Ask Ben Winkelman what he does, and he’ll tell you, “I do a little bit of everything.”
And he’s right. To the Hoquiam resident, “everything” includes practicing law, operating a small business, serving on the Hoquiam City Council and raising three daughters.
It can be hard to track him down. His days start early, his various commitments take him all over the city and he’s often home late. And weekends are almost as busy — they’re filled with dolls, kids’ sports and beauty pageants.
“Yeah, I’m pretty busy, and it can be tiring,” Ben Winkelman said. “But that’s how I was raised. My family works hard, and I like being part of a community.”
Growing up at Grisdale
The Winkelmans were one of the last families to live at Camp Grisdale, the logging camp owned by the Simpson Lumber Company and located near the Wynooche Dam. They moved to the camp in November of 1978, on Ben Winkelman’s fourth birthday.
At that time, the camp consisted of a dining hall, a schoolhouse, dormitories for the single men and about 30 family homes. There was also a recreation hall with a two-lane bowling alley.
“I remember being paid a soda pop and a candy bar to manually set the pins in the bowling alley,” Ben Winkelman said. “I thought it was great. What better pay can you get?”
The camp closed when Ben Winkelman was in third grade. He remembers workers sawing the buildings in half, putting them on rail cars and hauling them away.
The family moved to Montesano where Winkelman’s father Mario eventually found a job at a photography and video production company. His mother, Gail, started work at Grays Harbor College.
“When I moved to Montesano, I thought it was like downtown New York City,” Winkelman said . “I couldn’t believe all the streets were paved.”
He eventually adjusted to the larger town, but still craves the close knit community of the logging camp.
Building a community in Hoquiam
After growing up at Camp Grisdale, Ben Winkelman was reluctant to move to Hoquiam — to him, it was a large town. Ben Winkelman and his wife, Jennifer Winkelman, had been living on the outskirts of Spokane while he attended Gonzaga University School of Law.
“I remember telling my wife, ‘We can move back to the Harbor, I want to move back to the Harbor as long as we don’t live in Aberdeen or Hoquiam,’” Ben Winkelman said. “I know the reason why I said that was because I’m a small-town guy, I’m still a small-town guy. I wanted to live in a smaller town like Montesano or Elma. Not Aberdeen or Hoquiam, they’re just too big.”
But Jennifer Winkelman had other plans. Her family has a strong connection to Hoquiam. Her father, Roger Jump, was mayor of Hoquiam and the family owns the popular Casa Mia restaurant.
The couple moved to Hoquiam, bought a house and have been there ever since.
“I just decided that Hoquiam is OK, and I can work hard with people here to find that sense of small community that I was missing,” Winkelman said. “I like that today in Hoquiam, when I go somewhere I see people that I know. They’re happy to see me, and I’m happy to see them.”
He’s found that sense of small community through volunteering and serving on the city council. He ran for the position at the urging of his father-in-law.
“I wasn’t particularly interested in being an elected official,” Winkelman said. “But Roger told me I should give it a try, that I would learn a lot. So I decided to run shortly after we moved here.”
He’s in the middle of his second term on the council and served as council president in 2012 and 2013. Over the past few years, he’s has earned the respect of other council members and Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney.
“He pays attention to what is going on with city issues and gives valuable opinions at meetings,” Durney said. “He’s a leader and people listen to him.”
The two live a few blocks apart. And when Ben Winkelman injured his ankle a few years ago, Durney — who owns a ride-on lawnmower — mowed his lawn for about a month.
“I think so highly of him that I mow his lawn on occasion,” Durney joked.
Every once in a while Winkelman will offer an opinion that differs from the majority opinion of the council. In the past year, many of the Hoquiam City Council votes have been unanimous, but two issues have sparked heated discussion in recent months: a recreational marijuana ordinance and renewal of a moratorium for recreational marijuana.
The council has been considering an ordinance regulating marijuana businesses since December. At a Jan. 27 meeting, only Winkelman and Council President Jasmine Dickhoff voted against an amendment to ban all marijuana production, processing and retail within city limits.
Councilman Paul McMillan, who proposed the amendment, said he did so because the substance is still illegal on a federal level. But Winkelman said it’s more important to protect voters’ rights.
