Puyallup rower among those who won gold in Berlin

Puyallup Historical SocietyMarch 19, 2014 

It’s always interesting to learn a little local history from an unlikely source.

A friend recently loaned me the popular book “The Boys in the Boat” (Brown, Viking, 2013). It is a well-written story about eight young men from the University of Washington who, against all odds, won the gold medal for rowing in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Germany.

To my happy surprise, one of the young men, George Elwood Hunt Jr., hailed from Puyallup.

Nicknamed “Shorty” because he was 6-feet-5, Hunt graduated from Puyallup High School when he was 16 and went to UW to study engineering.

Each of the rowing team members had to acquire $500 to pay for each year’s schooling and to dedicate themselves to the sport.

The author gives a lot of credit to the UW coaches and to a British-born boat builder. But the team’s victories — wresting the right to compete in the Olympics from traditional East Coast rowing powers, quickly raising the money to go to Berlin, and winning — were equally a testament to the team’s fortitude and prowess.

The Puyallup Press, from June 26 to Sept. 25, carried the news of the events.

On June 26, a page-one story printed a newsy letter home from Hunt, written while the students were racing in New York to make the Olympic team.

On Aug. 7, the page-one story announced that Mrs. Gertrude Stelling Wilhelmson had finished eighth in the Olympic javelin throw (she also was a local girl), and that the big rowing race was to be held on Aug. 12.

On Aug. 21, the paper reported on page eight that Hunt had won a gold medal, was vacationing briefly in Europe, and that he had one more year of school to finish his degree. The story added that Hunt had never rowed in a losing boat during his collegiate, intercollegiate or international career.

On Aug. 24, the Press printed a letter Hunt had written to his parents on the morning of the big race, confessing to pre-race jitters.

On Sept. 4, the front page conveyed the news that New York City would honor the entire U.S. Olympic contingent.

Finally, on Sept. 25, Puyallup honored its two Olympic athletes at the annual fair.

George Hunt finished his degree, worked in construction, served in the Seabees during WWII and later founded a respected construction firm. He died in 1999 at age 83 in Issaquah.

The Puyallup Library has several copies of “The Boys in the Boat.” All were checked out at the time of this writing.

Andy Anderson is a historian for the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion. He can be reached through the Mansion at 253-848-1770.

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