Friday, December 23, 2005

Sleepless in Seattle with BT

One man's gift to the city for more than a decade
Volunteers make tradition out of luminarias

Friday, December 16, 2005


Even with a full moon, it was pitch black outside.

But Brogan Thomsen is hard to miss.

Nicolas Ringgold, 5, helps Brogan Thomsen light luminarias at the South Ferdinand Street boat ramp on Lake Washington as the Christmas ships pass in the background.

About this time every year, you'll hear him before you see him.

He's the guy yelling, "Woo-hoo! Luminaria! Lighting at 6!" at the top of his lungs.

Wearing a worn fireman's jacket and a Santa hat Thursday night, he whirled up and down Lake Washington Boulevard South in a beat-up blue van, its doors hanging open. Volunteers ran alongside it and grabbed thousands of white paper sacks filled with sand and votive candles, setting them along the path bordering the lake. They were in a hurry, beating the cold by rushing to beat the Christmas ships before they passed this part of Seward Park.

Soon, the sky was lit not only by the moon, but also by nearly 2,000 flames flickering inside the sacks.

So went another year of a homegrown Seattle tradition, luminarias at Seward Park, an annual gift from a guy who liked how the path lit up the way to the Christmas ships.

"I thought the city did it! I've seen it every year and I thought, what a good city to live in! Now, I think, what a great city to live in with people like this," said Sandra Kurjiaka, a Capitol Hill resident who had come down to see the Christmas ships with friends of Thomsen's and gotten drafted to help out. "I had no idea it was regular people and an individual loving the world!"

Thomsen, 55, a local general contractor and volunteer with the deaf/blind community, started the tradition in 1991 after being inspired by the luminarias at Green Lake. But he thought it was getting a little too crowded there, so he checked out other venues where he could provide an extra add-on of the holiday spirit.

At first, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department balked at helping him. He couldn't pull it together in five days, they said. Thomsen said he could.

Thomsen, who said he's tenacious when it comes to cutting through bureaucratic red tape, got through and put out 600 bags -- almost a mile long.

The parks department now helps clean up and provides sand, but Thomsen hopes the event will be more official in the future.

It's a ragtag operation that's cost Thomsen about $4,000 over the years on votive candles, No. 8 paper sacks, cigarette lighters and the sand that keeps the luminaria from floating away on the wind. Sometimes the lighters don't work and they improvise, using blowtorches or larger, long-handled lighters. Volunteers keep warm by sneaking a snack of boiled potatoes dipped in curry mayo or hot apple cider Thomsen keeps on a camp burner nearby.

This year, Thomsen and volunteers -- some he'd met through Thumbs Up! years ago when they painted over graffiti -- laid out nearly 2,000 of the bags along the path from the South Ferdinand Street boat ramp to 50th Avenue South. About a dozen volunteers showed up, including newcomers Alex Blanton and his wife, Jenna White. They saw Thomsen's flier at the Seward Park PCC Market and linked it to the lights that had enchanted them the year before. This time, they wanted to help.

Blanton dropped off the bags while White set them up in a process relatively unchanged over the years: unfold, load with a can's worth of sand, insert candle.

As she's done in previous years, Gretchen Thomsen, 79 -- Brogan's mom -- held down the fort, loading bags into one of several vehicles and guiding volunteers who streamed through.

Marcia High met the younger Thomsen working on a job at Kubota Garden and got hooked after helping out last year.

"I had so much fun last year, I couldn't wait to do it again this year," she said.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

December 2005 Letter

To the Great Class of 1969:

News from the Academy

Nature dropped a foot of snow on the campus last Friday, giving everyone a preview of what winters in western Massachusetts are like. You can still get a sense for how it looks by going to the Campus Cam on top of the Main School Building.

The Deerfield Debating Team gave the new Head of School a taste for what she’s getting into last Sunday when 18 students traveled to Andover and finished first among eight schools in the competition. When I reminded Tom O’Gara, co-captain of the Debating Team our senior year, that the team had been undefeated in 1969, he deadpanned “Undefeated meant we beat the local grade school, etc.” Whether or not that’s true, it’s probably no coincidence that the rest of our orators all went on to law school: Bill Bowman, Zech Chafee, David Colker, Neil Jacobs and Alan Jolis.

The Theater Department has settled on Our Town for the winter production and finalized the cast. The only thing they might need now is an impresario like Christopher Beach or (see below) Rusty Young.

Class Trivia

A number of classmates correctly guessed the name of the Mystery Classmate last month although most mangled the spelling of the name: it’s Z-e-c-h C-h-a-f-e-e for those with a spelling block. Strangely, one classmate identified Zech, not by his facial features, but by his posture. In any case, Zech was speaking at the Bath Shipbuilding Yard at a ceremony celebrating the christening of the U.S.S. Chafee in honor of his father, a past Secretary of the Navy. Among those who correctly identified Zech were Rob Almy, Steve Bisbee, Michael Buerger, David Chittim and John Lacey. Jim Lunt, who also guessed correctly, remembered sitting in the same pew with Zech each Sunday and being the only ones asked not to sing. He also asked facetiously whether Lunt Silversmiths had agreed to supply the prize for correctly answering the photo trivia question which, on further thought, seems like it might be a good idea for future contests.

For this month I selected a picture of a classmate who lived to tell of his leap into the Grand Canyon. Can anyone identify this intrepid soul who is the founder and owner of a construction company called, appropriately, Flying Gorilla Circus?

As is often the case with the verbal portions of the quiz, there were fewer who volunteered answers, in this instance, as to how many of our classmates had ventured into the field of education. For the curious at heart, here is my list: Barry Ahearn, Pitch Allen, Michael Buerger, Brian Connery, Ed Cooke, John Davison, Tom Ehrgood, Steve Esthimer, Drew Gibson, Tommy Gregory, Frank Henry, Dan McNulty, Jack Spitznagel, David Suitor, Larry Theuer and Jere Urban. Please let me know if you think I’ve missed anyone.

In one of my past e-mails listing captains of industry I neglected to include Frank Underwood who, since 1982, has been President of Underwood Engineers, Inc. with offices in Portsmouth and Concord, New Hampshire. I also omitted to mention in my list of attorneys that Tom Ehrgood had worked in private practice and as a corporate lawyer before becoming head of 50th reunion year giving at Amherst, his alma mater.

A group which included Doug Arnstein, John Davies, Larry Gottlieb, Mark Hall, Jim Lunt and Todd Stone all ventured to Redbank, NJ last June where Rusty Young, until recently the Vice Chairman of The Count Basie Theatre, had organized a sold-out benefit concert featuring The Fab Faux, a Beatles tribute band.

Annual Support

John Kjorlien joined me at the Cornell Club for the NYC Phonathon on November 16th, and we gathered a few pledges in the course of catching up with some classmates. As those of you know who contributed last year, we are off to a fine start and currently rank third among the classes of the ‘60’s. If the rest of December is true to form, we will close the calendar year ahead of where we were last year, our record-setting year in terms of participation. We have picked up two new contributors so far, and I have hopes that we will add to that list as the fiscal year progresses. If you’d like to support a good cause and get another deduction before year-end, here’s the link for Online Annual Support Giving.

School lets out for Winter Break today, which probably couldn’t come soon enough.

Best wishes to all for the Holiday Season and for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2006. Please send your news and photos to