Issaquah History Museums volunteer Stephen Grate dies in hiking accident
August 10, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Early last decade, a hiker had questions about the long-abandoned coalmines carved into the mountains surrounding Issaquah. The query led Stephen Grate to the Issaquah History Museums in 2003.
From the downtown Issaquah museum, he pored through the mining map collection and rummaged through archives to learn how the 19th century mines operated. Grate earned esteem in his final years for his knowledge of Eastside coalmining heritage and for the hikes he often led to derelict mine sites.
Grate, 52, died Aug. 6 in a hiking accident near Leavenworth. The outdoorsman died from head injuries he sustained in a fall from a rock on Asgaard Pass, a steep and challenging route in the Enchantment Lakes Basin.
The coalmining heritage brought Grate to the museums, but he also contributed to other civic and municipal organizations. Colleagues said the Renton resident brought a quiet passion to each role.
The independent computer consultant served on the Issaquah Cable TV Commission, taught a digital photography class at the Issaquah Valley Senior Center and volunteered as a docent at the historic Issaquah Train Depot.
Museums Director Erica Maniez remembered Grate as a Renaissance man, equally at ease leading history tours for children, playing in the bell choir at his church, updating computers at the museums or making jam at home.
“He was one of those people who, when he was interested in a subject, he researched it until he knew everything about it,” museums Volunteer Coordinator Karen Klein said.
Grate stood out among the more than 70 volunteers on the museums’ roster for contributions large and small. Klein recalled how he upgraded museum computers for free and tailored hikes for children and — after fervent reception at a senior center lecture — for people using walkers.
The efforts led the museums to honor Grate as Volunteer of the Year in 2006.
“We were running out of things to give him awards for,” Klein said.
DownTown Issaquah Association Executive Director Greg Spranger praised Grate for the fresh insight he brought to local history.
“Other than Milt Swanson up in Newcastle, he probably knew more about Issaquah coalmining than anyone else on the planet,” Spranger said, referring to the longtime local historian.
City TV Coordinator Tim Smith, the staff liaison to the Cable TV Commission, recalled Grate as a knowledgeable and thoughtful commissioner. Though Grate left the advisory board in 2005, he and Smith had planned to film a video tour of local mining sites.
Grate used his tech savvy to teach a digital photography course at the Issaquah Valley Senior Center. Courtney Jaren, senior center executive director, said Grate enthralled seniors at a lecture series devoted to Issaquah history. Later, he signed on to teach photography classes.
“He was just so loved here, and once our people hear about it, they’re going to be so upset,” Jaren said.
In addition to the frequent hikes he led to abandoned mining sites — in sunshine and rain — Grate spearheaded a downtown history hike and volunteered at Heritage Day, a part of the annual Fourth of July festivities.
Klein said he had a contagious enthusiasm for history and a keen ability to interest children in the topic.
“It was hard not to be excited about a subject when you were around him, because he was so enthusiastic about it,” she said.
How to help
Stephen Grate memorial service
2 p.m. Aug. 12
St. Peter’s United Methodist Church
17222 N.E. Eighth St., Bellevue
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.