Olympia has a connection to the 2013 “Boys in the Boat” book written by Daniel James Brown and the subsequent 2023 movie about the University of Washington rowing team who won a gold medal at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Rower John White was married at a historic home in the Olympia South Capitol neighborhood. Rower Don Hume was born just blocks away, and coxswain Robert Moch was born and raised in nearby Montesano.
More than one publication describes the team of rowers as middle-class family kids and children of loggers, fisherman and farmers, often having worked in those positions themselves. Hume and Moch were the children of working class, Thurston and Grays Harbor counties parents.
Don Hume of ‘Boys in the Boat’ Born in Olympia South Capitol Neighborhood
Don Hume’s family moved to Olympia in 1909 from Iowa. His father, Bernie Hume, married Ethel Cunningham of Olympia in 1912. Hume’s mother, Mary Ethel, taught medieval and modern history at Olympia High School and was active in the community, and Bernie worked for the city and the chamber of commerce. Don was born on 17th Avenue in 1915, and the Humes also lived on Water Street. Bernie and his brother donated land across Water Street to the City of Olympia, where today two benches and a plaque are dedicated to Bernie and Ethel.
The family moved to Anacortes in 1929 or 1930, where Bernie took a job at Puget Sound Pulp and Timber, staying up north for four years. The Daily Olympian social column reported the Humes’ return from Anacortes in 1934 to their summer home on the west side of Budd Inlet. Don remained up north after graduating high school and once made a solo rowboat trip from Anacortes to Olympia.
Hume was ill the day of the Olympic gold medal race but was ensured his position by a very insistent crew. In the book “Distant Replay! Washington’s Jewish Sports Heroes,” Stephen Sadis writes about Robert “Bobby” Moch recounting race day and how John White told the coach to “Tie him (Hume) in, and we’ll get him across the finish line.” Hume performed, was an integral part of the team’s success, and Moch splashed water on Hume’s face after he had passed out at the finish line.
The Morning Olympian reported of Hume’s return on September 24, 1936, “A student rally will be staged Thursday night at 7 o’clock at Sylvester park, the entire student body to serpentine up Capitol Way to the high school, where a pep program, featuring a talk by Donald Hume, former University of Washington Oarsman, will be held.”
Don Hume would return to Olympia frequently to visit his family, remaining close to his brother Dale’s family.
‘Boys in the Boat’ Coxswain Robert “Bobby” Moch From Montesano
Robert Moch was born in Montesano in 1914. His father was an immigrant from Switzerland and owned a local jewelry store in Montesano. As a graduate of Montesano High School and Olympic gold medalist, Moch is a highlighted alum. He was quoted in “Distant Replay!” from an interview about how he knew for years he was going to try out for coxswain for the University of Washington, and he did indeed enroll in 1932 and was on a rowing crew. He went on to coach rowing at UW and to become head rowing coach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming a Seattle attorney and later successfully arguing a case before the nation’s highest court.
Annual reunions brought the crew back together. In Olympia, five of the crew members gathered at a wedding for one of their own.
Crew Member John Galbraith White Married in the Historic Olympia Egbert Ingham Home
John White graduated from UW in 1939 and married Mary Egbert from Olympia. Egbert, a 1936 graduate of Olympia High School, also attended the University of Washington. Announcing the couple’s nuptial event, The Daily Olympian indicated an August 31, 1940 wedding to take place in the home of the bride’s mother, Dana Seltzer Egbert, at 119 West 14th Avenue. Seltzer Egbert had received the home as a wedding gift from her father.
Mary Egbert White and John White visited the current owners of the Egbert-Ingham house in 1994. In return the owners visited the White home on Lopez Island where John showed his gold medal and told them about shaking Hitler’s hand. Mary and her mother were also in Europe just prior to the outbreak of WWII, barely making it out of Germany by train and catching the last ship out of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Such social happenings were customarily shared in the newspaper, and the White wedding report included the draped window décor, candelabras for lighting and how violin and organ music played softly during both the ceremony and reception. Also listed in the article, rowing crew member Gordon Adams was White’s best man, and crew members James “Jim” McMillin, Moch and Hume attended as ushers.
The Moch, Hume and White family stories reflect turn of the century events and lifestyles some Puget Sound and Olympia area families experienced as World War II approached.