“I really had some issues with whether (banning marijuana businesses) was the right thing to do,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with some regulation, because that’s what we’re supposed to do. I understand that it’s a big change, but I don’t think it’s appropriate that we said, ‘Oh, we’re just going to ban it.’ That goes against the initiative process, which is a constitutional right.”
Winkelman also joined Councilwoman Denise Anderson in voting against an extension for a moratorium on recreational marijuana.
He said he’s happy to voice unpopular opinions at council meetings, and he hopes to continue doing so for several years.
“I’ll probably stick around on city council for as long as people like what I’m doing there,” he said. “And probably for a little while after they don’t.”
He said he’d even consider running for mayor some day.
Fortunate practical joke
The Winkelmans have been married for nearly 15 years. They met through a practical joke involving a personal advertisement.
When Ben Winkelman was 18, his three brothers pooled their money and purchased a personal advertisement to run on the local TV channel. At the time, he was single and about to enter veterinary school.
“I don’t remember the whole ad, but it was something along the lines of, ‘Take a bet on this vet, he likes long walks on the beach and animals,’ “ Winkelman said. “It was something silly like that. It would run across the screen in the late hours all the time.”
He didn’t realize that this advertisement had been airing until he received a confirmation letter in the mail. The letter contained the text of the advertisement, and let him know that he could check responses by calling a phone number.
“A couple of days went by and I started thinking, ‘Maybe somebody will respond to this thing,’ “ Winkelman said. “So I called, and sure enough there was a message from this girl named Jenny.”
So Ben Winkelman called her back.
“She answered the phone and she was so embarrassed,” Ben Winkelman said. “This ad was on TV because my brothers had pulled a prank on me. And she had been dared by her coworkers to respond.”
Ben and Jennifer Winkelman ended up talking on the phone for about an hour, and eventually decided to meet up. They started dating, attended the same college and married in 1999.
They now have three daughters: 3-year-old Josie, 7-year-old Maci and Ellie, who is about to turn 10. The girls have transformed Winkelman into a pageant dad. He claims that he can braid hair, apply makeup and do a manicure.
He even takes his daughters to pageant events, classes and rehearsals. Sometimes Ben Winkelan’s brother, who is raising boys, makes fun of him for embracing girly activities. But Ben Winkelman said he wouldn’t have it any other way — at this point, he can’t imagine raising boys.
“I got pretty good at playing dolls,” Winkelman said. “It’s just like playing Transformers, but their hair looks different.”
A man of many careers
By trade, Ben Winkelman is an attorney. He’s a partner at Parker, Johnson and Parker in Hoquiam specializing in trial practice and civil, family, business and personal injury law.
But he didn’t initially plan to be a lawyer. He began his education at Washington State University studying veterinary medicine. He eventually switched majors and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked for Whitman County as a rape crisis counsellor.
But then Winkelman was sued. He’d purchased a mobile home on contract, but somehow the previous owner wasn’t receiving payments. Terrified of losing everything, Winkelman sought legal advice.
“I would never recommend doing this, but I represented myself,” Winkelman said. “And it was great. I showed the judge my checks and proved that I’d paid. The judge dismissed everything, and I thought, ‘That was kind of cool.’ “
He decided then to attend law school, starting at Whittier Law School in Southern California and graduating from Gonzaga University School of Law in 1999.
In addition to practicing law, Winkelman co-owns and operates a Hoquiam-based outdoor apparel business with his father and his brother in-law James Jump.
GHUnders — short for Grays Harbor Unders — is the brain-child of Mario Winkelman, who invented a new kind of underwear especially for long-distance motorcycle riders in the mid-2000s. Since then, the company has branched out into comfortable athletic clothing for men, women and children.
The Winkelmans and their employees design and prototype the garments in Hoquiam’s old aquatic center on K Street. The pool is filled in with rock and concrete, but the walls still feature pictures of swimmers and the old pool rules.
Between GHUnders and the law firm, Ben Winkelman has long work days — but he said he loves both businesses too much to give them up.
“If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be in business with my dad, I would have thought you were crazy,” Winkelman said. “But I love it. We take a lot of pride in what we make.”