GET TO KNOW YOUR FELLOW PLAYERS!
Picture FRITZ WOLFF three miles underground at the largest silver mine in the U.S. Now think of him as the self-deprecating author of A Room for the Summer: Adventure, Misadventure, and Seduction in the Mines of the Coeur D’Alene. And you thought Fritz just played bridge on Wednesday nights! Not everyone can have a “blast” as a mining engineer and metallurgy expert, but Fritz “never looked back” after he spent three college summers in the late 1950s apprenticing at The Bunker Hill Company in Kellogg, Idaho. He had so much fun that he went on to write his well-received book, published in 2005. “I wanted to describe not only the day-to-day business of drilling and blasting but also the guys I worked with,” the ones who lived up to their promise, “We’ll keep you alive, young fella.” Fritz still travels to Idaho once a year for a “salubrious” dinner with those hard-rocking mining pals. He’s 81, but he’s not the oldest of the bunch. Fritz enjoyed a second career with Boeing in aerospace management. “That was fun, too,” he recalls. “I essentially worked at jobs doing exactly what I wanted to do.” Retirement? More joy for Fritz, who became the principal investigator with the Washington State Geological Survey, collecting data on inactive and abandoned mines.
Raised in Seattle and a University of Washington alum, Fritz played some bridge in the 70s when he was a “smart aleck” engineer, but he didn’t get hooked until he took lessons from Brad Kalweit. “Conventions are one thing, but I’m a great believer in simplicity,” Fritz notes. “The big boys are successful with complex devices, but I prefer to play basic Standard American.” He tries to concentrate on the play of the hand. As for bidding, his maxim is, “Should I shut up?”
Fritz and his wife Mary McCann, an artist who has MS, moved to Olympia after he retired. Their two sons and a daughter are spread out in Bainbridge Island, Texas, and Michigan. The Wolffs enjoy their five grandsons, but “couldn’t get a girl out of the whole bunch to spoil,” Fritz laments. His son in Washington is a Starbucks exec who “doesn’t even give me gift cards!” Fritz laughs. Always a lover of traipsing around the mountains, he plans to continue cross-country skiing as long as his knees let him. He treasures the long hikes he took on Mt. Rainier with Sheila Smith. Fritz has a seaplane license and also likes to hit golf balls “most of the time.” He and Mary volunteer at Hanson Elementary School to help students with reading and writing. With his own background as an author, Fritz recalls the ninth grade English teacher “who drilled us unmercifully. To him, I owe a great thanks.” It’s the kind of thoughtful tribute that also describes a man who is grateful to others for helping him “have a blast” the past eight decades. (-Vicki Hamende, December 2018)
She’s knocking on the door of Platinum Life
Master, only about 100 master points shy of the title. Then
PHYLLIS RAKEVICH, arguably Unit 441’s top female player, will lack
only a national title to be an ACBL Grand Life Master!
Interesting that Phyllis, even after her 35-plus years of experience,
shares that she is still “always learning” the game.
Phyllis finds that defense, in general, is the most difficult aspect
of duplicate because it mandates good communication with one’s
partner. She is largely self-taught and began playing around
1982 with her late husband Bob and another couple at the bridge club
in Aberdeen. She arrived at the Olympia club in 1989. She
introduced bidding boxes, computer scoring, and modified Bergen.
Favorite authors of hers include Max Hardy, Marty Bergen, and Jerry
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Phyllis became a U.S. citizen when she turned 21. She was a stay-at-home mom with her two children, Barbara and John. Now grown, they are non-bridgers, both living in the Olympia area. Phyllis enjoys cooking “semi-gourmet” meals for them, usually once a week. She has traveled the world conducting bridge classes on ships. Other Phyllis hobbies include crocheting, knitting, and reading. Several years ago she also taught herself to tat, a very intricate form of handwork.
Phyllis heads south to Yuma, Arizona, in early November and typically returns to Olympia the following April. While in Yuma, she’s bridging, of course, and sometimes directs unit games. (-Nan Hittmeier, November 2018)
JIM REMY, he of the booming voice, he of the buoyant style, he of the
ready story and smile, dances his way through the best of his times.
Literally. On a “Dancing with the Stars” Alaskan cruise a few
years ago, he found himself drawn into the ballroom music and the
rhythm and then the fox trot, swing, soft shoe, peabody, quick step,
samba...swaying, twirling, and whirling. At 81, and “still running
on the original equipment,” Jim now competes in the senior games.
