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Inland Northwest Edition

March – April 2013 ®

The Sammy Grashio Victory Course, Dedicated November 1942

KDRK’s Gary Owsley, Nearly Famous A Tribute to Spokane’s Bruce Davis Fashion With A Past

From the Editor Dear Readers,


hat do you love most about Nostalgia Magazine? What kinds of stories would you like to see? What specific stories have touched you the most? Has a story ever inspired you to learn more about someone’s history? We would love to hear from you! Please send us your feedback to, and we’ll not only return your email, we’ll consider it for publication in our letters to the editor section. We value your feedback, and we want to know more about what you crave to read. We’re also happy to help follow up on questions you may have about stories you’ve read. Also, we hope you’ll consider sending us your story and photos for publication. Each new issue features stories from people around the Inland Northwest, and our best stories are often simple accounts of the people, places, and events from the good ol’ days. Sharing your stories will help a new generation learn about the special things you care about, and the relationships that have made us who we are today. We hope to hear from you soon! Until then, we hope you enjoy reading this issue. We’ve certainly enjoyed gathering these stories together! And as always, we thank you for your continued support. Without you, there would be no Nostalgia Magazine. Washington Contractor #ACCESHC876B4 Gratefully, Garrin

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To the Editor Reader Feedback and Questions

January 16, 2013 Dear Ms. Millsap, [Treasures & Memories Columnist] The post card reproduction of ice skaters on Manito pond caught my attention in the current Nostalgia magazine. In the early 1940s winters of my youth my friends and I skated there often circling the mid-pond island and enjoying the roaring open fire provided by the Spokane Parks service. My great Aunt Hannah was a retired furrier seamstress and sewed a pair of fur (on the outside) mittens for me to wear while skating there. They disappeared sometime in my later teen years. I suspect I gifted them to some admiring ice skating lady friend. Thanks for reviving the memory. Bill

March – April 2013 • Vol. 15, Number 2

6 11 16 22 28 36 39 42 46 48

Carl Maxey: Civil Rights Champion Gary Owsley: Nearly Famous The Sammy Grashio Victory Course Fashion with a Past A Special Tribute to Spokane’s Bruce Davis Paul McGowan’s Grandmother Clock History of the Policeman’s Ball When Music Came to the Prairie Treasures & Memories Yesterday’s Kitchen

Co-Publisher/Designer.............................Garrin Hertel Publishing Consultant...................................Byron King Story Contributors...............Jerrelene Williamson, Sean Owsley, Stephanie Plowman, Jenny Stabile, Heather Evans, Kyle Pugh, Darryl Dickey, Spokane Police Dept History Book Committee, Paul Graupner Cheryl-Anne Milsap

“Dear Old Nat... Spokane’s Playground.” published by Nostalgia Magazine, is available for $19.95. This 144 page book is loaded with photos from the park along with the complete history, beginning in 1889. You can order your copy online at or on Facebook at or call (509) 443-3678

Nostalgia Magazine (ISSN 1532-4869) is published bi-monthly, 6 times per year. P.O. Box 8466, Spokane, WA 99203. Annual subscription price is $19.95. Periodical Postage paid at Spokane, Washington. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Nostalgia Magazine, P.O. Box 8466, Spokane, WA 99203. © 2013 Contents of this publication are copyrighted and may not be reprinted without permission. Send Inquiries and Stories to: P.O. Box 8466, Spokane, Washington 99203 Phone: (509) 443-3678

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Jerrelene Williamson is the author of “African Americans in Spokane” Jerrelene Williamson’s father was born in Spokane in 1899, where her family has resided ever since. Williamson is a founding member of the Spokane Northwest Black Pioneers, established in 1989. The photographs in this book are from the collections of the Spokane Northwest Black Pioneers, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, and pioneer photographer Wallace (Wally) Hagin. Available at all major bookstores, online, and at Auntie’s Books in Spokane, WA.

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Gary Owsley: Nearly Famous by


Sean Owsley

or more than three decades if you adjusted the coarse lined knob on your radio dial in Spokane, it’s highly probable you heard the baritone voice of Gary Owsley, or the “Nearly Famous Gary Charles.” At KZUN, KDRK, and KAQQ, among a number of others, his passion for combining music and personality, endeared him to listeners throughout the region. For most of the 1980s, “Gary C.” was one of the top rated disc jockeys in town on KDRK. It’s almost serendipitous that he ended up earning a living surrounded by great musicians and music. Why? Because in his youth, through the byways near Bourbon Street and the small smoke filled folk music houses of Frankfurt Germany, Gary was on a path to be one of those performers. Black and white snapshots of Gary, my dad, sit squarely in my memory to this day with vivid images of greased, thick, wavy, jet-black hair, usually cut in a flat top. I often visualize him sitting on a cracked concrete porch at 559 East Garland in North Spokane, clutching an acoustic guitar in mid-song. Some people labor to learn the guitar, but not him. He had a natural ability for music that seemed more like it was gifted than learned.

Left to right, circa 1958: Don Phillips, Bill Watson, Kyle Pugh, and Gary Owsley. Photo courtesy of Kyle Pugh.

