Ocean waves in the purple-blue dawn of morning
dance under a rained-out sky,
stretching from the West Coast toward infinity
Waves roll and rise, the deep strings of nature’s orchestra hum,
and come together, reunited
(two hands of the conductor, old friends)
I see you in those waves and,
as they recede, together, the sea is contented
and in balance
and the music softens
And is left humming in the heart
— grandson Ian Keusink
Polly Doris Welles Keusink, a 57-year resident of Brookings and former co-owner of the Curry Coastal Pilot, died early Friday morning at her home — the Pilot House — at the age of 88.
Keusink was born March 30, 1930, in Thiensville, Wisconsin, and moved to California with her family in 1946.
The family was by her side late Thursday night, playing one of her favorite songs, “The Sound of Silence” and others from the 1940s and 1950s.
Polly met her husband, Dick — he died in August 2015 at age 92 — when he came to her house to take her older sister to a basketball game. Polly’s mother, however, needed the older daughter to type some manuscripts, so Dick took 17-year-old Polly instead.
It was fate.
She said she was freezing in the cold arena, and he took her hands and placed them in his pocket; that was the beginning of a shared lifetime. That November, they announced their engagement and were married Dec. 27, 1948, in BelAire, California, honeymooning in Carmel.
Dick, who was writing sports for the Redwood City Tribune, often needed an assistant to cover conflicting games and hired Polly — who admitted she didn’t know a thing about sports.
While he was serving in Korea, Polly attended Stanford University, graduating with a journalism degree — but not before getting pregnant in her final year of school with the couple’s first child, Chris, and they learned the military was recalling Dick to serve in Korea.
“When I knew he was going I got pregnant on purpose to make sure I had something of him left if he didn’t come back,” she said in a 2013 Curry Coastal Pilot article. Stanford officials, however, called her pregnancy a disease she’d contracted as a registered student, she said, and paid all her medical bills.
“They wouldn’t let me walk across the stage, and they had an ambulance standing by,” she recalled. The couple later had daughters Kate Davies of Brookings, and Ellen Babin, of Ashland and Brookings.
Polly was working at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook when Dick returned from service and joined her. The two always had a dream to own a country weekly newspaper, he said.
The couple came to Brookings on vacation in 1961, and visited the Brookings-Harbor Pilot, where the owner offered them jobs. But they wanted to own a paper.
The following year, he called and said he was ready to sell.
The Keusinks called a real estate agent at midnight, sold their house for cash that Monday, drove to Brookings and had a paper out by Thursday, relocating to the remote town of 1,800 people.
The Brookings-Harbor Pilot, started in 1942 under the auspices of Dewey Akers and Dave Holman, was designed with the “welfare, betterment and development” of the area in mind.
The Keusinks were determined to continue to make it a reputable news source for readers.
It wasn’t an easy start, Dick said in 2013, with arguments flying as fast as the press.
“People thought we were killing each other,” Polly said.
In spite — or perhaps because of their dedication to the paper and each other — they survived it all, owning the paper for the next 19 years, when they sold it to the current owners, Western Communications.
They shared the building with a physician who sometimes doubled as a veterinarian, the couple recalled in a 50th edition of the Pilot in 1996.
They started out with 5.5 employees, including the Keusinks as reporters, an “advertising layout girl,” a pressman and a part-time typesetter, all putting out 12-page Thursday newspapers.
“Twelve pages was a big press run,” Dick said in 1996. “It meant running the pages through the press and turning them around and running them back through again. Then we had to take each paper and force it through a machine to get them gathered correctly.”
The old English Crabtree-Ellis press often broke, and it was Polly who jumped in to tinker on it.
“She was the mechanics behind the paper — the backbone of the operation,” said Tim Hartzel, her daughter, Kate’s, partner. “The print would get jammed and Polly would know how to fix it. She was a mechanic.”
The couple saw the newspapers through the changing technology. An old Linotype hot lead machine sat in the corner reminding them of the good old days, while they churned away on their offset-type press — the first in the state.
“The town was smaller, and residents were closer to activities,” Dick recalled. “If there was a misspelled word or someone’s name was left out of a story, we heard about it right away.”
Their workweeks were often 90-hour stints, with Polly covering the school board and whatever else came across the transom. She became the board’s unofficial historian.
They grew the newspaper, updating equipment into the computer age and adding reporters, interns and other staff.
“I’ll never forget the look on Polly’s face when she asked me why I would like to work for the Pilot, and I naively answered, ‘I’d like to write editorials,’” said Judy Zelmer Smith, who went on to become publisher. “Polly pointed out, rather firmly, that she and Dick were the only ones who wrote the editorials.”
Polly had that droll humor about her; knew where to draw boundaries.
And she was dedicated.
Polly broke her ankle covering a story in the 1970s and had a hospital bed brought to the office where she stayed day and night until she was healed.
Throughout their 43 years here, the two were instrumental in recording the goings-on of the growing community, and involved in numerous organizations and events. Some of them included the Seacrest Bonsai Club, the Pelican Bay Radio Club, the annual Chetco River Checkup and the Azalea Festival, at which they served as the Grand Marshals of the parade in 2006.
“They were a team for 60-plus years,” Hartzell said. “Great lady. Great lady.”
She loved throwing parties — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter at Jedediah State Park — was also involved in the local League of Women Voters for years.
“She really got into our big Scrabble tournament — she loved Scrabble,” said Lucie LaBonté, a longtime friend. “She was a great writer, and she put up with Dick and really loved him. She was a very, very bright lady.”
Polly enjoyed regaling birthday, barbecue and holiday party guests with stories of her days at the paper.
She and Dick covered the regular beats — police, fire, town hall — and the oddities, such as the woman who got her breast stuck in the wringer washer and had to have rescue personnel help her. Or the story garnered by a reporter who interviewed a doctor the only time he could meet — during a vasectomy surgery.
Some of the first stories in their tenure included a fire at the Thompson mill, the visit of Nobuo Fujita — the Japanese pilot who tried to start the United States on fire in Curry County during World War II — and a storm that caused two deaths and $200,000 in damage in 1962.
Nothing was printed until both agreed on the perfect wording, Ellen recalled.
Others included major storms and floods, deaths of lifetime residents and military men, forest fires, the spotted owl and the slump of the logging industry, federal recognition of the port, construction of the Chetco Bridge — and the first of many proposals to build a hospital in town and merge the Brookings and Harbor communities.
One of Polly’s favorites was when she was part of a group of parents fighting to get a stop light installed for student safety at U.S. 101 and Oak Street by picketing the intersection — Polly said they laid down and blocked traffic, which backed up for miles.
The state highway division eventually conceded, installing Curry County’s first stoplight.
They never missed a publication day in all that time.
Chris’s favorite memory of his mother was the three-week trip island-hopping in the South Pacific after the Keusinks sold the Pilot. It included visits to Fiji, Moorea, Rarotonga, Huahine, American Samoa and Tahiti.
“She was the smartest and most stable person I ever knew,” he said. “My world’s changed.”
Daughter Kate said Polly was an incredible cook, and would spent time together in the kitchen; Polly was famous among friends for her buche de Noel dessert, a recipe family members share to this day.
Ellen’s favorite memories are of the Easter egg hunts the family held with friends in Jedediah State Park.
“Her encouragement to explore the world,” Ellen said. “And she loved all animals — and the smell of skunk.”
“Leading a dull life wasn’t part of our job descriptions,” Dick said. “Leading a full one was. We’ve achieved the latter.”