He and his partner also dance in charity and holiday events and give
dazzling demonstrations, often accompanied by Frank Sinatra. That
original dancing cruise also waltzed Jim into traveling. Russia,
anyone? Hungary, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Finland,
Estonia, Canada, the Caribbean? Just a few of the far-away lands
that have drawn him. And can he ski to his destinations? With
“SKIBUM” on his license place, it’s a good bet. He powders all
around the West. Jim will be in the thick of his ski club friends
when they meet for a December kick-off in British Columbia.
Way back, after a stint in the national guard and while “going out the back door when the draft board was coming in the front door,” Jim joined the regular army. He remembered seeing people fly in the guard and thought, “I can do that.” So he did, as a helicopter and airplane pilot who served a tour in Korea and two in Vietnam, once as an aircraft maintenance officer and the next as part of an army depot level maintenance battalion on a ship operated by the Military Sea Transport System. Jim hung around an old IBM 360-20 computer used to manage the Theater Aircraft Repairables Program. “The computer was in the only place on the ship that was air conditioned,” he explains. The difference between his Korea and Vietnam experiences? “In the Korean tour they weren’t shooting at us,” he notes. Jim went in as a private and retired as a major with an advanced degree in logistics management. “The army was good to me.”
As a convenient segue, Jim started playing bridge during an after-duty job at a post library. Later he met his beloved wife Pat, who just happened to play duplicate. “She was the power. I was along for the ride,” he recalls. “She made gold long before I did. I made it after losing her.” While working as a realtor during his second career, he got to know folks in the bridge club through buying and selling houses with them. His sons (his “three guys”) Dan, Kelly, and Dave all play bridge and all ski. Two already live in Washington and the oldest will be returning to the state soon. “Two are computer guys and the third is a physician’s assistant, so the logic is there,” he explains. His four granddaughters? Just perfect for a table of bridgers. Twice, at different times, Jim served as president of the unit. Don’t count him out. This old guy still knows, and takes, plenty of tricks. (-Vicki Hamende, October 2018)
moving around quite a bit while growing up, BRENDA HATCHER and her
sister learned basic bridge through the YMCA in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. She continued to play on and off with her parents,
especially party bridge with her mother, who was a bridge teacher
later in life. Brenda’s family moved to Vancouver, Washington,
following another Alcoa transfer for her father, and Brenda graduated
from Western Washington University in Bellingham. She had played
some computer bridge, but in 2012 she made a New Year’s resolution
to find “real” people to play bridge with. Then she found a
bridge flyer on her car offering lessons at the Olympia Bridge Club.
In 2014 Brenda won the Unit 441 award for the most points won by a
player in the 0-99 category at the Pow Wow sectional.
Brenda has master’s degrees in both sociology and education, and she taught elementary school for three years at a private facility in Snoqualmie. She gave swimming lessons for five years while also volunteering part time for SideWalk, a homeless advocacy center in Olympia. In 2015 Brenda was offered a position as operations manager at SideWalk, and she continues to manage volunteers there two days a week. Brenda and her husband Steve are just celebrating their 40th anniversary. Steve also attended Brad Kalweit’s bridge classes for a short time, but he didn’t connect with the game, saying it’s “too slow.” Brenda and Steve have one son living in Redmond and another far away in Brooklyn, New York.
In addition to bridge, Brenda’s passion is gardening. After completing an herbal apprenticeship in Shelton (“a true life-changing experience"), Brenda’s love of growing and harvesting native plants flourished big-time. She concocts healing salves, herbal teas, and tinctures and shares these goodies and knowledge with friends. Brenda is also an active member of the First Christian Church in Olympia. (-Nan Hittmeier, September 2018)
He’s tall and she’s not, but they nevertheless look the same. Maybe it’s the matching outfits they wear. “We started dressing alike because I used to lose him all the time when we went shopping or traveling,” PAT ROBBINS laughs. The first date she and husband ORRIN had was a “blind” one, apparently successful because their marriage is 44 years old and counting. Not surprisingly, their email address includes a cozy “robbinsnest.” Bridge joined their world when they took lessons on a cruise to Antarctica. Something clicked, and the Robbinses looked up Brad’s club when they returned. Along the way they both earned undergraduate and graduate degrees. Orrin was an army infantry officer “for 20 years and four days.” They were stationed in Georgia, Panama, Texas, Kansas, and Washington. (He was also a stockbroker for 24 years.) Pat began her career as a nurse and later worked for government contractors BDM and Cubic. She ran a world-wide security program and dealt with all branches of the military. The couple also raised a son and a daughter and now dote on three grandchildren in Alabama and one in Washington.
