A dozen boats await their crews as North Cascade Crew volunteer coach Katherine Runyon writes down assignments in the new Joe Rantz Boathouse on Tuesday in Lake Stevens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

A dozen boats await their crews as North Cascade Crew volunteer coach Katherine Runyon writes down assignments in the new Joe Rantz Boathouse on Tuesday in Lake Stevens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

New Lake Stevens boathouse honors one of the ‘Boys’ of 1936

North Cascades Crew spent six years raising money, and volunteers worked long days building it.

LAKE STEVENS — Junior rowers gathered around a whiteboard before their afternoon practice last week, water bottles in hand and cellphones in plastic satchels hanging from their necks.

As volunteer coach Katherine Runyon described the course for that weekend’s regatta, a crew race, students took shelter from a light spring shower in North Cascade Crew’s brand-new boathouse.

After six years of planning and fundraising and just under a year of construction, the Joe Rantz Boathouse is officially opening Friday.

Rantz rowed on the underdog U.S. crew that won Olympic gold in 1936, beating the favored Italian and German teams under the nose of Adolf Hitler.

His granddaughter, Jennifer Huffman, who rowed with the Lake Stevens-based crew for about eight years, said the boathouse embodies her grandpa’s tenacity.

“Looking at where the club came from, they worked their way up from the ground,” Huffman said.

Founded in 2008, the crew operated out of a storage facility, hauling boats by trailer to and from Lake Stevens each practice.

The small shed that once held the crew’s oars now sits next to the new boathouse.

North Cascade Crew members carry oars to Lake Stevens from the new Joe Rantz Boathouse on Tuesday in Lake Stevens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

North Cascade Crew members carry oars to Lake Stevens from the new Joe Rantz Boathouse on Tuesday in Lake Stevens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Rantz was born in Spokane. His mother died when he was 3, and he moved with his father to Sequim. His father and stepmother moved away when he was a teenager, and Rantz later moved in with his older brother in Seattle.

He graduated from Roosevelt High School and enrolled at the University of Washington after taking a year off to work and save money. He joined crew under legendary coach Al Ulbrickson and rowed one year on freshman crew and another on junior varsity.

In his junior year at the university, he made it onto varsity crew. That same year, the UW team won a place representing the U.S. at the Olympics.

Rantz is the central figure of the bestselling 2013 book “The Boys in the Boat,” which tells the team’s story.

Now, the boathouse dedicated to Rantz serves as a home base for newbie and veteran rowers alike. It sits on a plot of land leased from Snohomish County, directly across Davies Road from Wyatt Park on Lake Stevens.

Inside the structure, single, double and four-person boats are stored on racks that reach high up toward the vaulted ceiling. Rowers get their boats down using a library-style rolling ladder. Then, they carry them to the nearby stoplight and across the street to the dock. It’s a much shorter journey than their previous trek from the storage unit, about a mile and a half away.

Aside from its blue paint job and some initial groundwork, the new boathouse was built entirely through volunteer labor. The majority of that work was by two crew members — Don Hoffmann and Ben McIsaac.

The small shed that once held the crew’s oars now stands beside the brand new boathouse. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

The small shed that once held the crew’s oars now stands beside the brand new boathouse. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

Together, they spent every spare moment over the past year working on the boathouse.

McIsaac, a construction worker, would head over to the lakeside project after his day job wrapped up. Hoffman, who’s retired, would often have already put a few hours of work in.

“Starting last May, pretty much every day that I wasn’t at a regatta or on vacation I spent some portion of the day on the job,” McIsaac said.

For both men, the work was a labor of love for their rowing club.

“I knew I could do it and we needed it,” McIsaac said. “And that’s kind of the bottom line.”

Joe Rantz in his University of Washington rowing uniform. (Jen Huffman)

Joe Rantz in his University of Washington rowing uniform. (Jen Huffman)

All of the wood for the project was donated by Dunn Lumber.

The club paid about $6,000 out-of-pocket for the $47,000 project, treasurer Jaci McIsaac said. The rest was covered by donations and fundraising.

They continue to raise money for a second phase, which will involve creating an upstairs meeting space. The second half of the project is expected to cost another $40,000 to $60,000.

In a round-about way, Huffman said she first began rowing because of her grandpa. To encourage her son to try out for crew, she told him how proud Rantz would be. That’s when she decided to give it a try.

Her rowing career took off, and she’s now on a nationally-competing Seattle team.

Like Huffman, many in the North Cascade Crew picked the sport up later in life. Mary Neary, now the crew’s president, started rowing at 60. She turns 70 this year.

The 1936 University of Washington crew team who went on to win the goal medal at the Berlin Olympics. Joe Rantz is standing second from the left. (Jen Huffman)

The 1936 University of Washington crew team who went on to win the goal medal at the Berlin Olympics. Joe Rantz is standing second from the left. (Jen Huffman)

“It’s a wonderful sport for older people,” she said. “It keeps me limber, strong and vibrant in life as I age.”

On top of the physical benefits, Neary said rowing teaches perseverance, listening skills and teamwork. She hopes to pass these skills on to junior rowers on the crew.

“We really want to make rowing accessible to kids and show them this is a life-long sport,” she said.

The new boathouse should help with that. With rowing machines inside and shelter from the elements, the boathouse gives the team an option to work out indoors when the weather is nasty.

The building will also act as a “standing billboard,” Neary said. A sign will soon adorn the front, facing Davies Road.

“Now our presence is known and our presence is looking pretty permanent,” she said.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

More info

The Joe Rantz Boathouse officially opens at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday at Wyatt Park, 10508 Chapel Hill Road in Lake Stevens.

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