Charles "Chuck" Marvin Manke
October 26, 2023
Charles Marvin Manke "Chuck", a resident of Olympia, WA, died Saturday October 14, 2023, at home. He was 90 years old. He was born June 3, 1933 in Selby, South Dakota. He moved to Shelton, Washington with his parents Elmer and Dorothy and sister Bunny Orr, née Manke, in 1934 at eighteen months old. He spent the rest of his life in Shelton and Olympia.
Chuck was raised in a very lively household of four brothers and three sisters. All five boys shared a bedroom. There was rarely a family event where the boys would not start wrestling or boxing and make Dorothy cry. Chuck was by all means a rascal. In high school they called him "Monday Manke" due to his proclivity to wreck his car over the weekend and fail to show up to school on Monday morning. He had to stay home Mondays to fix his car so he could continue raising hell. George Hermes, the Irene S. Reed principal at the time, had Dorothy on the 1950's version of speed dial.
He married his wife Judith Mae Palmer "Judi" on May 1, 1953. He always said he was lucky to have Judi as his wife and that was no exaggeration. They had three children, Holly Ann, Mark Charles, and Joel Mitchell.
Chuck had a work ethic to rival anyone. When he was a teen, he manually set up bowling pins at the Shelton bowling alley. When he was 18, he worked at the Ridgefield Service Station in Shelton as an attendant. He instinctually understood mechanical engineering and was always building cars, boats and equipment. His work ethic and natural abilities were guiding forces throughout his entire life.
Chuck's lifelong passion was his family company, the Manke Lumber Company. Manke and Sons, the first generation of the company, was created by his father Elmer along with Chuck and his younger brother Virgil in 1953. The Company was founded on the principles of hard work and a strong family connection. Their history was one of trial, error and persistence. In 1953, they built a stationary mill on the shores of Lake Cushman which produced cants, squared timbers used to make finished lumber products, using logs salvaged from Lake Cushman. At the time, the City of Tacoma gave these logs away to anyone who would haul them out of the lake. This mill was a family operation. All five of the Manke boys worked at the mill during the weekend or after school. Chuck's younger brother, Jim Manke, recalls feeding and manually turning logs at the Lake Cushman mill at the age of 14. In the winter of 1955, a large snow storm caused the roof of the mill to collapse, destroying the mill.
In the Spring of 1955, they fabricated their first portable sawmill on wheels. Chuck made a connection with a blacksmith in Shelton who allowed him to use his forge. Using the forge along with scraps from junkyards, army surplus and the naval scrap-yard in Bremerton, he pieced together Manke and Sons' first portable mill. Every component of this sawmill was manual. The sawyer had to physically turn the log and throw the slab off of the side. While Virgil continued working with the manual mill in the woods, Chuck started fabricating a mechanized mill. He built a log turner with teeth that gripped the log and turned it. It was powered by a hydraulic pump with a cylinder moving it up and down. Chuck also devised a system to recoil the log and to throw the slab off the carriage like a sling shot. During this time, Manke and Sons started purchasing stands of timber and ran the second portable mill on location until 1964. They continued producing cants and selling them to larger sawmills. Pope and Talbot's mill in Port Gamble, Washington was the primary customer of Manke and Sons at the time.
In 1959, they purchased a brand-new Mac truck and trailer, which you can still see in the annual Forest Festival Parade in Shelton. While Virgil was the sawyer, Chuck would make two trips a day to Seattle in the new truck to deliver the cants. When Manke and Sons bought the new truck and trailer, everyone in town said there was no way they would be able to pay it off. They proved them all wrong, a favorite pastime of Chuck Manke.
Chuck was best described as a maverick. He rarely slept because the cogs of his imagination would not stop turning. He did most everything his way (despite asking for others' opinions) and spent countless hours of his life engineering, designing and fabricating the mills that are still running today. In 1964, Manke and Sons purchased eleven acres in the Port of Tacoma. Within a year, and after horrendous issues fabricating the equipment, they had a working Mickelson log de-barker and a beaver. Like everything else in the mill, Chuck reconfigured the beaver until it met his specifications. To date, there is not a single piece of equipment in Tacoma, Chuck Manke has not torn apart and made his own. Manke Lumber rarely purchased new equipment as Chuck was a champion of finding junkyard equipment and rebuilding it. In 1965, it was a six-man operation involving Chuck Manke, Jim Manke, Gary Wolden, Rawlin "Mac" McInelly, Jens Jackstead and Poncho del Moon. At this time, Virgil became the log buyer and timber cruiser for the operation. Today, the Manke Lumber Company has more than 500 employees.
During the next ten years, they kept building machines until they had a fully functioning sawmill cutting dimensional lumber. In 1977, they purchased 29 additional acres adjacent to the mill site and in 1979 they purchased a second sawmill in Sumner, Washington.
