Rare 1940s Japanese glass floats donated to local Historical Society

On display in Westport Maritime Museum

South Hill resident, Yvonne “Vonnie” (Fry) Thorpe, recently donated a substantial portion of her Japanese glass fishing float collection to the Westport South Beach Historical Society for permanent display in the Westport Maritime Museum. The rare floats — 34 of them in many different colors, shapes and sizes — are housed on the first floor in the former Coast Guard Station’s Day Room, next to the gift shop.

The floats display will be officially catalogued at the museum as the Herbert T. Fry Family collection in her father’s memory.

The floats are artistically arranged in the center of the room enclosed in a rectangular Plexiglas display case Thorpe had custom built in the configuration of a steamer trunk several years ago that she also donated.

Historical Society board member Marianne Pence and member Alan Rammer spent several days setting up the collection, including Rammer adding many unique local shells and beach drift treasures from his own collection to highlight the glass floats.

All of the floats were discovered and collected by Thorpe, who is now 81, on the beach in Grayland between the ages of six and 16 from 1941 to 1952.

Vonnie Jean, as her family has always called her, spent her summer-long school vacations at the former Dunes Cabins in Grayland, located for many years in on State Route 105.

Vonnie was raised in Tacoma, where her parents, Herbert and Stella Fry, were in the grocery business. She graduated from Lincoln High School in 1954.

“We’d always stayed in Cabin No. 5 from the day after school got out until Labor Day. My parents always let me bring my friend, Jane Eide, and we’d spend all day every day on the beach,” said Vonnie during a recent visit to the museum to see her collection on display for the first time.

“As far as we were concerned, the cabin was just for eating and sleeping. We never hung around there any longer than we had to because we might have to do dishes,” she said.

All that time on the beach resulted in lots of nautical treasure finds, among them, more than 50 glass floats, with Vonnie hauling home her prizes at the end of each vacation. Her parents stored the collection for many years until Vonnie had a home of her own, where they since have always shared a special space wherever she’s lived.

Grayland memories

Vonnie remembers going to the movies at the theatre in Grayland in the converted Quonset hut that still stands as a part of the Grayland Water District building. She went to vVacation Bible school in the former red Grayland schoolhouse that is now the Pomegranate gift and home décor shop, and shopped with her mom for fresh fruits and vegetables from a peddler who made weekly trips to the area.

She also remembers Coast Guard wartime horseback patrols on the beach and overhead by plane, as well as the cabin’s blackout curtains pulled every evening at dusk during those years, and the excitement of seeing an unspent torpedo that appeared on the beach. That find made big news nationally.

Following a short first marriage and the birth of three children, Vonnie married Ralph Thorpe, Jr. in 1958 and the couple added three more to their brood. They have remained in South Hill.

When most of their six children were fully grown and on their own — all still living nearby — Vonnie started working in Tacoma first as a teaching assistant, then in a retail software shop, and finally for 10n years in a tile shop in Puyallup.

Ralph worked 33 years for the Tacoma School District. He was a roofer the first 12 and then spent 21 more as the district’s safety manager, retiring in 2001.

Johns River pioneers

Coming to the beach at Grayland has been a Fry family tradition since the mid-1850s. Vonnie was adopted into the Fry family at the age of two in 1938.

“It was one of the most fortunate families to be adopted into. I was so very, very lucky and blessed to be chosen by my mom and dad,” said Vonnie.

Her dad, Herbert Thornton Fry, born in 1899, was originally from Johns River. He was a ninth-generation descendent of Jason Fry, the first of many Fry family members that moved west to Oregon territory in the mid-19th century.

Jason, then 17, settled first near Rainier, Ore., then moved on to John’s River in Grays Harbor County in 1848, along with his uncle Olney Fry and a family friend, Simon Markham, after whom the town of Markham at the mouth of John’s River is named.

Jason’s brothers John and Amherst joined them in 1851, followed a few years later by brother Harvey. Amherst’s son Arthur was Vonnie’s grandfather and Herbert was Arthur’s son.

The Frys started logging up Johns River, rafting logs to the mills in Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis. They eventually developed their own sawmill there, with many of members of following generations following in their footsteps, working in the woods.

The Frys often traveled from Johns River to the beach at Grayland for clamming, fishing and family outings. By 1925, there were more than 100 members of the Fry family that had settled from Oakville to Elma, everywhere in between and as far north as Tacoma.

A close-nit group, starting in the late 1850s, at the end of July, Fry family members met each summer for a huge family reunion. Held in various locations around Grays Harbor, in the early 1920s, the reunion was dubbed “The Roundup.”

That tradition still continues. The Roundup — held the last full weekend in July each year — is hosted these days by Vonnie’s cousin Nedra Howell — a descendent of Harvey Fry — at her Westport home in the Cohasset Beach neighborhood. Nedra and her husband, Bill, who passed two years ago, started hosting the annual get-together in 1988, after they bought their first property on the South Beach.

Nedra joined Vonnie and Ralph on their recent visit to the Maritime Museum.

One of several very rare Japanese glass floats in the collection BARB AUE | SOUTH BEACH BULLETIN

One of several very rare Japanese glass floats in the collection BARB AUE | SOUTH BEACH BULLETIN

One of several very rare Japanese glass floats in the collection

One of several very rare Japanese glass floats in the collection