Special Reports

Fish-bowl beginnings lead to lifelong love of the sea

Before he explored the verges of Point Defiance Park under water, before he ventured into the octopuses’ garden, Jerome Rahn knew every tree and log along the beach.

He and his buddies would ride their bikes down to the boat ramp, divvy up into two teams and play a version of hide-and-seek for hours, then ride back home to North Proctor and Eighth streets.

Sometimes, Rahn, 55, treated himself to admission into the park’s first aquarium to get a glimpse of life beyond the beach.

“I well remember first seeing the mysteries of the Puget Sound on display in those dimly lit squarish tanks,” he reminisced in a letter to The News Tribune. “Bug-eyed fish sat before bubbling aerators, apparently as delighted as the folks who wiped the condensation away for a better view.

“And there was Cecil Brousseau, the dedicated keeper of that aquarium. He almost single-handedly caught or bartered for the fish food, sometimes shrimping from his boat right below the Boathouse docks.”

Brousseau, bubbles and bug-eyed fish were a compelling combination, a grand subliminal connection that survived in Rahn into adulthood. He took up scuba diving.

How else to see the bug-eyed fish?

How else to bubble along under the surface on behalf of Brousseau’s aquarium?

When the aquarium moved up the hill to its current site in 1963, scuba divers searched the waters off the park for specimens – starfish, crabs, clams, sharks, salmon and the elusive, intelligent octopus – to bring to Brousseau.

“Divers who contributed to the new, very modern, facility got a free back-door entry to visit and chat with Cecil,” recalled Rahn, who brought octopuses and giant barnacles.

Rahn went to work for The Boeing Co., and kept on diving.

“I was a member of the Scubaneers, a very tight and active Tacoma scuba-diving club,” he said. “Among us, young and old, there never was a generation gap.”

There was, however, a communal sense of humor. Once a year, in the daffodil chill of April, the Scubaneers staged a treasure hunt off Owen Beach.

The event drew a surprising number of spectators for an underwater sport.

Participants from throughout the region vied to find one of many scattered metal discs. Finding one entered them in the prize pool.

There were witty announcements, fabulous prizes, people flapping out of the water in their wetsuits and fins.

And the chowder.

“We always had a big ‘clam chowder’ pot to warm people up from their dive,” Rahn said.

Contestants waddled out, toweled off and warmed up with a bowl of the tasty soup.

“You could always depend on a great crowd reaction when, just before announcing prize winners, we informed all that there wasn’t a single clam in the chowder,” Rahn said. “It was all octopus.”

Kathleen Merryman, The News Tribune