It’s linguistically obvious that Pat comes from Massachusetts, less noticeable that Orrin is also a Bay Stater. One grew up in a farm town, the other in a mill town. From those beginnings they have journeyed to 83 countries together. That’s EIGHTY-THREE! They recently returned from a trip to the old Persian empire and are touring Mongolia in September. That’s LIVING-IN-A-YURT Mongolia! Because they are traveling nomads, they receive mail about different places to vacation. If they read about an interesting country, they clip it out and put it on a wall. If the timing’s right and the season’s right, the Robbinses just might show up there. Pat says they’re planning at least eight more trips after Mongolia. Oh, and their new goal is to play bridge in all 50 states. They’ve checked off 10 so far and say the players they’ve met have all been welcoming. “When we were working, we didn’t have much of a social life. That’s why we like bridge,” Pat explains. They appreciate friends who are tutoring them and hope the game will help them with overall “remembering.”
Pat, 67, and Orrin, 66, astonish their children with their daredevil life. They recently swam with sharks, jumped off the side of a mountain to parasail, and ziplined through a forest. “The older we get, the faster it goes,” Pat says, adding that she and Orrin are grateful to have the good health to be active. They both shoot target pistols and tend a 40 by 80-foot garden. Pat enjoys raising orchids and also sews card holders for bridge friends. Woodworker Orrin creates fine furniture, the kind in which it takes four months just to make a chair. He crafted all the furnishings in his son’s bedroom. The Robbinses partner up at the bridge table, in their clothes closets, in their adventures, and in between. Their secret for a happy pairing? Both say to marry your best friend. “Couples need to be flexible. It’s not always easy. You have to work at it,” Pat adds. When they tell people they’ve been married for 44 years, the question they often get in return is, “To the same person?” YUP! Pat and Orrin are the ones dressed alike and having fun. (-Vicki Hamende, September 2018)
If you show up at the Oly bridge club without a partner, chances are good you’ll be playing with affable standby STAN DELDUCCO. Stan began learning bridge at the University of Washington in the mid 1970s with a dorm mate and a bridge book. They went on to play at the Magnolia Bridge Club in Seattle and competed in ACBL tournaments in the area. He recalls tourneys were quite different back then: no bidding boxes, and if the organizer had a banquet license, “The dummy got the drinks.”
After graduating from UW with a double degree in math and physics, Stan worked at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle before being hired by Boeing in 1979 as a typical “cocky young computer programmer.” His mantra was “I can do anything, given enough time and money!” Stan, who worked for Boeing for 34 years before retiring, advises that Boeing "turns employees into old curmudgeons." Not necessarily a bad thing, he further notes.
Having grown up in Olympia, Stan returned following his retirement to be with his brother and sister. Sis Carla, who was taking lessons from Brad Kalweit, brought him to the Olympia bridge club in 2014. Carla and Stan both enjoy plant cultivation, a carryover from having
worked at Olympia Greenhouses, their family's well-loved business, for many years. (-Nan Hittmeier, August 2018)
He often wears a Cubs hat, like a good native Chicagoan would do. The T-shirts are something else, though. A notable one is sunglasses-bright and checkered on the front with depictions of colorful super heroes, all of which he can identify and discuss. On this day he’s bedecked in a green top displaying yellow and piercing Grinch eyes. He explains that he’s temporarily in charge of the laundry. “This is what was left,” he offers. His T-shirts, DAVE LA LOND
confesses, “are like the proverbial tie for Father’s Day. People
buy them for me; I wear them.”
Dave has traveled a long way from his Navy days in the Mediterranean when the Arabs and Israelis decided to go to war and then in Greece when the government there finally collapsed. After serving as an aviation electronics technician in a helicopter squadron, Dave returned to Illinois to complete his college education and embark on a 35-year career as a community college instructor in Joliet and Centralia, teaching electronics, computer science, and robotics. He doesn’t mention it, but a friend points out that Dave placed the majority of his students in real-world jobs. He credits a partnership with Intel for the success of his Centralia College graduates.
