Interview With Darrel R. “Gus” Gustafson

An excerpt from the interview with Darrel R. “Gus” Gustafson of Edgewood, WA conducted by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on September 25, 2012 by Clio Ward. Mr. Gustafson worked at Fort Worden from April 1973 until December 1982 as Conference Center Administrative Assistant. His work involved getting the park up and running as a conference center.

Complete transcripts and recordings of this and all interviews conducted for the Fort Worden Oral History Program are available at a nominal fee to cover duplicating and shipping. Inquire at info@fwfriends.org or 360.344.4481 for details.

“ We had a great day or weekend when we did the park dedication back in 1973. That was a memorable experience and that kind of kicked things off there. From time to time we’d open up new buildings and get them renovated. For instance that big barracks down there near the water, which we called at the time Building 225, was a big project. When we finally got the fire protection and sprinkler system in there and we could actually invite large groups to come and use the facility there, that was a big kickoff for us and expansion of our services. Prior to that we used it for some summer camps that had already kind of been existing there like the ballet camp, Pacific Northwest Ballet. They had had nighttime security people who had to stay up all night in lieu of the fire protection system that was finally installed there. So we could open it up to more of the public.

A ballet company from New York came out for the five weeks or four weeks of instruction. Then they coupled with the Centrum Foundation and then later sponsored when the Centrum Foundation set up their offices there at Fort Worden.

We went through a number of different experiences over there at the dining hall. I remember one story that’s kind of interesting. The director of the dance camp, the ballet camp, came over and said, ‘We’re just not getting the food that we want or need over there and we’ve been talking to the cook at the dining hall.; I said, ‘Well, I’ll go talk to him and see what the problem is.’ They were looking a little more variety and whole wheat things and yogurt that he just didn’t really plan. He was a fairly new cook at the time and he had been an old Navy cook. When I went over and talked to him, his first reaction before we got into a long conversation was, ‘If SOS is good enough for the Navy it’s good enough for these girls.’

Dancers do eat a lot and they really expect to have some healthy food to eat. Our whole structure was built on a fairly economically based menu because that attracted more groups. They had to keep the price of the meals down. As time went on, but that year we had to make do, in years to come we negotiated another dollar or two a day for meals so that the cook could actually add some of the special requests that the dancers were having for their menu items. That was kind of an interesting experience in dealing with a special menu. As Centrum grew, our summer venues grew too and when we opened up they had a big circus tent there and had Fiddle Tunes workshops and performances. When the big hangar opened up, the performance hangar, that was a big change for us as well.”

Another memorable experience:
“Let me tell you a little bit about one of the big events that I was involved in there. That was the film that was filmed up there, “An Officer and a Gentleman.” I recall Glen Bellerud was the manager at the time and he told me there were some people coming in from the state film office. The state at that time had a one person film office that was his responsibility. Art was his first name. I can’t remember his last. His responsibility was to try to attract movie makers to the state of Washington. They came in a helicopter and landed on the parade ground in February, I think the three day weekend in February, President’s weekend. They said that they looked around Port Townsend, they looked around the park and they said, “We need to get a film in the can by June. We have a strike coming up and we’ve got like three months to do this and we like your facility. We’ll be back in touch with you.” It was not like a day or two that passed and they were calling and saying, “Hey we want to be there, we want to be there next month and we’re going to get this film made if everything goes well.” It just happened to work out for all of us because we told them that they had to be out of there by our summer season because we were already too booked and too busy in the summer to really accommodate a Hollywood movie being made. That Spring we could accommodate it and everything worked out pretty well. It was a big event. It was a lot of fun to be involved in that.

The filmmakers did benefit the park. They made improvements to several of our facilities. They went in and did some renovation and some painting and that sort of thing. There was a report that I wrote up afterwards and I can’t remember the details of that. Of course this was in around 1980 and it was a substantial, besides the rent for the buildings and the facilities, I think the report included somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 or $40,000 worth of improvements that they’d done to the park and rented the buildings they were using the whole time as well. So it benefitted, and I’ll tell you for five to ten years after that, I think there was a lot of people that stopped in at Fort Worden State Park and asked is this where the movie was, can we walk around and look and see where those shots were. There were a lot of tourists that came to Port Townsend as a follow up to that movie being filmed up there.

The stars, Richard Gere,Debra Winger, and Lou Gossett didn’t stay on the base and they were pretty busy, kind of kept to themselves. I mean I met them, was introduced to them, but probably the people that I dealt with the most were like the business manager for the movie company and the art director who always was looking for a different room or a different scene that he had to create and the facility that would help create that scene for him.”

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