LAKE STEVENS — Joe 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.
Eight decades after the come-from-behind victory that shocked the world, a boathouse named in Rantz’s honor is being built at Wyatt Park.
The Joe Rantz Boathouse is under construction near the lake where his granddaughter rows early in the morning, four days each week. Jen Huffman is continuing a family legacy started when her grandfather and the rest of the University of Washington crew made history in the Berlin games. Rantz is the central figure of the bestselling 2013 book “The Boys in the Boat,” which tells the team’s story.
Huffman rows with North Cascades Crew, a nonprofit rowing club that practices on Lake Stevens.
About five years ago, the group started planning to build a boathouse. The rowers needed a place to store boats and other equipment, and where they could train inside on rowing machines when the weather is nasty.
Construction started in April. The goal is to finish this fall, Huffman said.
“We’re really excited to get in there and get working on it,” she said. “It’s all volunteer labor.”
Working together to achieve a goal is exactly what her grandfather would have wanted to see, Huffman said.
“He was always someone who was a very hard worker and took advantage of opportunities to better himself,” she said.
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 UW 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 never lost his love of rowing and gathered with the UW team every few years. The group’s last reunion row was in 1986, the 50th anniversary of their victory in Berlin.
Rantz died in 2007.
Huffman, 47, has become an accomplished rower, as well. She’s won or placed in regional and national competitions. She’s rowed with her daughter and her mother, generations sharing the boat and honoring Rantz’s memory.
“Rowing has taught me a lot, just about perseverance and work ethic and sticking with things even when they’re difficult,” Huffman said.
She didn’t start rowing until after her grandfather died. She sometimes wishes she could talk about the sport with him.
“He was an incredible man and a great, kind, loving grandpa,” she said. “I know he knows I’m rowing now. I think he’d be proud of what we’ve done.”
North Cascades Crew focuses on making rowing accessible for anyone, no matter age or experience. There are classes for beginners, and support and practice for advanced rowers.
The Joe Rantz Boathouse is expected to have single, double and four-person boats inside, with eight-person boats stored alongside the building. Oars and other equipment are to be inside, as well, along with rowing machines. Designs also include an office space for park staff.
The group raised about $45,000 to build the boathouse, and still is collecting donations to later add an upstairs area to maximize space, Huffman said. Volunteer labor and donated supplies help keep the project affordable.
“It’s going to be a really good addition to the community,” Huffman said. “North Cascades Crew is definitely a place where people of all ages can … get out on the water and have fun and get some good exercise. It’s a great sport and we’re excited to have a boathouse.”
To learn more about the Joe Rantz Boathouse or North Cascades Crew, go to northcascadescrew.com.