Polson Pioneer of the Year

A Hoquiam resident who has called the Grays Harbor area home since 1943 has been named the 2022 Pioneer of the Year.

Lee Thomasson, of Hoquiam, is the 43rd “Pioneer.” His honor follows Patricia Clemons, from 2021, and Jerry Erickson, from 2020. Thomasson will be honored on Sunday, Sept. 25, at the Polson Museum.

“I’m very honored, very flattered,” Thomasson said. “Typically, you never seek an award. When you receive one, it’s wonderful.”

The Polson Museum awards the Pioneer honor to longtime residents of the Harbor who have helped shape Grays Harbor’s history for the better, according to a write-up from John Larson, director of Polson Museum.

Thomasson has lived in Hoquiam’s west end since 1943. Thomasson received all of his formal education within Grays Harbor County — starting with his K-12 education along Emerson Avenue in Hoquiam, and then his Associate of Arts degree from Grays Harbor College. Thomasson, along with his wife Joyce, graduated in 1958 from Hoquiam High School.

For the past 23 years, Thomasson has held a seat on the Polson Museum’s board of directors. Larson said he knows Thomasson well and that he’s a fun guy to talk to.

“Lee never lacks for stories to tell, and his razor-sharp memory continues to amaze me,” Larson said. “He can recall seemingly obscure details about people, places and events going back to the 1940s. … Having lived on the Harbor all that time, he is a walking encyclopedia of Grays Harbor history.”

Thomasson said Hoquiam has “changed a great deal” in the 79 years since he moved to town with his family.

“In the 40s and 50s, Hoquiam was like a boomtown out west some place,” Thomasson said. “There were a lot of industries, small industries and many, many taverns, and gas stations. People worked hard, they partied hard. It’s a much more sedate and quiet place to live now, which is a good thing. They said back in the 50s it was impossible to drink a beer in every tavern in Hoquiam and Aberdeen. You couldn’t do it.”

In 1960, there were 33 taverns in Aberdeen, according to Polk’s Aberdeen and Hoquiam Directory 1960. There were another 21 in Hoquiam. Today, there are about 20 bars between Aberdeen and Hoquiam, according to Google Maps.

Thomasson shared an experience he had in 1960 or 1961 with a friend who was on leave from the U.S. Navy. They tried to hit every bar in Hoquiam and Aberdeen.

“We made it as far as the Parkway Tavern, which is still there, in Aberdeen,” Thomasson said. “It was too difficult to move to the next tavern.”

Apparently, Thomasson and his friend weren’t the only ones who tried to visit every bar in one pub crawl.

“I don’t know if anyone successfully did it in one day,” Thomasson said. “Many tried, including my friend and I.”

Thomasson said you could probably hit every bar today. But in the early 1960s, you couldn’t do it.

Thomasson’s selection as Pioneer appears to be for his volunteerism, and his work in helping restore historic items, including a “neglected” Union Civil War Veterans monument, a 1933 Linn halftrack tractor and a 1928 Casey Jones railroad speeder.

Thomasson recalled he and Larry Wyrick worked on the 1933 Linn halftrack for a year and a half, and they usually did so one day per week. Wyrick was chosen as a Polson Pioneer in 2019.

“It had not run in 25 or 30 years,” Thomasson said. “Larry is a master mechanic and I’m his helper. I make sure people know that. It takes two people to do all those things. I can do some mechanical work, but Larry’s entire life has been spent as a mechanic. He’s the best I have ever met. He can make anything run.”

In 2002, Thomasson also organized a “Rosie Reunion,” to get women who worked on aircraft in World War II to tell stories from their past at the Polson Museum.

“This event was just the beginning of Lee’s long-term involvement with just about every major project we’ve tackled in the last 20 years,” Larson said. “From presenting our annual Pioneer of the Year celebrations to planning to build our Railroad Camp exhibit, to bringing the Polson (No.) 45 locomotive back to the Harbor, Lee has played a role with the museum’s successes.”

To celebrate Thomasson’s achievements, including 35 years working in the telecommunications field, Polson Museum is hosting a party in Thomasson’s honor at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25.

The celebration includes a formal presentation of the Pioneer of the Year award at 2 p.m., when people will be able to talk about their relationships and memories of Thomasson. There will also be a casual reception with cake and punch, according to Larson.

“The Test of Time Car Club,” of which Thomasson is a member, will hold a small car show on the museum’s grounds. People are encouraged to bring their classic cars. Nearby, the 1933 Linn halftrack tractor, and the 1928 Casey Jones railroad speeder, will be on display.

People who are curious about history might want to make sure to be at the event, as Thomasson is quite knowledgeable.

“He’s our go-to guy for getting a quick question answered about the location of a long-defunct business, or a person who has long since passed away,” Larson said about Thomasson.