Bridge came into his life at 45 when a colleague taught him the game. What vexes Dave (a laid-back kind of guy) the most about the pastime? “You’ve got to pay attention all the time.” Indeed. He enjoys walking, reading science fiction and history, and solving crossword puzzles. Significantly, Dave was a game master running RPG games on CompuServe when the Internet was in its infancy. He’s an author, too, having penned two college textbooks during his career. “They sold widely, even in the Philippines,” he recalls in somewhat disbelief. Dave didn’t quit his day job, though. “Writing paid something, but not enough to change my life.” His loyalty to Chicago notwithstanding, Dave and his family aren’t straying from the Evergreen State any time soon. “I came here on a business trip, went back home, and announced, ‘We’re moving to Washington!’ My wife said, ‘Oh, thank goodness!'” (-Vicki Hamende, August 2018)
VALERIE and JERRY McVAY were interviewed together because both insisted they
could tell their story/stories better. This marital battle union has
lasted 49 years!
Valerie, born in 1939, was
raised for 10 years outside London during WWII at a time when the air raids were all too real. In 1949 she moved to Vancouver, Canada.
Sometime in 1968, to celebrate her second divorce, she attended
a Seattle regional bridge tourney wearing a mini-skirt. She was
noticed by Jerry, “a leg man,” who asked his Canadian friends
about her. They all warned, “Stay away! She’s trouble!” Jerry
didn’t listen, paid the price, and the two were married in 1969.
Valerie subsequently “slid downhill” to the U.S. and worked in
Silicon Valley as an accounts
for most of her career.
Jerry was raised in Walla Walla, Washington, and worked in pea and wheat harvesting during his summers there. He attended Whitman College for two years and then earned an M.S. in music at Washington State University in Pullman. He spent approximately 28 years with a family-owned food distributor in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he and Valerie lived for some 38 years. The pair loved their jobs and their bosses. Jerry recalls happy times riding a tandem bike with Valerie, often taking 15 to 35-mile trips. Jerry started playing duplicate bridge in 1958, and became a life master in 1962.
In 1971, Valerie and Jerry placed 4th in a four-session national pairs competition after starting with just 38 percent in their first session. That same year, they won a two-session mixed pairs event (Remember those?), making Valerie a life master. After leaving the Bay Area in 2008, the couple moved to Panorama in Lacey, where a resident told them about the Olympia Bridge Club. They then reconnected with bridge after a 25-year hiatus. At Panorama, Jerry serves as president of the 60-member chorus and is a former assistant conductor of the chorus.
(-Nan Hittmeier, July 2018)
After being born in the small village of De Meern in the Netherlands and becoming a registered nurse, JEANINE GRAHAM followed up on a friend’s invitation and emigrated to Kalamazoo, Michigan, later settling in California and finally in Washington. Her career spanned surgical, newborn, and geriatric nursing, and she also worked as the administrator of an Alzheimer’s facility. Jeanine struggled to learn English when she first moved to the United States and had difficulty understanding the culture. She's more at "home" now.
Her busy years of nursing ending with her retirement in 2007, Jeanine says she found herself “with not much of a social life” until she noticed a flyer in the newspaper offering free bridge lessons. “The rest is history!” she jokes. Jeanine also discovered quilting after a visit to the Henderson House Museum in Tumwater and has since displayed as many as 14 quilts at various shows. “I’m always starting a new one and still have four or five unfinished ones,” she says. “I love to put fabrics together so they are harmonious color-wise.” A sample of her handiwork, shown in the picture, hangs in the bridge clubhouse. An interest in oil painting, Chinese brush painting, watercolors, and beading add to Jeanine’s creativity.
Photography? That, too. She studied it while living in California. “We had an assignment to take a night photograph using the kind of camera where you had to put your head under the cloth and view the picture upside down,” she laughs. Jeanine developed a night show of the city hall in Pasadena that won a contest and was printed in a book. She enjoyed an assignment taking “flattering” portraits, and one of her husband, Andrew, a musician, still hangs in her house. Travel? The couple has visited her homeland of Holland several times and has also vacationed in Curacao off the coast of Venezuela. They have toured several European countries and once enjoyed a train trip from to Olympia to Toronto to meet her brother and his wife to embark on a railroad journey together across Canada. Now 79 (“I always say I’m 39 and cruising!”), Jeanine keeps busy. “If there’s something new to learn, I’m game, she says.” Her last thought? “Don’t forget my secret weapon – HUGS!” (-Vicki Hamende, July 2018)
KATHI MCKAY owes the beginning of her friendship with bridge to her mother and a hand-held device called “AutoBridge.” She learned the rudiments of Goren in elementary school and started playing with her mom’s party bridge group. Years later someone tactfully suggested that she contact Brad Kalweit for lessons. Kathi currently plays most Monday and Wednesday evenings and in the once-a-month unit games.
