Clarence John Fuchek
Once again we are attempting to reconstruct the little known story of a man during the early days of the 20th century. I have a feeling that one of our readers will be able to fill in some of the background on this man.
Clarence’s father, John Edward, was born in Czechoslovakia but his family immigrated and arrived in Wisconsin in 1875. Little is known although I did not review all the US Census reports until his family tree on ancestry.com tells us he is living in Pierce County, Washington as a single man. Since his occupation is listed as a stationary engineer, I am assuming (bad thing to do especially in history) that he is working with the railroad. John, age 32, meets Rose Kocourek, age 18, another Czechoslovakian and they married in 1898.
The following year they are living in Boisfort and PeEll Precincts, Washington, where Clarence is born. By 1903 the family has moved to Tacoma; and lived in the Oakland Addition on Center Street. This is where his sister Alice Florence Marie is born in 1903. The family grows with twin boys in 1905, a daughter in 1907 and again in 1909 and twin boys again 1909, a son in 1912, another son 1919 and a daughter in 1917. (ancestry.com)
Clarence recorded an oral history for the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society on October 7th, 1987 and he died the following year at age 88. The oral history jumps around not only in topic but also years and is somewhat difficult to follow. But we’ll do our best to piece it together. Wish us luck!
When Clarence was 22 he married Marigold Lenaeux, also 22, and in 1927 they moved to Gig Harbor, Washington. In the very beginning in 1927 they lived several months near the Community Hall (Crescent Valley School/Community Hall/Masonic Temple/City of Gig Harbor Park). They then moved to a small cabin along the shore of Puget Sound called Nesika. (Nesika starts at the southside of the mouth of Gig Harbor’s harbor and goes along the shoreline behind Heron’s Key and Dolphins Reach; the cabins remaining use a street address of Craig Lane.) Unfortunately they couldn’t live there for long because vandals would throw rocks at it, breaking the windows and stealing their things, making it impossible for them to live there.
Then in 1929, Mitchell arranged it so Clarence was able to rent Joe Skansie’s house next to the Shell Station. He was living there on June 10, 1929 when the Gig Harbor hull burned and sunk.
Clarence goes to work for Mitchell Skansie in the Skansie Shipyard, and worked on both the Skansonia and its twin sister, Defiance. (The Skansonia is now a stationary wedding and event center on Lake Washington. (evergreenfleet.com) Mitchell then employs Clarence as purser on the ferries.
I was unable to find Marigold’s date of death, or if they divorced. But in 1933, Clarence marries Frank Samuelson’s daughter, Violet Ethel (1908-1980).
In 1938 construction started on the first Narrows Bridge and Clarence was supposed to get a job on the project. The State contractors called him, he worked four days or possibly five days and then they fired him. He was angry and you couldn’t blame him so he took a job at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. One of Mitchell Skansie’s employees or perhaps Mitchell himself called Clarence and asked that he come back to help work on the ferries. They offered him $80 per month, more than he was making at the Naval Shipyard but Clarence refused. He finally had a steady job, working the swing shift and the war was on.
Then in 1945 with the war over, the Navy stopped the swing shift for the workers and put all the guys on day shift. This was the perfect opportunity for Clarence to get back into music.
Oh, yes, we haven’t mentioned that Clarence was a drummer and worked on and off with numerous bands in Pierce County have we? This is where finding information on the bands themselves becomes difficult. But Clarence and Vic Kiefer, another local musician, put together an orchestra and played during 1948-1949. Clarence’s last gig was New Years Eve 1949.
But when and where did he start? I don’t really know but most likely following his high school graduation. He played, over the years, in Longbranch, Harmony Hall in Home, Washington, Lake Bay, Horseshoe Lake, Gig Harbor and Tacoma. Clarence worked out of the Union Hall in Tacoma during his early band days for a while but didn’t like the way the Union Hall worked with the musicians. Some of the band names he played with were: Black Cats (4-piece dance band); Big Keeper (last place they played was Point Villa Hotel in Tacoma in 1949/50 on New Years Ice; and Silver Glide dances in Gig Harbor as well as Barn & Bell in Tacoma.
The principal players he played with were: Vic Kiefer, saxophone; Garnet West who later became Garnet West Sheler, piano; Earl Webber, also a drummer; and Benny Dudary and his wife, Ruth. Oh, let’s not forget his playing with Rueben Berkheimer.
|Rehn Motors "Chevy Dealership Dance, Point Fosdick|
|Unknown Instrument and Individual - Is this also Clarence? Clarence was a drummer, but could he have also played this combination guitar and cello?|
Clarence’s wife Violet Samuelson Fuchek died October 26, 1980 and her obituary indicates that she was a homemaker and member of the Peninsula Lutheran Church. Her family had purchased their property in Cromwell, Washington in 1892 and she had lived her entire life in the Gig Harbor area. Clarence died December 13, 1988 at the Cottesmore Nursing Home. He and Violet had lived in their property on Reid Road for over 47 years. He asked that remembrances, if any, be made to the John Paul Jones Scholarship Fund.
- Tacoma Public Library, Northwest Room
- The Peninsula Gateway/Tacoma News Tribune
- Harbor History Museum Research Files
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