‘Mayor’ of Machias ruled over polar plunge crowd

Jim Young wore lots of hats. Through the years, he was known as “mayor” of Machias, commodore of the Pilchuck Yacht Club, drummer in the Snohomish Sauerkraut Band, and the jovial leader of a pack of New Year’s Day polar bears.

Machias, of course, has no real mayor. The closest thing to a city hall in the unincorporated area between Snohomish and Lake Stevens is Doc’s Pilchuck Tavern. It’s a folksy, friendly place, a hot spot along a country road, with a patio overlooking the lovely Pilchuck River.

One of the few beer-and-wine-only taverns still around, Doc’s lures hundreds of hardy New Year’s revelers to its annual polar bear plunge. A chilly tradition, the polar bear swim won’t be the same next year.

Young, a lifelong Machias resident and longtime owner of Doc’s Pilchuck Tavern, died June 21. He was 79, and had congestive heart failure.

“He was awesome, the best guy ever. He was ‘mayor’ of Machias,” said Rob Dennis, a longtime patron of the tavern whose late father, Stuart Dennis, was a close friend of Young’s.

“Jimmy was the best friend I ever had. He loved all people,” said 87-year-old Buddy Lundquist. Like Dennis, Lundquist was at Doc’s Thursday evening for a beer and some neighborly chitchat.

Behind the bar, Young’s son Garry Young, of Granite Falls, was serving beer and sharing stories about his dad. Doc’s is now owned by Jim Young’s widow, Audrey Young, 63, who works day shifts.

She said the tavern will continue to be owned by the Young family, as it has been for generations.

Before it was Doc’s Pilchuck Tavern — named for Jim Young’s father, Alfred “Doc” Young — it was a 1920s store called Young’s Place, which sold gas, fishing tackle and ice cream. Jim Young’s older brother, Bill, 87, said their parents, Doc and Ann Young, started the tavern after Prohibition ended in the 1930s.

They later built a new tavern alongside the old store.

“He was tending bar by the time he was 19,” Bill Young said of his brother. “He knew everybody. And he was a heck of a brother.”

Doris McElroy, 81, grew up with Jim Young. They went to grade school together in Machias, and later to Snohomish High School. “From the time he was a little boy, he just wanted to make everything fun. He was just so funny,” she said.

The Pilchuck Yacht Club is an example of his fun-loving nature. The profile picture on the tavern’s Facebook page is a “PYC” logo. At Doc’s, Garry Young handed me a Pilchuck Yacht Club membership card.

The yacht club’s origins are murky, but they make for good stories. “Jim started it after two guys from Snohomish took a boat from Snohomish all the way up the Pilchuck. The boat had a jet-propelled motor,” Bill Young said.

Garry Young said his father, who played drums in the Snohomish High School band, once worked as a musician for an actual yacht club.

Audrey Young heard another yacht club story. “Jim and his lawyer, Randy St. Mary, were sitting on the patio one day. One of them said ‘We should make this a yacht club.’ So they did,” she said.

For years, Jim Young was a drummer in the Snohomish Sauerkraut Band, a music group that has taken its antics from Snohomish Kla Ha Ya Days parades to festivals all over the region. With his brother on drums, Bill Young played trumpet and trombone in the band, which was started in 1968.

In the 1980s, Jim Young was part of a group that formed a nonprofit to buy and clean up the Machias Community Cemetery. George Angela, a leader of the cemetery group, said money was raised through garage sales and breakfasts held at Doc’s Pilchuck Tavern. They had work parties, and landscaped the once overgrown cemetery.

The cemetery now has an annual Memorial Day ceremony, and Angela said more land has been acquired for future generations.

The Lake Stevens man remembers the new tavern being built in 1961, just in time for his 21st birthday. “It’s been the social hub of our community for many, many years,” he said.

Bill Young said he only made the polar bear plunge once, in 1947. For many others, it’s a New Year’s must.

Audrey Young, who met Jim Young in 1981 and married him in 1998, has never taken a New Year’s dip. “I take care of the food and T-shirts. It keeps getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “Last year, we had 200-plus jumping in.”

A New Year’s polar bear many times, Jim Young had more recently dressed in crazy costumes — “He was a hat freak,” Garry Young said — to preside over the fun.

“He led them to the river,” Audrey Young said.

At the tavern Thursday, customer Bill Momberg pointed out old photos of Young. “We miss him dearly,” Momberg said. “We expect him to walk through the door.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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