I can still recall the stories that his mom, my Grandma “Cookie,” would tell: “Your dad would always be performing at Rogers High School back in the mid ‘50s. Night after night the phone would ring at the Owsley house.” And in that raspy tone only Cookie could conjure, she would say, “It would be a different girl always asking the same question, ‘Is Gary home? Is Gary Home?’” Gary loved music, but specifically folk music. Sure, he liked early rock n’ roll. I remember him telling me about hearing a strange new sound playing on the jukebox and he thought to himself, “That’s a weird name for a new singer. ‘Elmo Paisley?’” Which turned out to be, of course, a young singer from Tupelo, by the name of Elvis Presley. His favorites all focused on the folk sound. Some of his favorites included Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, The Brothers Four, and The Limelighters. It was a sound that captured his imagination and took March-April 2013 B Nostalgia Magazine B 11

“The Willow Three.� Left to right, circa 1962: Gary Owsley, Pamela McGuire, and Cary Clark. Photo courtesy of Sean Owsley.

him on a musical and life journey. For years, performing in drama class at Rogers, Dad honed his folk fabric. In doing so, he perfected his pitch, and learned a number of folk guitar picking techniques. A Pete Seeger three finger pick became his signature style, and it would serve him well. He was self taught on the guitar and banjo. He could also play 12 string guitar and harmonica. 12 B Nostalgia Magazine B March-April 2013

In the late 50s at Eastern Washington State College, he would regularly sing with friends. It was about the music, always the music. Sometime around 1960, back at the small house on East Garland, where he lived with younger sisters Paula and Jill, he had a dream tryout. With sister Jill sitting on the steps leading to the basement eavesdropping on her big brother, he tried out for a

“The Greenwood Singers.” Left to right, circa 1963: John Soule, Eileen Soule, and Gary Owsley take in Frankfurt Germany. Photo courtesy of Sean Owsley.

group that enjoyed major success, The Chad Mitchell Trio. As the story goes his voice mirrored Chad Mitchell’s too closely, not that it wasn’t good enough, just too close to the group’s namesake. In 1960, he was in a group called the Trinideers with Ed Barnhart and Ron Jones. In 1962, his best success yet came with a group called “The Willow Three.” They had great vocal blend. The group included Gary, his best friend from school Cary Clark, and Pamela McGuire. They cut a record that would include one of my dad’s favorite songs called “Lonesome Traveler.” The Willow Three basked in the ambiance of Bourbon

Street in New Orleans, playing several live gigs. He would always tell me, “In New Orleans you’d take a shower in the morning, and then walk out onto the street and need another shower.” The humidity was suffocating. But the vocal harmonies of The Willow Three were a breath of fresh air, a new level. But years chasing the musical dream had taken a financial toll. From New Orleans they had another gig in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was there, broke, and no way to keep going because of financial restraints, Cookie sent dad money via Western Union so he could get back home to Spokane. After years trying to land that one big break, dad March-April 2013 B Nostalgia Magazine B 13

returned home and joined the army. It would lead to new musical paths, endeavors, and result in a life changing time. In 1963, Gary formed the Greenwood Singers with John and Eileen Soule. The group performed in Frankfurt, Germany for the troops. A busy schedule, but he was serving two things, his country and his musical soul. He would also teach guitar and banjo. When giving guitar lessons to a man named Danny Becker, the son of the American Consulate at the time, he met my mother, Erika Schmidt, who was born and raised in Neustadt, Germany, which is located near Hamburg. A short time later, they married. With my brother Pete, they returned to Spokane in 1965. My brother Kevin was born in 1966. My dad, now with a wife, two boys, and a third on the way in 1970, decided to pursue local work outside of music. Some lean years working different jobs like selling Muzak, working at Kershaws, Pacific Trail before ultimately finding his niche in radio. With his wife Noralee by his side he would excel behind the microphone in a different capacity for three decades. Finally he stepped away from the microphone for good and retired in 2002. Gary was always a singer, always a

Proud to be Part of the Greater Spokane Area for over 50 Years.

musician, and always an entertainer at heart. To this day, when I hear an acoustic guitar, a banjo, or the harmonica, it is a clarion call to my childhood. I often think of him and his innate gift for music, which is a gift that still lives on. I still own the guitar we bought together at the old Sound Hole that used to sit across from the Davenport Hotel. It is the same guitar I used to take instruction from him, a natural who never needed instruction. The three finger pick technique, if I play it today, echoes his spirit. If I close my eyes tight enough and play, I can still imagine the jet-black-haired teen plucking bronze guitar strings on a Spokane porch on East Garland or the threepart harmony echoing through the streets of a jazz fueled New Orleans. I can also hear the soldier lifting the spirits of troops overseas with song. It was a long time ago and a different era. The music is essential to his legacy. His was a life fulfilled by music. He was known in popular circles as “The Nearly Famous Gary Charles.” But, somehow that title doesn’t seem “nearly” enough for my dad whose love of music was larger than life. It was a gift I’m thankful he shared. d


Transmission Service Special

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(509) 534-7236 1517 E. Sprague Ave., Spokane

Gary Owsley Playing the old Viking that was on the site of the now defunct 619 on S. Washington in Spokane, late 1960’s. Photo courtesy of Sean Owsley.

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SAMPLE STORY: Gary Owsley - Nearly Famous  

March - April 2013, Inland Northwest Edition, Nostalgia Magazine, "Gary Owsley: Nearly Famous" by Sean Owsley

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