It has all the elements of an epic saga. First, there was heartbreaking destruction, followed by a laborious process of restoration. There were many challenges along the way, all of which were eventually overcome.
Now there is a new chapter in the saga of the Sultan Boys & Girls Club, one that features polished floors, a freshly-painted three-point line, and, most importantly, basketball hoops.
The Sultan Boys & Girls Club celebrated the grand opening of its new gym with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that took place at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017. Held almost exactly seven years from the day of the devastating fire that swept through the city-owned building that previously housed the club, the event included presentations by local elected officials, reflections of gratitude from Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County and Volunteers of America (VOA) Western Washington leadership, refreshments, and a brief overview of what exactly has transpired in the years since the Christmas Eve fire of 2010.
It even included a little game-play, after club officials gave commemorative basketballs to individuals who had key roles in the club’s successful rebuilding. Along with the basketballs, each were given original framed art crafted by Sultan Boys & Girls Club members.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County Board Vice President Mark McNaughton and Executive Director Bill Tsoukalas kicked things off.
“This is a great moment that has taken years and years of effort by a lot of people,” McNaughton said. “Facilities like this don’t just happen; they take a tremendous amount of effort by a team – by a whole community.”
McNaughton acknowledged former Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick, who now serves in the legislature as the 39th District Representative. Eslick has been a strong supporter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County, he said, including serving on the board of directors for a total of nine years.
“She’s a great advocate for your community,” McNaughton said. “You’re lucky to have her.”
Tsoukalas introduced Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low, who is more than just a club supporter, he said, but also a former member. Low is a longtime supporter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County, recognized for extensive volunteer work in support of the Granite Falls Boys & Girls Club. His involvement with the organization is deeply rooted in his experiences as a young club member, achieving Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year both locally and at the state level.
Low was a member of the Everett Boys & Girls Club, he said, and knows what it’s like to be a “clubber.”
“One of the first team sports I played after baseball was basketball, through the boys and girls club,” Low said. “Through that, I was able to play basketball in college.”
He was even able to get a college scholarship through the Boys & Girls Club, he said, which enabled him to become the first young person in his family to attend a four-year college.
The Sultan Boys & Girls Club facility and the new gym are the result of a multi-phased effort made possible by several agencies and organizations, including the city of Sultan, Snohomish County, the state of Washington, Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County and the VOA. Tsoukalas presented guests with a slideshow that spoke volumes, as it featured photos of the charred remains of the Sultan Boys & Girls Club, which has operated in Sultan since 1990.
Tsoukalas thanked 39th District Representative Dan Kristiansen and former Sen. Kirk Pearson, both of whom were unable to attend the dedication ceremony, but played instrumental roles as agencies teamed up to plan the club’s future. The city was another integral partner, he added.
The building that burned was owned by the city, therefore it was up to the city whether or not to invest the insurance money into rebuilding the club. After thanking the city for its steadfast support, Tsoukalas invited Sultan Mayor John Seehuus to say a few words.
Finding ways to nurture and encourage its youth is one of the most important things a city can do, Seehuus said. The city has enjoyed a rewarding partnership with the club over the years, he said, and he is looking forward to the continuation of that partnership.
“The city is confident that the addition of this facility will further enrich the lives of its young people, through activities that instill vital life skills, the value of physical activity and the importance of cooperation and teamwork,” Seehuus said. “It is an honor to be here today and it is an honor to support Sultan’s youth.”
Next, Seehuus invited Sultan City Councilmember Russell Wiita to the lectern. A 2012 Sultan High School graduate, Wiita played a significant role in the establishment of the new club, serving on a blue-ribbon committee implemented by Eslick, then the mayor, to help plan the club’s next steps. At the time of the fire Wiita was serving as the student representative on the Sultan City Council, a position he held during the 2010 – 2011 school year.
