Daniel James Brown speaks at Port Angeles High School. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Daniel James Brown speaks at Port Angeles High School. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Author Daniel James Brown gives insight into ‘The Boys in the Boat’ with talk in Port Angeles

By Michael Dashiell

Olympic Peninsula News Group

PORT ANGELES — Judy Willman said she knew her dream of using a time machine to go back and see her father, Joe Rantz, grow up was impossible.

Still, she yearned to see him raising himself through his teens in Sequim, through his college years at the University of Washington and particularly in that moment in 1936, when Rantz and eight other young men overcame daunting odds to win a gold medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

“I wanted to see it, hear it, feel it. Of course, it was impossible … until I met Daniel James Brown,” Willman told a rapt audience at the Port Angeles High School on Saturday night, moments before she introduced Brown, author of “The Boys in the Boat.”

Brown’s account of the University of Washington’s improbable gold medal-winning effort at the so-called “Hitler’s Games” has become a New York Times nonfiction best-seller and the basis for the PBS film “The Boys of ’36.”

The book pivots on the back story of Rantz, a youth with a tumultuous childhood who was abandoned by his family in Sequim in the 1930s and found redemption in part with his UW classmates.

In the process of learning to trust once more, Willman said, her father and his teammates — each of whom have since died — earned that elusive 1936 Olympic Games gold medal.

Brown said he enjoys speaking about the book in many communities across the Puget Sound area, but “particularly here on the Peninsula with Joe Rantz growing up in Sequim, and also the rowing culture out here in Port Angeles and Port Townsend.”

Brown had recently finished his first book, “Under a Flaming Sky,” when he moved into Willman and Rantz’s neighborhood near Seattle in 2006. When Brown met with Rantz, who by then was in hospice care, he had his next book.

“I didn’t want Dad’s memory forgotten, and I didn’t want those boys’ memories forgotten,” Willman said. “It was pretty much a six-year odyssey.”

Brown noted that when he heard Rantz’s story of growing up alone in Sequim, “that really got to me. I was just transported as he told me this story.”

When Brown asked if he could write the Olympian’s story, Rantz told him no. “But he said I could write about the boat,” Brown recalled.

Brown noted that the story seems to resonate with readers because it isn’t a story about individual glory but rather how individuals coming together can succeed, particularly during times of hardship such as the Great Depression.

“It reminds us of what we’re capable of when we’re pulling together,” he said.

The author’s talk was the second of two speaking events in Port Angeles on Saturday, with Brown speaking earlier at an Olympic Peninsula Rowing Association event at the Vern Burton Community Center.

The Saturday evening event was a community collaboration between the Sequim School District, North Olympic Library System and NOLS Friends groups, Soroptimist International of Sequim, Sequim’s Trinity United Methodist Church, Sound Community Bank, Olympic Peninsula Rowing Association, Sequim Education Foundation, Port Angeles Education Foundation, Port Angeles High School, the Quileute Nation and Sequim Museum & Arts.

A grant from the Sequim Education Foundation helped pay for 500 copies for an all-school read at both Sequim Middle School and Sequim High School, SHS librarian Linsay Rapelje said.

She also noted the North Olympic Library System has given away 600 copies of the book.

“They have been such a huge promotional influence on this book,” Rapelje said.

The library system also used the book as part of its monthlong “Clallam Reads” program in October.

“I’m very passionate about this book,” Rapelje said Saturday, noting that school staff collaborated to make the author talk happen.

“It just grew and grew and grew … [but] then it was, ‘How are we going to get Daniel James Brown to come?’” Rapelje said.

Enter Willman, a promoter of not only the book but an advocate of rowing in the Pacific Northwest.

“Judy’s been with me every step of the way,” Brown said.

The author said the single-most frequent comment he gets about “Boys in the Boat” is that readers — particularly men — finish it with tears in their eyes.

And interestingly enough, Brown said, in this year of high-stakes politics, he gets similar comments from people of all political stripes: “If only people on the other side would read this book, the world would be such a better place.”

________

Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at editor@sequimgazette.com.

More in News

Helen and Greg Starr, executors of James Minsky’s estate, cut the ribbon for LtCol James Minsky Place on May 17 with Cheri Tinker, executive director of Sarge’s Veteran Support, right, and Sarge’s board president Lorri Gilchrist, and city council members Harmony Rutter and Rachel Anderson. The facility will permanently house six disabled and/or elderly veterans in Sequim. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Minsky Place opens to support elderly, disabled veterans

Sarge’s Veteran Support seeks five veterans for permanent housing

Public comment opens on Dabob Bay

State, county look to move lands into conservation

Clallam renews pact with investigative unit

Agencies are currently investigating shooting outside PA bank

Motrocyclist airlifted to Harborview after wreck

A San Antonio man was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center… Continue reading

WomenSpirit Coalition staff members include, from left, Michelle Williams, Dee Koester, Diane Good (in back), Cheryl Neskahi Coan, Erin Lopez Neskahi and Laura Fierro. (Elijah Sussman/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
WomenSpirit Coalition steps into new phase

Multi-service indigenous support organization to host open house

Members of the Mount Olympus Detachment 897 of the Marine Corps League give a 21-gun salute at a Memorial Day ceremony at Mt. Angeles Memorial Park in Port Angeles on Monday. The ceremony was hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6787 of Carlsborg and was one of many Memorial Day events held in Clallam and Jefferson counties. (Peter Segall/Peninsula Daily News)
Solemn ceremonies honor America’s war dead

Flowers, wreaths decorate gravesites across Peninsula

Peninsula College, teachers agree on contract

Three-year deal to raise faculty salaries

Clallam County pledges $1.5 million toward preserving two farms

Commitment would provide conservation easement on properties

Cub Scout Pack 4479 laid about 200 flags on graves of veterans at the Catholic Cemetery and the front portion of Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Townsend to honor veterans who have died. Jim Little from Troop 1479 instructed the Cub Scouts prior to dispersing them to post the colors at graves that were either marked with a star by the VFW or an inscription that indicates past military service. (Lolo Sherwood)
Honoring veterans

Cub Scout Pack 4479 laid about 200 flags on graves of veterans… Continue reading

tsr
Piping plan could be reinstated

Votes reaffirm Sequim board members

Sequim police propose updated noise control ordinance

Public hearing set June 10 at civic center

Members of the Captain Joseph House Foundation gather in October to celebrate the gifting of a Gold Star Monument marker in front of the Captain Joseph House in Port Angeles. (Courtesy photo)
Captain Joseph House to host Memorial Day ceremony

Respite home provides space for Gold Star Families