Due to market conditions, the smaller sawmills started disappearing from the landscape in the 1980s. There are very few small mills who have survived the obstacles thrown at the market during the last 40 years. Notably, there were 17 sawmills in the port of Tacoma during the heyday of the lumber market and now there is only one. Manke Lumber survived thanks to constant innovation and diversification. From the get go, it purchased small timber when the other sawmills were fighting over big logs. In fact, the Tacoma mill was initially designed to cut a log with a 4-inch top. They were able to purchase their raw material for very little and increase their margins. In the early 1990s, it produced 100 million board feet a year of finished lumber and offset low demand for building materials by diversifying into treated lumber for sign posts, guard rails and pelletized wood fuel. This saved Manke Lumber from going under. Chuck always said this industry was chicken or feathers and he was right.
Chuck had nine lives. Dorothy was known to say, "be careful Chuck, or you are going to anger your guardian angel!" He rolled numerous cars, flipped countless boats (mostly the "Widow Maker") and always walked away without a scratch. He escaped a few deadly situations at the mill involving explosions with shrapnel barely missing him. When the Pope and Talbot mill was being dismantled in Port Gamble, Chuck fell through the dock moving a lumber sorter using a log stacker. On this occasion he was thrown from his seat against the window and narrowly missed being tossed out of the machine. This spot on the dock was later named the "Chuck hole."Jerry Johnson, a 52-year employee of Manke Lumber, said that occasion in Port Gamble did not even worry him compared to some of Chuck's other close calls. He recalls Chuck moving dirt above a cliff and nearly falling off the edge in a Caterpillar D8. On another occasion, he was operating a Whirley Crane and while attempting to lift a rail car load, the crane rose 18 inches above the ground. Somehow, he always walked away from these events unscathed. In his later years, despite a cancer diagnosis and heart issues, he kept marching forward. He had a will to live.
Chuck was an avid amateur pilot. He owned several small planes, but his favorite was a Cessna 185 on floats. He flew his plane to work nearly every day during warmer months, landing in the Hylebos Waterway in the Port of Tacoma. He took his family on many adventures and would taxi his children, grandchildren and their friends around the Pacific Northwest. If you happened to be at the canal on a Saturday in the summer, he would take anyone willing to the Tacoma mill for a tour. He never said no to his brother Virgil when asked to fly in provisions to Virgil's numerous fishing expeditions in Canada and Alaska. Chuck loved saving the day and adrenaline inducing adventures. One afternoon, Chuck was flying home from work on a day when former president George W. Bush was in town. Not realizing he was in a no-fly zone, he was suddenly surrounded by F-18's. When they asked him to land immediately at McChord Air Force Base, he accurately responded "I'm on pontoons." He was escorted to Lake Isabella in Mason County where he safely landed. Jerry Johnson also remembers Chuck flying down to Maytown, Washington to inspect a road he was building. Chuck landed in a river and on the way out was caught up in the current. Jerry said he watched him move the plane out into deeper water until the water was up past his waist and then jump on his pontoon and take off. Chuck had cat-like reflexes and here are many stories of him maneuvering in tight spots. He could run across log booms at top speed in his signature converse tennis shoes. Even in the last two years, employees of the mill would find him up ladders in precarious spots inspecting the equipment.
Chuck and Judi enjoyed 70 years of marriage together. They spent their downtime at their home on the Hood Canal. They often hosted friends and family. Judi, a wonderful cook, would throw lovely parties with lively music and beautiful food. Chuck wasn't much of a dancer, but lucky for Judi he had four brothers and Raymond would always step in. They spent countless hours with their grandchildren supporting all of their endeavors. Most importantly, they created a world for their family that will be enjoyed for generations to come.
Chuck had a very generous nature and was always there to help family, friends and employees when they were in need. As a child of the Great Depression, he vowed at a young age that no one in his family would ever have to suffer the indignities of poverty and dedicated his life's work to that proposition.
Chuck continued working at the Tacoma mill until early August of this year when declining health prevented him from returning. When asked by his daughter what would be his final epitaph, he said only one word, "Unique".
He was preceded in death by his parents Elmer and Dorothy Manke, his son Mark Charles Manke, his brother Larry Manke, his brother Virgil Manke, his sister Arlene Bac and his brother Raymond Manke. He is survived by his wife, Judith Manke, of Olympia, daughter Holly White (Neal) of Bainbridge Island, his son Joel Manke (Shannon) of Shelton, sisters Bunny Orr of Shelton and Judy Byrne of Kennewick, brother James Manke of Tacoma, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Arrangements were made by McComb & Wagner Funeral Home in Shelton, Washington. At Chuck's request, only immediate family will attend a graveside service.