by MARTIN TAYLOR
Special to the Sounder
Orcas Island Rowing is naming their new coxless quad rowing shell after renowned Orcas rower Al Ulbrickson Jr.
Al rowed with the University of Washington crew team until he graduated in 1952. He went on to row in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki where his UW crew took the bronze medal in the coxed four. His father, also named Al Ulbrickson, was a legendary UW rowing coach. He led the team for 30 years, retiring in 1959 after establishing UW as one of the premier college rowing teams in the United States.
Al’s family has had a cabin on Orcas since 1939. He and his wife Monica moved to Orcas full time in the mid 1990s. Al died of cancer on July 6 of last year at the age of 81. His daughter Rinda Ulbrickson described her father as a humble, caring figure who had a natural curiosity about the people he met. She said he would always take the time to talk to anybody and offer words of encouragement.
“He was one of those guys who, as you talked to him, you just felt better,” said his son, Alvin Ulbrickson III. “He could meet people, and they knew that he took a genuine interest in what they were saying.”
After retiring from the university, Al and Monica moved to Orcas Island. He always remained a supporter of the UW rowing teams. His son said his dad would call for real-time updates as the Huskies rowers raced. Both Al Jr. and his father were inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame.
“That family was very formative and pivotal in shaping not only the athletic department and the rowing program but the university in general,” said Bob Ernst, the UW director of rowing.
In the last few years of his life, Al got to know the Orcas junior rowing team. He was very supportive and he was proud to be invited to address the club at their annual dinner in 2010. The club was very saddened to hear of his death last year. The new quad that will bear his name is a great opportunity to keep his spirit alive at the Orcas boathouse.
There are many ties to the world of rowing within the Orcas community and maybe it is not surprising that such a small island should support a thriving rowing club. One of the club’s current rowers Jake Zier has been honored by being recruited to the UW rowing team. And to take the web full circle Jake’s great uncle Bobby Lee coxed with Al Ulbrickson at UW. Bobby was a part of the powerhouse crew from 1948 to ‘50 and he just missed being a part of the 1952 Olympic crew.
The rules of junior rowing in the Northwest changed this year so junior varsity rowers must row without a coxswain. That is why Orcas urgently needs the new rowing shell. The current team is very strong and has a good chance of multiple crews performing well enough at regionals to go on to nationals.
OIR is still working to raise funds to purchase the new boat. They ordered the boat in time for it to be used by the current juniors, assuming they will be able to complete funding under pressure. If not, then the annual dinner at Orcas Center on Saturday, May 4 will be pivotal in completing financing for the boat. For more info, email martin@OrcasIslandRowing.org or call 376-6935.
The Seattle Times obituary by staff reporter Javier Panzar was used as a source for this story.