The essential man about town

"Quick: Name three things you find delightful about Bainbridge Island.Did local parks make your list? The library? The Scotch Broom Parade, or the whimsical Dixieland Band at the Grand Old Fourth celebration? Or maybe the observatory at Battle Point Park?Anyone who answered yes to any of the foregoing owes thanks to John Rudolph. And for his myriad contributions to island life, as well as for his distinguished architectural career, the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce has named Rudolph its Business Person of the Year for 2000.He, more than any other person I can think of, has brought fun and delight to Bainbridge Island, said island chiropractor Mari Ellingsen. Longtime Rudolph cohort Mac Gardiner said, He has made island life more fun than it has any business being. Rudolph's resume of good deeds - both light-hearted and serious - makes it hard to argue with those assessments. Consider the following partial tally of Rudolph's contributions to the texture of island life:l Dreamer-upper and original organizer of the totally unplanned Scotch Broom Parade - which, rumor has it, will occur this morning in downtown Winslow at 9:30 a.m., starting in the vicinity of Winlsow Green;l Founder of the Highly Vigorous Revolutionary Dixieland Band that appears in the annual Fourth of July parade, and trombonist, bagpiper and accordionist;l Inspiration behind, fund-raiser for, and original designer of, the Bainbridge Island Library;l Long-time Kiwanian credited - falsely, he claims - with the club's most famous fund-raiser, the Cow Pie Lottery;l Designer of the Winslow post office, the High School Road branch of American Marine Bank, the Solar Marine Building next to the police station, and the Island Homestead apartments;l Designer of Battle Point and Strawberry Hill parks, and;l Designer, builder, tour director and guiding spirit of the Ritchie Observatory at Battle Point Park.To many of those who nominated Rudolph, the Scotch Broom Festival is his crowning accomplishment.As local historian Gerald Elfendahl tells the story, the new city of Winslow, which incorporated in 1947, was besieged by questionnaires from state agencies in the early 1950s. Rudolph fished one such inquiry out of a wastebasket, and soberly informed the state's tourist and convention bureau that Winslow did indeed have an annual festival - celebrating Scotch broom, the ubiquitous local yellow weed. Not realizing that Rudolph could just as well have listed the dandelion or the stinging nettle as a festival theme, the bureaucrat duly recorded and published the information.I thought that if Portland (Ore.) had its Rose Festival, Winslow needed something, Rudolph recalled. We actually made it the 'second annual,' to sound more authentic. And after we sent it in, the state put us on its roster of special events.What then?Well, we certainly didn't want to let down all of the people who would be coming from Wisconsin and Iowa and places like that, Rudolph deadpanned. So we had a festival.John hastily assembled the first spontaneous non-event festivities with the help of anyone he could find, Elfendahl wrote in support of Rudolph. The first person he grabbed off the street became queen for the 'parade,' regardless of sex. Everyone stuffed broom into their clothing or vehicles, and, of course, Kiwanians challenged Rotarians to a mid-parade, mid-Winslow Way tiddly-winks tournament.Rudolph's arrival on Bainbridge was as spontaneous as his other inspirations. After his World War II naval service, six years studying architecture at Princeton University and a stint in a Pennsylvania architectural firm, Rudolph and his wife decided to come west in 1954.Seattle caught my eye as a place to work, so we decided to come. We looked at the map, and saw that the closest campground to Seattle was at Fay Bainbridge park, so we came over to camp, Rudolph said. I've never lived anywhere else since.Rudolph worked with a Seattle firm for a time, then in 1959 opened his own office on Bainbridge.All I knew about business is that if the line representing profit goes up, it's good, and if it goes down, it's bad, Rudolph said. But I was getting my own work by then, so it was either work for somebody else or for myself.His first major civic involvement started at about that time. It occurred to me that Bainbridge needed a library, and I got interested in it, Rudolph said. So he led the effort to raise the necessary money, then designed the building in what he calls a Northwest style, using lots of wood and plenty of glass to let light in, and incorporating the reality of rainfall.I wanted to make an event out of falling water, he said of the original design, which featured downspouts splashing into ponds. In the early 1970s, Rudolph founded the island's original youth job bank. I knew kids who wanted to work, and I knew that people needed to have jobs done. The problem was putting them together. He envisioned a simple information exchange, where people who had jobs would leave a request, and where youths seeking work could call for a referral. I talked to Jonnie Thorley, the Chamber of Commerce secretary, and she said 'I'll set it up,' Rudolph said. The program continues under the direction of Youth Services. Perhaps Rudolph's grandest accomplishment is Battle Point Park. He was part of a group of islanders who convinced the Navy in 1971 to turn the 90-acre surplus site over to the park district. And having already designed Strawberry Hill Park, he did much of the design for the new site.The sturdy radio transmitter building in the middle of the park was unused for a number of years until Rudolph conceived of turning it into an observatory in 1994.The park district said OK, not having any idea how it could be done, Rudolph said. He went to work with Ed Ritchie, a skilled machinist who had built telescopes, and Mac Gardiner, a Boeing retiree.After thousands of hours of volunteer work and many contributions - Rudolph particularly cites the contributions from the Rotary Club and the Hodges family - the observatory, named for Ritchie, finally had its grand opening on the winter solstice in 1996.Rudolph is looking forward to the Fourth of July parade, where, as usual, he intends to perform with the Intensely Vigorous, Revolutionary, Volunteer Dixieland Band. I play third trombone, Rudolph said, but sometimes the first two don't show up.The fact that the Business Person of the Year is the parade's grand marshall presents a problem, but not an insurmountable one. The band is usually toward the end, and the grand marshal leads off. So after the lead car finishes at the end of Winslow Way, I think I'll have time to get back up to the starting line to play in the band.The Chamber of Commerce will honor Rudolph and posthumous honorees Pauline Deschamps and Lou Goller at its May 18 lunch at Wing Point Country Club. The public is welcome, but reservations are required at 842-3700.The honor puts Rudolph in a rare serious mood.When all of the laughter is over and I finish making fun of myself, I'm really very deeply touched that so many people would take the time to say they think well of me, he said."

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