Kathi grew up in Olympia but left the city for 32 years. She enjoyed a career in international development (foreign aid), living in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Washington, D.C. She bought round-the-world tickets several times, stopping to visit other foreign lands during her travels to and from her assignments. Kathi returned to Olympia 15 years ago on a sabbatical leave and decided to stay.
She is a true outdoors woman who loves backpacking, hiking, tennis, downhill and cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Kathi is an accomplished skier, as evidenced by her 13 years as a volunteer ski patroller on the slopes. (-Nan Hittmeier, June 2018)
Retired engineer JIM LOOMIS looked for life on Mars, detoured into a law practice, and once played bridge eight hours a day for eight straight days while crossing the Atlantic on a troop ship. Who knew? After graduating from Iowa State, Jim worked for Lockheed Martin as a mechanical designer in the aerospace industry, spending time in Sunnyvale and Denver with a short stint in New Orleans. He helped design “The Viking,” the first successful Martian lander.
He added a law degree from the University of Denver to his resume and tried a solo practice, unfortunately at a time when lawyers were more than plentiful. “I was really tired of the kind of work I had to do to remain solvent (i.e. divorces),” Jim reports, so he transferred back to his engineering career. He and his wife of 59 years have a son who is an electrical engineer and a daughter who is a social worker.
Bridge? Oh yeah, Jim still plays that, too. He used to kibitz in the dorm when he was in college. One day a player had to leave to go to class. The remaining partner pointed at Jim and said, “Sit down and deal.” He did. Then came the tour of duty on the troop ship, which was carrying Army Corps of Engineers personnel to southern France during the time when the Germans were building the Berlin Wall. “Does anybody play bridge?” came the call the first day on board. Jim has been an avid player for a good portion of his 80 years.
Is he interested in traveling to Mars? No. “It’s a long trip,” he deadpans. Jim is opting for a cruise with his wife to the United Kingdom instead. (-Vicki Hamende, June 2018)
ED MACKE’s career actually led him to the bridge table. A graduate of Seattle University and the University of Washington medical school, Ed practiced family medicine in McCleary for 37 years. One of his long-time patients was Phyllis Rakevich, a talented bridge player, who told him all about the game. Phyllis’s daughter and son-in-law, who were friends of his, convinced him to give it a try. Now he’s dedicated to attacking on defense, paying attention to leads and discards, and tackling the other challenges of bridge.
A 70-year-old, Ed and his wife (who died in 2014) are the parents of son Cole, who is starting medical school this summer, and son Jeff, who teaches high school in Camus. His family also includes a granddog, two inside cats, and three outside cats. Ed has enjoyed time spent in Switzerland, Italy, and Mexico, and likes to garden and grow plants on his deck.
One of the most rewarding parts of being a doctor, Ed says, is that so many of his patients also became his good friends. Free now from the frustration of dealing with insurance companies and government regulations, he enjoys the new friends he’s making through bridge.
Oh yes - he confesses that he’s a romantic at heart. His right brain apparently works just as well as his left brain. (-Vicki Hamende, May 2018)
SANDI STEGMAN is a Seattle gal, born and raised there. Sandi was introduced to the game of bridge in 1971 by Craig Shanafelt's parents (Sandi was married to Craig's brother at the time). The following year, Sandi discovered she was "hooked for sure" on bridge when she played duplicate for the first time at a Seattle regional. Despite bidding an erroneous weak 2-clubs opener, she and her partner placed very admirably, finishing 1st in their section and 2nd overall. She also found out she loved competition and earned her ACBL life master rating at the age of 25. At 35, she took a 20-year vacation from bridge and became an accomplished poker player.
After moving to Olympia in 1977, Sandi became one of the first three women U.S. Postal Service letter carriers in the Olympia/Lacey/Tumwater area. She retired after 30 years of federal service in 2005. In 2007 she became a table games dealer at the Red Wind Casino, where she worked for eight years before retiring for good!! Remarried at 51, Sandi is still with second husband Steve, who is not a bridge player. She is blessed with a very close family: sons George and Michael Shanafelt; grandchildren Jerred 16, Lena 15, and Kento and Kaito, 13 (twins); two brothers living in Seattle; two sisters-in-law, and six brothers-in-law.
Sandi is a self-described foodie who loves to cook and entertain. She also enjoys jigsaw puzzles, books, and playing any and all games. But she especially loves bridge and currently plays at our club several times a week. (-Nan Hittmeier, May 2018)