jump it again. I had to skate to the shoreline and walk around on the rocks before joining my friends for the race back to town.
The temperature was about zero, but with the exertion it did not feel cold. The best thermometer was my lower pants legs, which were as hard as stovepipes. They were so stiff that I couldn't even pull my cuffs up to untie my skates. What fun!
Being a Boy Scout was also fun, as it involved hiking and camping and building things. We learned to tie every type of knot imaginable, communicate with Morse code, and to camp in the great outdoors. Our scoutmasters found us some remote property next to Bluff Lake that could be used to develop a permanent camp site, and it was so undeveloped that surrounding sagebrush towered up to eight feet high. We had to hike a mile to get to the camp. Rattlesnakes were constantly trying to gain entrance to the stockade we built to keep them out.
That camp also provided us with early exposure to winter camping. The difference between summer and winter camping is that during the latter you spend about 95% of your time trying to stay warm instead of enjoying nature. We initially had some scrap wood left over from building the stockade to stoke our campfires, but that was gone fairly quickly. Foraging for additional combustible materials occupied most of our time.
Sagebrush looks dry, even when it is rooted and alive, so it took a lot of time and effort trying to find enough dry wood to build a roaring campfire. Fortunately the land that we were camping on was used for grazing cattle, so there was an abundance of dry cow pies for fueling our fires. While they didn't really blaze, the driest ones did burn slowly and give off some heat. The early settlers had buffalo chips, and like them we used cow pies to keep us warm. They also had another use, as hockey pucks.
Being from a small town, none of us really knew much about hockey. The lakes or many farm ponds we skated on had no blue lines or sideboards, and there was no such thing as offsides. I didn't see a real hockey stick until I was in college, so we used whatever was handy at the time. On our camping trips those sticks were usually pieces of sagebrush, and it took a lot of ingenuity to wield them in a manner that could knock a cow pie past defenders and into the area we called the goal.
A slap shot on a cow pie “puck” that had not petrified sufficiently would often result in a dung explosion as powdered manure blanketed the contestants. It was partly because of that possibility that we usually assigned the younger kids to guard the goal.
During skating parties that took place when we were in high school, most of us had access to sticks made from fence posts or tree branches that grew around the farm ponds or lakes where we were skating. Even then, our hockey games looked nothing like what you see in the NHL. Once in awhile our normal puck material was not available so we would sometimes upgrade the puck to a tennis ball instead of a cow pie; that was not always the case though, even if tennis balls were available, as we didn’t want to take all of the 'fun' out of the game.
© 2012 Michael C. Collins
About the author: Michael Collins is a contributing editor for New Mobility Magazine and has written dozens of articles about disability and his related life experiences. He is a member of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation “blog squad” and writes from his home in Redmond, Washington. Since becoming quadriplegic due to a ski racing accident in 1988, Mike’s hockey adventures have been restricted to watching his favorite NHL or junior teams battle it out on the ice.
A Revealing Nature Hike
From Mike McNamara
Soap Lake Class of '65
Soap Lake had a Nudist Beach on the west shore. As a Cub Scout, around 1957, we had to earn our merit badges. One way to get a badge was to plan and complete a hike. Planning a hike around the lake took me and my friend Donny Allen right by the nudist beach. Two 7/8 year old boys stopped dead in our tracks when we saw the local hairdresser lady and two guys frolicking in the water. We dug out our Boy Scout field glasses and turned our Cub Scout hats backwards and watched for hours.
When I got home Madoline asked, “How was your hike? What did you see?” Madoline, like a good attorney, never asked a question she didn’t already know the answer. I responded, “Mom you know the lady that drives the purple ‘57 Chevy and does your hair?” Madoline was all ears. When I told her Donny and I watched her at the nudist beach she asked, “Well how long did you watch?” Truthfully, like a good Scout, I said, “The whole time we were gone!”
Needless to say she didn’t sign off for our merit badge. Donny and I really didn’t care. We could hike another day. This memory was much better.
From Grant Count Journal Thursday Dec. 14, 1967
Submitted by JoAnn Rushton
From the left:
Commodore Rufus Underwood, Secretary Mrs Underwood, Mrs Troy
Taylor and vice commodore Taylor. The four are discussing launching
sites for the annual February trip on Chelan to view the deer and mountain goats.
Elections and installation of the new officers was a the Russell Thomas home
December 9 with a buffet luncheon following the business meeting.
From the "Spokane Chronicle."
December 8, 1934
Thanks to Dan Bolyard and Big Bend Railroad History
Margaret Waltho was "Miss Soap Lake"
Click here for more articles about the Queen of the Columbia
Suds n' Sun Circa 1959
From Marsha Crawford Hart
Everyone has a favorite memory of living in or visiting Soap Lake. Tell us yours so we can share it. Thanks.