Quietly, purposefully and most often without any fanfare or recognition, Bryce Fish found ways to help pull a community together.
A behind-the-scenes volunteer who for decades backed his efforts with his pocketbook and was described by friends as a visionary, a fixture and a mentor, Fish died in his Sequim home on Nov. 26.
He was 78.
A key figure in a number of civic circles, Fish served as a board member for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula for more than 20 years, as the Sequim Sunrise Rotary’s club secretary a little more than 25 years, helped found the Science Cafe and was a fixture in a myriad other groups including Oxford House, Habitat for Humanity of Clallam County and Sequim Wheelers, along with countless projects at Dungeness Community Church.
“He just had a brain that would not quit,” said Kim Rosales, a Sequim resident and one of Fish’s two daughters.
“And it was always thinking outside the box: ‘How do I make this box fit into this circle?’”
At times, that mindset led to financial contributions. Mary Budke, executive director of the peninsula’s Boys & Girls Clubs, said Fish’s philanthropy over the years has netted the clubs more than $1 million — “That doesn’t include projects he’s done (here),” Budke noted — and includes $250,000 for the soon-to-be-built Port Angeles facility.
“He was very generous with his time, talent and treasure … especially when it came to helping the youth and the disadvantage,” Sequim Sunrise Rotary President Russ Mellon said.
For other projects that meant literally getting dirt on his clothes, utilizing his well-used Bobcat Skid-Steer Loader for numerous projects, a habit that earned him the nickname “Bobcat Bryce,” or other large tools, such as a drill that helped his Rotary group install a fence along the Olympic Discovery Trail off Priest Road.
“He was financially supportive of causes he believed in … (but he) also got his hands dirty supporting the causes he believe in,” Rosales said. “That was him.”
Fish tended to shy away from the spotlight. While he received the Distinguished Service Award from Sequim Sunrise Rotary in 2017 and the Clallam County Community Service Award in 2006, Rosales said he turned down the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Citizen of the Year award at least once.
“He did not want the limelight; if he could do it anonymously if he could, but you can’t stay anonymous and show up for things,” Rosales said.
Budke said Fish would prefer to remain anonymous with his giving unless lending his name would help raise more funds.
“He was a visionary (and) a major contributor to this club,” she said. “But in true Bryce fashion, he did not want his name hanging on the building.”
Fish Bryce is survived by his wife, Gail, his brother, Peter Fish of Sedona, Ariz., his children Kim (Stephen) Rosales of Sequim, and Kira (Thomas) Dott of Barneveld, Wisc., three grandchildren Elizabeth and Ashley Rosales and Brayden Dott, and several nieces and nephews.
A Celebration of Life is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 4, at Dungeness Community Church, 45 Eberle Lane. The family encourages any memorials be made to Sequim Sunrise Rotary’s Shelterbox Program, Oxford House, the Dungeness Community Church Mission Fund or Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula.
Bryce Lewis Fish was born Sept. 2, 1941, in Whitewater, Wisc., to Roger and LeNoire (Young) Fish. While his father was a forester, he attended one-room schools in several small Montana towns. The family settled in Middleton, Wisc., where his father and grandfather Elmer Fish, began a lumber business.
That drive that inspired Bryce to help others, Rosales said, may have come in helping his brother Peter overcome some physical challenges. In Middleton, Fish helped a local company develop tools so people with physical disabilities could complete specific jobs.
Fish met (Jean) Gail Heebink in about fifth grade, Rosales recalled, and were an item by the time they hit their high school years.
“They were always together,” Rosales said.
After a year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he transferred to the University of Montana in Missoula, earning a degree in wood technology in 1964.
His first job led him to Washington state to work for Simpson Research. Gail, a registered nurse, moved to Bellevue and took a job at Overlake Memorial Hospital.
The pair eloped in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on March 20, 1965. Three years later the couple returned to Middleton, becoming active members of the community, enjoying the outdoors in tents and canoes and boats, on skis and in the air (Fish was a pilot) while helping grow his father’s lumber business, Fish Building Supply.
Fond memories of the Northwest brought Bryce and Gail to Sequim in 1990.
A charter member of the Madison WestTowne Middleton Rotary Club in 1971 and named a Paul Harris Fellow in 1985, Fish continued as a Rotarian with the Sequim Sunrise Club, joining the club in August of 1990.
Declining any hint of leading the group, Fish kept minutes, organized club photos, advised group efforts and worked on dozens of Rotary projects over the next 25 years, Mellon said.
“He was a fixture on our board,” Mellon said of Fish. “You might say he was a glue that kept the board together … (and) our club together, from time to time.”
Mellon’s efforts can be seen at Robin Hill County Park, Mellon noted, where on his Bobcat helped blaze some of the trails there while fellow Rotary members spread gravel.
Fish had a way of rallying people into projects alongside fellow Rotarians.
“He was good at bringing people along,” Mellon said. “He truly had a heart for helping others.”
Other interests brought Fish into the orbit of projects and groups such as Oxford House, which helps locals transition from from substance abuse to recovery and sobriety, and the Sequim Education Foundation’s Science Cafe, which hosts free monthly presentations from area scientists and professionals.
Budke, who started with the Sequim Boys & Girls Club in 2004 and worked her way from summer program counselor to snacks coordinator and teen room supervisor to unit director and finally executive director, said Fish had a major impact on the clubs through the years.
“He is absolutely a mentor of mine,” Budke said. “He was just there with me quietly helping, supporting. He’s done a lot here, not just with his donations.”
That includes inspired engineering projects within the Sequim club — including a multi-tiered reading structure where top readers wind up near the ceiling, Budke noted — to architectural recommendations for the forthcoming Port Angeles club.
Leaders from other clubs across the country consider the Sequim club before designing their own, she said.
“He was a visionary of this (Sequim) building,” Budke said. “He was an engineer at heart, if not by degree.”
Some of Fish’s efforts were not so obvious, she said, such as paying the salary for a staff member for years with out that staffer knowing it, or paying forward the orthodontic care of a Sequim youngster.
Budke said she would send him monthly staff reports detailing among other things some of the club’s needs. Without any prompt he’d show up at her office door with a check to cover the costs, she said.
He was also a bit of a sentimentalist, Budke said, holding on to the shovels that broke ground for the Sequim facility so that club officials could use them for the Port Angeles club’s ground-breaking in May 2020.
“(Bryce) was a visionary; he taught me to see what’s down the road … keeping these doors open for generations,” Budke said. “He is a large reason why we are still here and that we are poised to go forward in the future.”
Rosales and her husband Stephen moved from Austin, Texas, to Sequim in about 2005 in part to develop a connection between their children and her parents.
“I learned to respect him and honor his parenting skills so much more when I saw how I reacted to my children and how he reacted to his grandchildren,” Kim Rosales said.
“I appreciate the fact he let me learn (a lesson) rather than telling it to me.
“I have tried to give my kids a lot of the same things he gave me … letting them have the opportunity to try something.”
Rosales, who said Fish passed down to her a unique sense of spatial relations — “He could tell very easily whether something could fit on a shelf,” she said — and perhaps some sense of community: Kim became the third member of her family to receive a Clallam County Community Service Award, joining her father (2006) and her husband Stephen (2011).