Ode to an old friend
February 10, 2012 · Updated 1:15 PM
Athlete, soldier, fisherman, husband, and gentleman. Chet Gausta, 95, died in January.
I met Chet in 1989, when we both worked at the North Kitsap Herald. His column Wettin’ The Line was about fishing and Poulsbo history. He once wrote about sledding from the top of Lincoln Hill Road all the way through Poulsbo and out onto frozen Liberty Bay.
“We had kids posted at intersections to tell us when the coast was clear,” he would wink.
Chet never boasted, but others told me he and future astronaut Richard Gordon, of Kingston, were the greatest North Kitsap athletes ever. Still, Chet declined a full sports scholarship to WSU. Why, I implored.
“Three reasons,” he said. “I had a new car, new girlfriend, and new job at the Red Apple. Going to college was just an option back then. I chose another one.”
I never saw Chet as a young athlete, but at company picnic in 1990 playing volleyball, Chet spiked from on high, blasted rocket serves and saved volleyballs off his shoe tips. He was pure sinew and muscle at age 72. What an athlete!
And what a fisherman! No trophy fish matches Chet’s 70.5 pound Chinook salmon caught off Sekiu in 1964 - still a record in Washington waters.
“That fish was a lot bigger than that,” Chet said. “It took me hours to get it weighed. KING-5 TV was calling, people were wanting pictures. What was I thinking, not getting it weighed sooner? It probably weighed four pounds more when I caught it.”
After Chet and I both left the Herald, we kept in touch. Once I visited him at Poulsbo’s Montclair Park. His late-wife Barbara was in mid-stage dementia. Chet kept an eye on her every second, not minding her losing her train of thought often. He waited for her to finish, thanked her, and doted on her continually.
We will all meet at that big Sons of Norway in-the-sky, where the lutefisk is always succulent, Uff da is as common a word as amen, and all the fish are record-breakers.