- About Us
Redmond author's new book highlights Olympic gold medalists from the Northwest | SLIDESHOW
After Judy Willman began reading one of Daniel James Brown's books to her father, Joseph Rantz expressed his desire to meet the narrative non-fiction author.
Rantz was living with his daughter just west of the Redmond Watershed Preserve — the same area where Brown lives — and was able to meet the writer before he (Rantz) died in September 2007. After the two men met and got to talking, Brown soon learned that the older man was a member of the 1936 University of Washington crew team that went on to compete and win the gold medal at that year's Olympic Games in Berlin. Those conversations eventually turned into "The Boys in the Boat," Brown's latest book, which tells Rantz's story of growing up during the Great Depression and how he along with eight other young men from western Washington came together to win a gold medal at the Olympics in front of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany despite a number of challenges they faced leading up to the race as well as the race itself.
"It was just a tremendous race," Brown said.
While Olympians of the current age achieve great celebrity, Willman said it wasn't until her later years in grade school in the 1950s that it dawned on her what her father and his teammates had achieved.
"They didn't make a big deal. They were very humble," she said. "All these guys were very low-key about being gold medalists."
Willman added that they were very proud of their amateur status. Each of the nine men had struggled to stay afloat while at school during the Great Depression, but she said they refused to have their picture taken for the Wheaties cereal box as U.S. Olympic champions typically do — along with the money they would have received from it.
While the team was modest and humble about their achievements, Willman said the group remained close throughout the years. She remembers growing up going on picnics as a family and spending time with her father's teammates' families. Willman said Rantz and the rest of the crew team got together, just the nine of them, a couple of times a year, as well.
Brown said once the team qualified for the Olympics, they also had to figure out a way to pay for the trip. He said they called people back home in Seattle to explain the situation. Almost immediately, Seattlelites took to the streets, standing on the corner with cups in their hands, asking for money and going door to door doing the same thing. Bigger Seattle companies also pitched in on the effort and within 48 hours, Brown said they had raised $5,000.
"It was really the people of Seattle that sent (the team) to Berlin," he said.
For Willman, learning her father was an Olympic gold medalist did nothing to change how she saw him. There were so many admirable things about Rantz, she said.
Once his rowing days were done, Rantz became a chemical engineer for Boeing. But Willman said her father loved to teach — from powder puff mechanics in which girls learned how to take care of their cars or simply how to make applesauce, it didn't matter what the subject was.
"He was someone who was hard not to idolize, irrespective of a gold medal," she said.
Although she is one of five children, Willman said neither she nor her four siblings had the desire to start rowing in their father's footsteps.
"Our passions were elsewhere," said Willman, whose personal passion is horses.
However, the rowing gene seems to skip generations because Willman said her daughter took up rowing after her son (Willman's grandson) began doing so "under protest."
"She loved it," Willman said about her daughter's recently discovered passion for rowing.