The Varsity Boat Club

The Varsity Boat Club was established in 1910 under Hiram Conibear.  That year Conibear had taken over the Coast Guard exhibit on Lake Union after the Alaska Yukon Expedition had closed - "secured by Coach Conibear as training quarters for the crew..." according to the VBC logs - and the men needed an organization to cover the shared costs.  Thus was born the VBC.

The team lived there through 1918, weathering the Pacific Northwest winters together in a building originally built as a temporary exhibit (and the thin walls reflected it) for the fair.  Next door, in the former Tokyo Tea Room, George Pocock built shells and the women's locker room was set up.  (More on this decade is here - Washington Rowing History - Men: 1910's and here - Washington Rowing History - Women: 1910's.)  Throughout these times the team grew in strength and numbers.  Strong, lifelong bonds were made, bonds that would lead to Rusty Callow saving Conibear's job at one point, and bonds that ultimately would save the program from extinction following Conibear's untimely death. 

That same affinity exists today.  The renovation of the shellhouse in 2004 would not have happened if not for the vast network of men and women VBC members who offered help.  The current strength of the alumni organization supporting the team is a testament to the strength of the VBC, and the lifelong connection that is made while rowing at Washington.  The VBC is at the same time a reflection of that shared experience, and an organization that preserves it.

Membership in the VBC is voluntary, and all men and women participants at Washington are eligible for membership after rowing four quarters.  Student officers include men's and women's Commodore, Purser, Logger, and other positions, with community service encouraged for members.  The new member ceremony takes place at the annual VBC Banquet.

Below are some photos, back to 1910, of the VBC:

The original Varsity Boat Club building, on the shores of Portage Bay.  VBC Collection: UW21876z



From the scrapbook of A.C. Campbell, the men on the landing of the VBC boathouse.  VBC Collection: UW21869z.




Some familiar faces in the 1924 Varsity Boat Club, including Thomas Bolles, Harold Condon, Fred Spuhn, Harrison "Stork" Sanford, Donald Grant, Harry John Dutton, and Alvin Ulbrickson.  Tyee Photo.


The 1936 VBC, including a photo in the lower right corner of the house they rented and lived in together.  Tyee Photo.





The 1941 Varsity Boat Club Dance.  The VBC dance was a prime occasion in the 30's and 40's, attracting large crowds, held in the Spanish Ballroom at the Olympic Hotel, and featuring top entertainment.  The event was scheduled in early January, immediately preceding full-time training, and was attended by alums, friends, and - of course - the students.  Here Dave Ross's Orchestra plays against the traditional backdrop of sweeps.  Tyee photo.



VBC Commodore Skip John raises the VBC flag over the shellhouse to dedicate their new living quarters.  Fil Leanderson and Dick Wahlstrom, with the support of George Pocock and the coaches, initiated the effort during spring break of 1953 that ultimately led to crew members living at the shellhouse year around.  Tyee photo.



The 1968 VBC with a cameo by Conibear.  Out of the sixties came some of the strongest bonds of fellowship among the men - bonds that exist just as strongly today.  Tyee Photo.



In the 1970's, the men and women sold programs at the football games to raise money for the VBC.  VBC funds were used to upgrade equipment, to purchase turnout gear, and for social events.  VBC Photo.


The 80's were a decade of transition, yet the VBC continued to serve a central role in the life of the athletes.  The "W" board in the old shellhouse, written on the maple walls, was a testament to the tradition and legacy of the VBC.  Eric Cohen photo.



Men and women of the VBC, on the docks celebrating together, 1992.  UW Athletics photo.



New VBC members stand at the front of the room during the 2004 VBC Banquet.  Jeff Benedict photo.



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