Memorial bench goes missing for Friend of Fort Worden

Posted 11/2/22

While the THING festival brought a lot to the community of Port Townsend, once the stages were carted off something was missing: A memorial bench dedicated to David and Renee Sepler, two longtime …

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Memorial bench goes missing for Friend of Fort Worden

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While the THING festival brought a lot to the community of Port Townsend, once the stages were carted off something was missing: A memorial bench dedicated to David and Renee Sepler, two longtime volunteers of the Friends of Fort Worden.

The bench was last seen prior to the THING on a triangular piece of land directly in front of the Wheeler Theater.

“Who takes a memorial bench?” asked Rick Sepler, the son of David and Renee.

Since noticing it has gone missing, Sepler and his wife Mary have hunted high and low in search of their family’s memorial.

“I spoke with just about everybody at the fort,” Sepler said. “We went to the basements of just about every building on the campus, looked in almost all the rooms of the campus, and subsequent to that, Mary and I went and looked at the porches on every unit.”

“And then all the woods, thinking someone would have carted it off to the woods. So we’ve spent hours scouring it,” he added.

While it might seem like an easy fix — buy a new bench — Washington State Parks doesn’t prioritize issues of this size.

“Folks are clearly sympathetic, but it’s unlikely a bench is going to be a priority to be replaced,” Sepler said.

The people currently running the Friends of Fort Worden, which Sepler’s father was a part of, have done their best to help.

“They were wonderful. They offered to let us put a plaque that we prepare on a bench they’re replacing. However, it took them, I think, several years to get permission to replace benches, and only benches outside of the campus area because of historic review of state parks, so we could put a plaque somewhere else in the park, but certainly not in the place.”

Much of what made the original memorial so meaningful was its location.

“The bench was perfectly situated to look at the guard house in memory of all the time David spent there supporting the fort and welcoming camp hosts and visitors,” Mary wrote in a plea for help on the Port Townsend Community Facebook page.

A good portion of that time was spent helping to run the gift shop inside the guard house.

“He was for many years a volunteer manager and in that time that little gift shop raised, I imagine, a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Sepler said.

Those funds were then used to help cover costs that the park couldn’t.

“For example, the manager would come and say, ‘We think we found some original furniture. We’d love to put it in one of the units. It’s $400.’ The Friends would write a check. Or, ‘We want to do new interpretive signage, but the state doesn’t have the funds for that.’ Those are the kinds of things the Friends paid for,” Sepler said.

While his father was still alive, Sepler worked by his side to also host a charity event called the “Fort to Fort Bike Ride.”

“It went from Fort Worden to Fort Flagler and back with a stop at Old Fort Townsend,” Sepler said. “Again, all the proceeds went to fund things at the fort.”

Being such an ardent supporter is a big part of what allowed the Sepler’s to get the memorial in the first place.

“They’re really not inclined to do memorial benches any longer because, to be fair, it’s very hard to discern who you give it to,” Sepler said. “I, at one time, managed the city parks and we would get lots of requests for memorials to go into Chetzemoka. If we granted them all, it would look like a cemetery.”

Still, the reason for this memorial is clear.

“In this case, I think what’s compelling is my dad and mom were volunteers. They worked really hard to contribute to the fort, they put their soul into it after they retired, and I think that’s why we were able to put the plaques up.”

The Seplers have even reached out to Seattle Theatre Group who hosted the THING on the off-chance they accidentally carted it off when packing out, but there was no luck there, either.

“Our best outcome is somebody has seen it somewhere in the fort and we can just restore its location and make sure its permanently anchored,” Sepler said.

If anyone has seen the bench, the Seplers can be reached at mary.sepler@gmail.com.

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