Sculpture to memorialize Oak Harbor’s three founders

This conceptual drawing illustrates a memorial, designed by Richard Nash, of Oak Harbor’s founding fathers, which will be constructed at the end of SE City Beach Street. - Submitted graphic
This conceptual drawing illustrates a memorial, designed by Richard Nash, of Oak Harbor’s founding fathers, which will be constructed at the end of SE City Beach Street.
— image credit: Submitted graphic

It’s taken 160 years, but it appears Oak Harbor’s founding fathers will finally have their day.

The Oak Harbor City Council resoundingly approved Dec. 21 an effort to honor Ulrich Freund, Clement Sumner and Zakarias Taftezon, the signers of the area’s first donation land claims in 1851, with a memorial at the end of SE City Beach Street. The project was approved unanimously.

“This is an excellent gesture to recognize and honor the first three settlers,” City Councilman Danny Paggao said.

“I’m going to support this 100 percent,” echoed City Councilman Jim Campbell.

The memorial is the brainchild of Sue Karahalios, a former city council member and state representative. Karahalios said she has no future ambitions for elected office; her efforts stem only from a desire to properly recognize the three men and their donation land claims, which laid the groundwork for Oak Harbor’s official incorporation as a city in 1915.

A plaque noting the founders’ role in Oak Harbor’s history already exists and is located at City Beach. However, it’s unclear how or when it got there and it’s hard to see or find unless you already know where it is. It’s attached to a rock, behind some bushes, under a tree. Taftezon’s name is also spelled incorrectly.

“Other than that small plaque, we have nothing to acknowledge our founders,” said Karahalios, in an interview earlier this month.

Karahalios began her efforts more than two years ago but it wasn’t until 2010 that her idea made it through the city’s park and arts committees. Although she plans to raise the $20,000 needed to pay for the memorial herself, the proposed location on city property required both bodies’ approval as well as that of the City Council.

Oak Harbor resident Helen Chatfield-Weeks, who is also the chairwoman of the Oak Harbor Park Board, attended the meeting and addressed the City Council. She said she wasn’t a big fan of “modern art” — the proposed sculpture is for three steel pillars arranged in a triangular configuration — and that it wasn’t historically correct.

“I would much rather have had three men standing there holding a canoe paddle with their Indian guide because that’s the way they came,” she said.

Before Chatfield-Weeks could sit down, Mayor Jim Slowik interjected and reminded her that she voted to approve the memorial as is.

“Yeah, well we try to get along,” Chatfield-Weeks responded. “I would have voted ‘no’ but I thought, ‘You know, this is the first time we’ve had something substantial brought before us and I would hate to be the one to keep it from going forward.”

Chatfield-Weeks wasn’t the only one to voice concern. City Councilman Scott Dudley asked several questions, one of which was how city staff plans to address problems by seagulls. The flat surface on top of the pillars will make a perfect perch, he said.

Similarly, Oak Harbor resident Mel Vance said the sculpture should be located farther inland from the waterfront. The proposed location will subject it to saltwater spray, which may lead to corrosion and expensive maintenance by the city.

According to Oak Harbor Parks Manager Hank Nydam, nothing has been decided yet but several solutions for loitering seagulls are being considered, from sharp spikes to a solar-powered strip that would deliver a non-lethal jolt of electricity.

As for rust, he said it won’t likely be a problem. The sculpture will be constructed from corten steel, a special metal commonly known as weathering steel. Made from multiple alloys, it’s designed to resist serious corrosion and the need for costly and continuous maintenance.

“I don’t see a huge amount of maintenance in this,” Nydam said.

Overall all, council members were very supportive of the project. Dudley was the first to thank Karahalios for her efforts, but he was not the last. By the time it was voted on, every single council member had congratulated her on a job well done. That includes Mayor Jim Slowik, who defeated Karahalios in a bid for mayor in the 2007 primary election.

“You have been a great volunteer for so many years,” Slowik said. “I want to say thank you on behalf of the city.”

Karahalios returned the thank you, singling out Nydam for his assistance. She also recognized the efforts of Oak Harbor artist Richard Nash for coming up with the design and Greg Hanncock, who made computer renderings of the proposed piece free of charge. While many have already spent many hours on the project, this is really just the beginning, she said.

“Now the exciting part starts; we’re going to start the fundraising,” Karahalios said.

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