A celebration of the life for longtime Grays Harbor Port executive director Henry “Hank” Soike, who died last week after a brief illness, will be conducted 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Aberdeen Rotary Log Pavilion.
His son, David Soike of Bellevue, said his father turned 91 on Sept. 24 and fell ill a few days later, passing away on Oct. 3.
“He just slipped away peacefully,” he said.
One of the main accomplishments credited to Henry Eugene Soikee was the deeper draft dredging of the Harbor that paved the way for the large cargo ships that are now a staple of Port operations. He also is largely credited with the development of Port Industrial Road.
“All the things that happened, like building Terminal 4, that in itself was a big deal,” said his son David, now the director of aviation facilities and capital programs for SeaTac International Airport and the Port of Seattle. “And the yards, they were just full of logs for so many years when the mills were just pumping. Now, to drive through there and see all the automobiles that are made in the U.S. being shipped out is just fantastic.”
On Tuesday, Soike was honored with a special presentation at the Port Commission’s regular meeting.
David and his sister Claire were able to attend the Port meeting and see the tribute to their father.
“It was a very nice tribute,” David Soike said of the special presentation that chronicled Soike’s many contributions to the local Port. “We were astounded.”
Port Executive Director Gary Nelson said he used to visit Soike all the time and, a few years back, when Ag Processing Inc. was first located to the Port, Nelson remembers giving Soike a tour through the terminal property.
“To drive him through the marine terminal, it was really heartwarming to see his smile and the satisfaction to see his dreams coming to fruition,” Nelson said. “You know, a lot of what what we came up with to expand the Port can first be found in the early drawings and schemes that Soike came up with. They thought big and we are just keeping up with those dreams.”
Soike began work at the Port in 1963 as manager of industrial development. In 1974, he was named general manager.
Before he retired in 1988, Soike shepherded monumental changes at the Port: the Port Industrial Road became a reality; Terminal 2 was built; Terminal 4 berths A and B were built; the Port became owner and operator of Bowerman Field and major improvements and expansion at the Westport Marina were completed.
Yet it was the 30-year deeper draft project that didn’t quite reach reality until after Soike retired, that was his major accomplishment, according to a 2005 profile in The Daily World.
“Discussions for the deepening of the Grays Harbor channel had been going on since the 1940s, but it was through Soike’s drive and some high-powered Congressional push, that Phase 1 of the $28 million project was finally funded and authorized by Congress in 1986,” the profile by Bill Lindstrom said.
Congress authorized funds to deepen a 20-mile segment of the channel to 38 feet, but the project was downsized to 36 feet. Dredging didn’t begin until 1990, two years after Soike had retired and Cliff Muller took over as general manager.
Two extremely powerful Washington state U.S. senators, Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Warren G. “Maggie” Magnuson, then chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, were the movers and shakers in D.C. for Washington state, and especially Grays Harbor County. Soike knew them both and was able to draw on his connections to aid the Port.
Port Commissioner Jack Thompson said that his relationships with the railroads ensured that the rail line continued to the Port of Grays Harbor as other coastal ports were seeing their rail lines pulled out and eliminated. For a long while, Grays Harbor had the only rail line to the coast north of San Francisco. Thompson noted that Coos Bay is just now restoring its rail line.
“He could go down to Texas at the Burlington offices and everyone would know who he was,” Thompson said. “He’s one of the reasons we still have rail.”
In Washington, D.C., Soike kept up relationships with Jackson, Magnuson and others.
“One of my favorite things he did was to take smoked salmon and crab legs for gifts,” Thompson said. “And — I’m not joking — Hank was the kind of guy who could go back to Washington, D.C., could walk into the Senate or the House and he knew everybody. He was just that kind of guy.”
Soike’s wife of 67 years, Dorothy, died last May. He is survived by his daughters, Cynthia of Vancouver and Claire of Portland, sons Steven of Bellevue, David and Tina of Bellevue; and four grandchildren.
He was born in Portage, Vashon Island, in 1921 and graduated from Vashon High School in 1938. While attending the University of Washington during World War II, he helped test Boeing B-29 bomber models and graduated in 1942 with a Bachelor of Sceince degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
He began his working career at Pan American Airways where he was stationed in Alaska to repair war damaged aircraft. Later he was a project engineer in both New York and Santa Monica for the maintenance and conversion of Douglas aircraft from military to passenger service.
He worked 16 years in his family’s motor freight business managing the Aberdeen freight terminal of Coast Truck Lines that operated from Canada to Oregon. He supervised local coastal activities along with transportation of goods and perishables for Grays Harbor’s seafood and cranberry industries.
Thompson said he got to know Soike rather well during his freight days.
“He had this amazing personality and a dry sense of humor,” Thompson said.
Among Soike’s other accomplishments at the Port were reinforced jetty structures at Westport and Ocean Shores to protect shorelines and maintain shipping access, improved marina docks in Westport, the Wynooche Dam and recreation area, and Bowerman Basin (now a National Wildlife Refuge).
On his visit to the Port this week, David Soike said he was amazed to see the developments since his father retired, especially the new rail additions and the grain silos.
“What a change,” he said.