Sequim’s golden ‘Boy in the Boat’

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by Reneé Mizar

Communications Director, Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley


Like many boys growing up in Sequim in the 1920s and 1930s, Joe Rantz spent his off-school hours fishing the Dungeness River, chopping cottonwood trees and haying fields on family farms across the valley.


Unlike his peers, however, those weren’t recreational pursuits – they were means of survival. Abandoned by his family at the age of 15, Rantz would overcome his difficult childhood and go on to the University of Washington and Olympic glory as a member of the 1936 gold medal-winning eight-oar rowing team.


Captured in author Daniel James Brown’s best-selling 2013 book “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” Rantz’s remarkable life story from Sequim farm boy to Olympic rowing champion is the subject of a presentation this week at the historical Dungeness Schoolhouse.


Brown will be joined by Rantz’s daughter, Judy Willman, for the presentation at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at the schoolhouse, 2781 Towne Road in Sequim.


Admission for the program, presented by the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley (MAC), is $5 for MAC members or $7 for non-members and payable at the door.


As part of the program, Willman will share personal letters and stories recounting her late father’s early life in Sequim, and discuss how “The Boys in the Boat” came about.


Brown will tell of that 1936 Olympic rowing team and the key traits that made them a success, as well as read excerpts from his book.


Both will also participate in a Q-and-A session and book signing following the program. A limited number of books will be available for purchase before and after the presentation and copies also are for sale at Pacific Mist Books in Sequim as well as Port Book and News in Port Angeles.


As noted in “The Boys in the Boat,” Rantz returned to Sequim throughout his UW college years to make money for school by working on local farms.


Willman said the places her father worked included the McDonald and Simdars farms, and likely the Secor farmstead given he and friend Harry Secor often hayed together.


“Dad said it was well known that he and Harry were the best hayers in the valley,” she said. “Anyone who could get them would hire them during haying season.”


Willman said she has visited Sequim 20 to 30 times over the years, though trips to her parents’ old hometown during her childhood were quite rare. She said their first trip occurred while she was in grade school.


“After hearing stories of their school days, I think I was a little surprised to see paved streets. It certainly wasn’t as grown out as it is now, but change was on the way,” Willman said of that initial visit.


“What I most remember about Sequim was the ice cream shop on the main street and that it was a lot quieter than Seattle.”


This presentation is the latest in a two-month series of local history programs presented by the MAC this winter at the Dungeness Schoolhouse.


Additional upcoming programs include military historical sites of Puget Sound with author Nancy McDaniel on Friday, Feb. 7, and North Olympic Peninsula cemeteries with MAC Executive Director DJ Bassett on Friday, Feb. 14. For more information, call 681-2257 or visit


Additional information about “The Boys in the Boat” can be found on Brown’s website at
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