“I have had a wonderful life. I had so many opportunities.”
Not everyone will say this when asked to look back upon their life. Gene Woodwick, folk historian, author, news writer of 50 years, speaker and former director of the Ocean Shores Coastal Interpretative Center, is one of the rare individuals who looks back at a long and by no means easy life with gratefulness.
Woodwick grew up in Anacortes in the early fifties, the middle child of nine siblings. “My mother was a timid Methodist lady,” Woodwick says. “Her operative word was ‘descent’. I never quite fit in.” Fortunately, her father was a people and music loving Irish railroad worker who recognized his odd daughter’s needs and took her along on the train as often as possible. Young Gene accompanied her dad everywhere, from New Orleans funerals to the Navajo reservation.
“I still feel fortunate to have grown up blue collar,” she says. She met working people and farmers. She met her father’s black co-workers who were not allowed in the depot but had to stay in the baggage room. She grew up with their jazz music. She observed everything and was afraid of nothing.
Woodwick’s father was in the habit of reading a number of newspapers and of sharing them with his daughter. Gene grew up reading such diverse publications as the Country Farmer Gentleman, the New York Times, the Denver Post and a number of local papers. Her father would trade his newspapers with his African American friends and Ebony magazine was added to Gene’s education.
At the tender age of fourteen, Gene landed a job as a reporter for the Anacortes American. She is still amazed at this opportunity. “I could never spell,” she says. She hated English in school, saying her papers were always held up as the worst in class. Her attitude changed in ninth grade, however, when journalism teacher Helen Thomas declared to her class: “I have no interest in you, but I am going to teach you to be a writer of quality for a newspaper.”
Immediately after high school, Gene married her husband Larry Woodwick. Together they raised five children and will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in June 2017. In the early sixties, Larry Woodwick worked as head teacher for Beaver Grade School in Forks, WA. The Woodwicks fell in love with the local community.
During the years 1961 to 1963, Gene Woodwick experienced logging close up at the Sappho logging camp north of Forks where she cooked for 135 men. A mother of two, Woodwick single-handedly provided fried breakfasts, sack lunches and dinners for the hungry loggers. She worked from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m. baking thirteen loaves of bread, four large baking sheets of cake and cooking 100 lbs of potatoes per day to go with huge roasts weighing in at 35 to 45 pounds. “I love loggers,” she says. “They are interesting, tough and smart.” Perhaps the men may have ascribed the same attributes to their young cook. She certainly earned their respect, even that of Charlie, the woman-hater, who initially refused to drink her coffee.
Woodwick’s love for coastal people, small communities, their nature and history resulted in a prolific freelance writing career. After her stint in the logging camp, she worked as a reporter for the Port Angeles Evening News. “They wanted hard news,” she explains. “Facts about fishing and logging, land news, search and rescue.”
In 1984, the Woodwicks moved to Ocean Shores where Gene took a keen interest in local life, history and nature. She wrote for coastal newspapers, developed the North Coast News and became involved with nature conservation. Her work on the Hyak Lake Project earned her a recognition award by President Clinton in 1998. Her publication Fish Ladder received a commendation letter by Vice President Al Gore.
In the late eighties, Gene embarked on a college education. Once again, she feels, life opened up a unique opportunity for her. Grays Harbor College history instructor Dr. Gary Murell, in collaboration with Polson Museum curator John Larson, developed a personal program of study for her. She graduated with an Associate Degree in Curating.
Gene put her newly acquired curating skill to good use in the development of the Ocean Shores Interpretive Center. She credits Dr. Murell with instilling in her the confidence to write a book. Ocean Shores, was published in 2010. In 2014, Logging In Grays Harbor followed featuring photographs by her son Brian. Gene recently completed her memoir Island Girl.
Today, Gene is still writing and sharing her vast and eclectic knowledge with locals and visitors alike. Her gift for storytelling and public speaking has opened yet another exciting opportunity in her life. The International Beachcombing Conference has invited her to speak in Hawaii in April 2017.
Grays Harbor’s beach combing representative sighs with elation: “God has been good to me.”