Opinion

The Ventures are gift that keeps giving to South Tacoma

In April 1960, the Tacoma-originated rock group “The Ventures” posed for a publicity photo with an unidentified woman admirer. (Left to right: Nole F. (Nokie) Edwards, Bob Bogle, Don Wilson, Howie Johnson.) The most popular and influential instrumental rock band of all time got its start playing at the Blue Moon in Tacoma. The Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2008.
In April 1960, the Tacoma-originated rock group “The Ventures” posed for a publicity photo with an unidentified woman admirer. (Left to right: Nole F. (Nokie) Edwards, Bob Bogle, Don Wilson, Howie Johnson.) The most popular and influential instrumental rock band of all time got its start playing at the Blue Moon in Tacoma. The Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2008. Richards Studio Collection/Tacoma Public Library

No one would accuse my parents of being music connoisseurs. Their musical world began with Perry Como and ended with the breakup of The Kingston Trio.

If you stacked their entire collection of albums on top of each other, the pile would be shorter than the turntable needed to play them. Of all the notes on these records, not one was originally played with the assistance of a volt of electricity. Totally acoustic, save one.

The cover art on this album was the first sign of divergence. In place of the typical crisply dressed trio of smiling crooners was a blonde model in a gold bikini, leaning on her elbow and smiling invitingly.

I took the invitation and dropped the needle. Instead of four-part harmony, I heard pounding drums. Instead of orchestral strings, I heard an electric guitar. Instead of vocals, it was all instrumental, with one exception.

In the middle of one song there was a stop, followed by a laugh then two words: “Wipe Out.”

Yes, I had found The Ventures.

Little did I know that I would one day live just two blocks from the boyhood home of the creator of those rumbling tunes.

Kelly and husband Kurt live in a corner house that my wife and I have driven by and admired since we moved in down the street 15 years ago. Kelly used to run a fitness class at the STAR Center. She was a great teacher and even better host.

For the second year in a row, she and Kurt invited the whole class to their house for a Christmas party.

It was at that party that my Venture circle completed its loop.

Kurt said we weren’t the only ones with an interest in their house. While fixing lunch one day he noticed two men taking pictures. He approached them with no small amount of suspicion and asked if they needed help.

The younger gentleman introduced himself and gestured to his companion, “This is my father Don Wilson. He grew up here.”

Relieved, Kurt invited them inside to look around. While ascending the steps Kurt offhandedly asked if people ever confused Don with the Don Wilson of The Ventures.

“I’d say so,’ Don replied, “because that’s who I am.”

Kurt and Kelly spent the rest of the afternoon listening to rock ‘n roll stories and getting a tour of their own home from the perspective of its earliest occupants.

They were so taken with Don that they created shrines in his honor. If you drive by their house today you will notice two carefully crafted wooden structures.

The first is full of books and titled “The Ventures Little Free Library.” This is a space where anyone can borrow or share a book. Our youngest was able to finish reading all the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books thanks to the Ventures library.

The second structure, titled “Don’s Food Pantry,” is full of canned goods and snacks. More than once I have noticed a gaggle of elementary-age kids making their way there for an after-school snack.

It is impressive now to realize that The Ventures have not only given the world “Walk Don’t Run,” “Tequila” and “Wipe Out,” but with the help of Kelly and Kurt, they’re giving the residents of my neighborhood books to read and food to eat.

The world is full of treasures, tucked between old albums, outside our homes and behind glass window panes of homemade libraries. Joy lies not only in the finding but also the sharing of these treasures.

I began sharing stories of some South Tacoma treasures a year ago in the TNT with a bit of apprehension. Would there be enough buried treasure to uncover?

My fears proved unfounded. I’ve found it harder to decide what not to write about than the opposite. There’s more gold in these streets than I’ve had space to share.

For this reason, I’ve decided to keep digging and writing. If you’d like to keep searching with me, then you’ll find me at www.sotacoma.org

Ken Sikes is a South Tacoma resident and pastor of Manitou Park Presbyterian Church. He is one of six reader columnists who wrote for this page in 2018 and early 2019. This is his last regular column in the TNT. He can be reached at kwsikes@gmail.com.

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