Longtime volunteer looks back on 40 years of Salmon Days

September 29, 2009

By David Hayes

Pam Stevens, who’s been volunteering for Salmon Days since her mother helped organize the first one in 1970, mans the Geoteaming desk Sept. 26. By Greg Farrar

Pam Stevens, who’s been volunteering for Salmon Days since her mother helped organize the first one in 1970, mans the Geoteaming desk Sept. 26. By Greg Farrar

Pam Stevens recalls her mom, Donna Graves, organizing a community festival from their Issaquah living room. Little more than a gopher at the time, Stevens had volunteered her services for the very first Salmon Days.

She continued helping out here and there over the years as the festival grew in popularity. But it wasn’t until 1987 that Stevens became an “ohfishal” volunteer, with T-shirt and badge, full time, year round.

Before the army of volunteers grew to more than 500 in recent years, Stevens, 52, recalls how it seemed that just a handful accomplished much.“We used to do everything, from setting up all the canopies, to cleaning up the town on Monday,” she said. “I used to take four days’ vacation to help set up and put away the festival.”

Stevens would later become renowned for her efforts helping organize the annual Salmon Days golf tournament.

“Actually, Pam was the only one who didn’t step back when they were asking for volunteers on that one,” said Robin Kelley, director of festivals.

It wasn’t enough, either, to just volunteer her time for the tournament. Stevens felt compelled to add a personal touch to the proceedings — home-baked food. Again, she took days off from work to bake as many as 20 loaves of bread and six double batches of cookies.

So, what keeps Stevens coming back year after year, now into the festival’s 40th anniversary?

“The people,” she said. “I’ve gotten to become friends with a whole lot of people I might not have if it weren’t for volunteering.”

Looking back, Stevens said she honestly didn’t think this little festival would have the staying power to go more than a few years, let alone 40.

“I didn’t think it would last,” she said. “But they moved it from Memorial Day weekend to October and it grew so much it became such a family event.”

It has become a generational event for her family, as well. Her son, Brian, a 2002 graduate of Issaquah High School, has become an “ohfishal” volunteer for the first time this year.

“I thought it would be a lot of fun,” he said. “I actually learned a lot about Issaquah I never knew before.”

The two will work together this weekend in a retail booth selling festival merchandise.

Kelley confirmed that Brian Stevens is one of the rare third-generation volunteers at Salmon Days. The only other one she said she could think of off the top of her head was her own mother and daughter pitching in the past.

Kelley said volunteers like Pam Stevens help make her own job easier.

“She’s the kind of volunteer the definition is written in the dictionary,” Kelley said. “She’s fun, open to change, takes on as much as you need her to. You just hand it to her and it’s done.”

David Hayes: Dhayes@isspress.com, 392-6434, ext. 237. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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