By Kristi OHarran Herald Columnist
Jeffrey Lee is a fisherman at heart.
And a philanthropist.
He snapped a photo of a whale off the Everett waterfront in 1991. He was working at Scott Paper at the time.
When we published the photograph Nov. 15, we didn’t know it was Lee behind the camera. I asked readers for information about the photo.
Not only did folks know who took the snapshot, several have the photograph hanging on their living room walls, including Charlie Dahlgren of Marysville, who worked at the plant for more than 40 years.
Here is what happened: Jerry Ballas, who spent 32 years at Scott Paper, then two years with Kimberly-Clark, sent us the photo from his home in Rose Valley, Pa.
“I never worked in the Everett plant directly, but visited the plant on numerous occasions for a variety of projects,” Ballas said. “I was vice president of manufacturing for Scott Paper and after the merger for Kimberly Clark.”
When he retired, management gave Ballas the whale photo. The photo is framed with an inscription below it that says: “One Moment In Time,” Presented To Jerry Ballas, Dec. 4, 1996.”
He said he has fond memories of his time in Everett and of the many great people that worked there.
Harold Prouty, who lives in Granite Falls, was at Les Schwab getting his winter tires put on his rig when he picked up a copy Nov. 15 of The Herald.
“I saw the whale,” he said. “I know all about that.”
Prouty said Jeff Lee took the photo. Prouty said Lee was out fishing and decided to cruise near the plant, to check out the mill.
“Here came the whale and they snapped the picture,” Prouty said.
Roger Hansen of Lake Stevens is one of the folks who has the whale picture framed on his wall. He bought one for himself to support a proposed daycare center.
Hansen said the whale was no doubt feasting on sand shrimp.
Lew Bahls from Marysville, who worked at the plant from 1988 to 2005, said he does outdoor photography work.
“I paid attention to work by Jeff Lee,” Bahls said. “One time he missed a million dollar photo.”
According to Bahls, Lee was fishing on the Skagit River when he spotted a coyote and eagle fighting over a salmon carcass.
“After that, he carried his camera around,” Bahls said.
He let me know that Lee lived in Burlington. And Bahls knew the whale photograph was given to Kimberly-Clark to sell to raise money for a daycare center.
Norval Rhodes, of Everett, was a nurse at Scott Paper. Not only does she have the whale photo, she has a company newsletter dated 9-26-1991 that details how Jeffrey Lee donated the photo for the daycare center.
Thanks to readers, this job is so easy. I found a phone number for a Jeffrey Lee in Burlington and called his house.
He couldn’t have been nicer.
Lee was fishing in 1991 with Rob Bridges, a Boeing employee, trolling for salmon at the southeast corner of Hat Island when they spotted the whale.
“Rob asked if we could get closer because he hadn’t ever seen whales,” Lee said. “He had a 33mm camera.”
They both took photos, so we’ll never know who to credit for the Kimberly-Clark memento, Lee said.
“At that time in history, Scott Paper was still solvent and had a great future,” Lee said. “There was a real need for affordable child care.”
He asked a committee if they would like the whale photo to sell to help get the center going.
“Of course they jumped at the chance,” he said. “It seems everyone bought one.”
The whale tale even went nationwide. Lee said copies of the photograph were given to officials in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve got a dozen letters from congresspeople thanking me for the picture,” Lee said.
And let’s not forget the star of this whale tale: Howard Garrett with Orca Network on Whidbey Island, said from the looks of the tale, he is 90 percent sure the whale is Patch.
“Patch was seen when Cascadia Research Collective first began to survey for gray whales in 1991,” Garrett said. “Patch has been seen every year since then.”
With just the outline of the flukes, it’s hard to tell, but it’s definitely a gray whale, Garrett said.
“About 10 identified gray whales come into Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound every spring, and one of their favorite feeding spots is right there off the Everett waterfront.”
Other folks who appreciate the gigantic mammals shared stories, too. Ian MacDonald sees many whales swimming about in Port Gardner. The Lynnwood kayaker was kind enough to send a photograph of a whale near Jetty Island, one of many such photos he’s taken.
“We launch our kayaks from 10th Street,” MacDonald said. “We notice whales in the springtime and they hang around during the summer. We’ve seen them quite close to the jetty.”
Carole Atteberry, of Snohomish, saw a whale breach near the jetty in the late 1980s.
“We watched it fish,” Atteberry said. “It was a wonderful evening.”
Though Atteberry didn’t have her camera handy on that Everett outing in her Bayliner Cutty Cab, she took three whale pictures earlier this month at Bodega Bay, Calif.
Thanks to everyone for whale tales, clues and confirmations.
Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, firstname.lastname@example.org.