Award-winning author Jeff Burlingame recalled his humble South Aberdeen beginnings on Saturday during the dedication of his star on the Aberdeen Walk of Fame on Market Street in front of the Aberdeen Timberland Library.
A group of family and friends assembled for the dedication, which was introduced by Ryan Rowe, a downtown business owner and member of the group Rehaberdeen, which organized the event and the Founders Day parade a few hours earlier.
“To add some context about the type of individuals who have been cast in bronze, you may recognize a few names,” said Rowe. “John Madden, Super Bowl-winning coach of the Oakland Raiders, he played college football at Grays Harbor College in 1956. And these two guys who started a band you might have heard of — Nirvana? Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, they have stars as well.”
Rowe said Burlingame, whom he met 23 years prior while both worked for The Daily World, has written more than three dozen books that have sold millions of copies. Burlingame was awarded the NAACP Image Award in 2012, and was also honored with a Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2013.
Burlingame recalled his youth, growing up in the Boulevard trailer park in South Aberdeen, placing him in a “circle of broken human beings,” growing up with a lot of animosity.
“But it was an animosity that eventually morphed into pride, though it took me a while to get there,” he said. “It wasn’t without the assistance of several helpful heroes along the way. Many of those heroes were from that very same trailer park. They extended their hand and their hearts to me, even though their own souls were broken and buried.”
A few he mentioned by name, including his mother’s best friend Diane Schwartz.
“She’s a beautiful lady who for many years cared for me as if I were her own,” said Burlingame.
And Lou Bogdanovich, a Miller Jr. High counselor who “watched me run track one day. He asked me what I was doing after graduation, and then he frowned as I just shrugged my shoulders. He awarded me a running scholarship.”
It wasn’t until 20 years later Burlingame discovered that scholarship didn’t exist; it was money directly from Bogdanovich’s pocket.
“Those are just some of my champions. Aberdeen is full of champions,” said Burlingame. “Thanks to them, my life was on the rise. But then my mom died prematurely.”
Burlingame was early in his writing career when his mother died. Her death led to what he called “my lost year. It was a year I spent wandering the streets of Aberdeen trying to figure out my life.”
He found solace in the library where he was honored Saturday.
“When the doors opened at this library right here I was one of the first people in every day,” said Burlingame. “I read The Daily World, reading John (Hughes) and Rick (Anderson). And eventually I got a really part-time job there.”
That turned eventually into a full time Daily World gig, where he would work for nine years.
In 2004, Burlingame co-founded the Kurt Cobain Memorial Foundation. “We held some big rock concerts at the D&R (Theatre), including the largest one in the history of Aberdeen in 2009,” he recalled. The group also created and installed the “come as you are” sign, referencing a Nirvana song, at the east entrance to the city.
“Those and so many other personal connections I had with Kurt and Nirvana led to my first book in 2006,” said Burlingame, titled “Kurt Cobain: Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind.” “And much of that was written behind these doors, here at this library, and it led to many others.”
That led to many more books.
“Some have been written for young kids, some for adults, and some for those in between. Some were complete duds and utter failures that I kind of wish I hadn’t agreed to, but some, including this one I’ll be signing today, have been good and sold multiple editions.”
Burlingame was signing copies of his latest book, “Moon Olympic Peninsula,” where he shared his thoughts on when to go, where to stay, and what to bring when traveling the Peninsula.
Two of his books were nominated for NAACP Image Awards, which Burlingame described as the organization’s “version of a Pulitzer, a Grammy and Academy Award kind of all rolled into one. And two times I traveled to Hollywood for that ceremony. In 2011, I lost to Condoleezza Rice, who had written her biography that year.”
In 2012, it was his name that was called, the award winner in the literature for youth and teens category for his book “Jesse Owens, I Always Loved Running.”
“So there I was. Michael Jackson, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Prince, Denzel Washington, Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, some of my heroes, and then …” he reached under the podium and pulled out the silver and black award statue, “me.”
Burlingame pulled back a black cloth that had covered the newly-installed bronze star, made by Aberdeen’s own Bergstrom Foundry, kneeling for a moment to kiss it before posing for pictures next to it with his son, Grayson, whom he said was named for Grays Harbor.
“This might not be Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, but to this trailer kid from the south side, it’s so freaking much better,” he said.