Interview With James D. Farmer

From the interview with James D. Farmer of Acme, WA conducted by Clio Ward by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on July 30, 2013. Mr. Farmer was the Fort Worden State Park Conference Center Manager from 1991 to 2003.

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.

When asked about some of the memorable people that he knew while working at Fort Worden, besides Joe Wheeler:

“ Well I can start on it. There are so many that it would be a long, long list. But at the top of the list would be Dan Harpole. He really was my connection with Centrum all the time. One of the things that I did in cooperation with Dan and Joe– Dan was kind of Joe’s assistant there in 1991–was that we implemented weekly meetings. We set a specific time and that’s when we planned to meet every single week to go over whatever may have been on our mind. Our whole purpose there, theirs and mine, was to not let things build up, to just have good communication from day one and make sure that we all understood one another. I had some specific requirements as did they, and we worked through them by doing that. Dan was a great partner in all of that and a great friend during my whole time in Port Townsend. He encouraged me to be a part of much of what he was doing. There was a group of guys that were playing morning basketball at the gym a couple days a week. I joined them and just enjoyed the friendships and the participation in that. Centrum had a softball team. I played on that a little bit. Dan was just more than a colleague and a work associate. He was definitely a friend. We all miss him.

There were folks over there, Peter McCracken and those people. I mean, just great folks. I really enjoyed my relationship with those folks. Peter Badame at the Marine Science Center at that time, and of course Anne Murphy was there as well. Peter and I had a great relationship. We went to baseball games together over at the Mariners, things like that. The list goes on and on and on. Sue Sidle with the Advisory Committee just was such a tremendous help in helping me understand. She seemed to have a very broad view of the community and of Fort Worden and the various players there. She provided great perspective for me and remained a friend during the whole time I was there. I know I’ll leave some out. A lady who worked for me who really was a friend the whole time as well and connected to Port Townsend in different ways was Nancy Fitch. Nancy was there when I came to Fort Worden and had worked there while I was there and had been a good friend while I was there. After she left, she left before I did, we remained good friends. I still talk to her once in a while. Sam Hamill, the poet. Sam is a golfer and I’m a golfer and somehow we connected on that level. We started in about 1993 golfing once a week. When I came over here, he came over a few times and golfed. About three years or four ago he moved to Anacortes, since that time we’re golfing once a week again. He’s an interesting person, but our relationship is about 99% golf.

George and Joan Thomsen of the Heritage Group that ran the Commanding Officers Quarters were such wonderful people. I just couldn’t think of almost anyone I wouldn’t say that about, but there are some more than others. George and Joan were very, very special, no question, consummate lady and gentleman. I enjoyed them a great deal. We always, always really felt warm and comfortable around them.

Nora Porter was wonderful, She stuck with me. She asked me one time, was I going to stick with that dining hall project, and because it was floundering. She wanted to make sure that I was going to fight too. I told her, ‘Yes, we need to keep going on this.’ She was a wonderful help before she came on our Advisory Committee. Part of my committee participation was that occasionally I got invited to be at Tuesday morning reading group and Nora was a part of that. I’d met her early on when she was still working for State Representative Lynn Kessler and I really and thoroughly enjoyed Nora. When she was no longer working for Lynn Kessler then we got her on the Advisory Committee which was also a big help.”

In answer to the question about his role in the Fort Worden Centennial Celebration in 2002-03:

“I had talked about that for several years actually. Even to the point that as many of five or six years before, we had done research to determine exactly when the Centennial would be and because we weren’t sure, we knew when construction started and all of that kind of stuff. So we finally got a date certain from the military as to what they would consider the actual date, it was when real soldiers arrived versus engineers and construction workers, so that established the date. We’d started well ahead of that. I’d been talking with the Advisory Committee–anybody I could talk to, quite frankly– to see if, can we do something, can we do something special? Here was an incredible opportunity, and we had been already somewhat successful in bringing money to Fort Worden. My whole career I was pretty successful at money following me around. I think it’s because we got things done. The money got spent well. At any rate, at Fort Worden that had continued and I’d found lots of sources for money while I was there. The Centennial was both an opportunity for community celebration and to really highlight the importance of the park to the community and the importance to the State Parks system and as a vehicle to target some major renovations and get some money, because all those things can come along with that. Most people were enthusiastic, but it takes real people to do real work to make those things happen. Along the way one of the things we did was we got money from the lodging tax group. We got money from as many places as we could find money, including a pretty good sized grant from State Parks. So I was able to hire an employee, recruit more volunteers, spend money on publicity, all of that. That’s what really kicked it off –we actually started getting some money. We pretty well had to lay out a plan in preparation for that but our plan was still pretty conceptual. So getting the money was the kicker and the community joined in. We had some wonderful, wonderful help there. Laurie Medlicott, I remember really well the effort that she put in. Just good stuff that happened associated with all of that I believe. I think all of the events that I’ve said… It didn’t draw huge crowds but it was just fine.

There’s a lot of wonderful things that I got the see the beginnings of there. Some of them were associated with the Centennial. Certainly the Oral History Program is a wonderful one. The Friends group, there was no Friends group when I arrived. I remember going downtown and I’d go around talking to folks and with the handmade posters that we had made and hanging those posters all over town to draw people to a meeting at the old dining hall to begin to create a Friends group. We had a really wonderful turnout, great people, some towns fathers and some creative environmental folks and just a real cross section of the community that wanted to be involved. And that was really the start of it. It has taken off. Part of the master plan had been the development of the Guard House. The original plan had been in the master plan. The management plan I was working on was going to be that the Guard House was going to be more of a museum. That’s where we were going to maybe move the Coast Artillery Museum. There just wasn’t room for all that and we needed some restrooms. Those restrooms at the Guard House were my idea. I mean everybody agreed but I said, this is the place. We can put some restrooms in here without changing the outside of the building. We’ll have restrooms down here on the day use level of the park, which we really didn’t have any if the office was closed. We turned the Guard House into the Friends store. We worked that idea with the Friends group. The Advisory Committee agreed, and the State Parks agreed. And lo and behold they’re still there.”

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