Wiita showcased the community involvement that helped make the new gym possible. He pointed out the numerous banners that hang high and proud in the new gym, that call out local businesses, organizations and families that stepped up to sponsor the new athletic facility. The Lopez family, the Sky Valley Eagles, Speedway Chevrolet, NPCE Technology Solutions, the Loggers Inn, Start Up Dreams Construction, Stoehr – Glidden VFW Post 2554 and Axthelm Construction all hold places of esteem.
“I think it really symbolizes and shows what this community’s about,” Wiita said.
Next, Tsoukalas invited Eslick to speak. Eslick has been a true champion from the very start, Tsoukalas said, propelling the effort to rebuild the club with tremendous force.
The Sultan Boys and Girls Club gym is a great example of the wonderful things that can happen when you keep your eye on the ball and have perseverance, Eslick said. For Eslick, it’s an example of things coming full circle. After the fire, they had to reach out to the state with funding requests on several occasions, she said, making her recent appointment to the House Capital Budget Committee even more meaningful. She said that she is looking forward to working on behalf of her rural communities the way the legislature worked on behalf of the city over the past seven years.
She gave a special thanks to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County, for its staunch and dedicated support of the Sultan community.
“It has been a struggle for them. They have supplemented our boys and girls club every year since they started here, and that is not the case in all the communities,” Eslick said. “We are one of only a couple that they have to do that for.”
That’s why the decision to reinvest the city’s insurance money into the club was a “no-brainer,” Eslick said. After all the years of the club’s support there was simply no question about the best course of action. The gym, she added, is the frosting on the cake, as the previous facility didn’t have a gym.
“This is a great Christmas present to our community and I’m thrilled to be able to stand here as state representative,” Eslick said.
Eslick paused for a moment of reflection, indicating the scuffed and worn lectern she spoke from. It is a piece of furniture meaningfully familiar to Eslick, as it was a fixture in the restaurant she owned for many years. Eslick and her former husband Don owned and operated a popular Sultan eatery known as the Dutch Cup, from 1981 to 2001. The lectern was there in 1981 when they purchased the place, she said.
“It was donated to Volunteers of America when I left that restaurant and so here I am standing at it,” Eslick said.
Her mention of the Volunteers of America dovetailed neatly in with Tsoukalas’ final acknowledgement of the dedication ceremony, which recognized the nonprofit for being a remarkable partner. The VOA stepped up to support the club immediately after the fire, Tsoukalas said, allowing the club to continue operating in its large a-frame building on 1st Street. The fire occurred on a Friday, and the Sultan Boys & Girls Club was open for business on the following Monday.
This was largely due to then-VOA Director Dave Wood, who passed away in 2011. Known for his extensive community advocacy and extraordinary heart for the Sky Valley, Wood invited the club to temporarily share space with the VOA until it could get back on its feet.
The two organizations were roommates until the new Sultan Boys & Girls Club opened its doors in 2015. They effectively continue to share space today, as the new club and gym are situated on VOA property. It’s been a win-win situation, said Tsoukalas, and one that has led to other collaborative projects involving the club and the VOA, the first of which is located in Lynnwood.
It’s been an honor to participate, said VOA President and CEO Phil Smith.
“We all know that along life journeys it’s important to have good friends,” Smith said. “And Volunteers of America wants to be good friends when somebody’s in need.”
As the dedication ceremony came to a close, Tsoukalas acknowledged 38-year Sultan city staffer Donna Murphy, who sat in the audience. A longtime proponent of the club, Donna’s son was the first member of the Sultan Boys and Girls Club in 1990, he said. Her daughter Diane was a member too, added Murphy, who is retiring at the end of the year.
As the sound of bouncing balls began to fade, McNaughton acknowledged Tsoukalas for his dedication to the club. Tsoukalas is the maestro that makes it all happen, he said, the conductor that leads the symphony. It is Tsoukalas, he said, who forms the partnerships needed to bring forth triumphant efforts like the Sultan Boys & Girls Club and its new gym.
The new gym is located behind the Sultan Boys & Girls Club, located at 705 1st Street, in Sultan.
These photos from the city’s archives show the devastation of the fire.