ON MEMORIAL DAY IN 1946 – This is the 74th anniversary of the dedication on Swinomish Reservation of John K. Bob Ballpark. Ronald Jensen of La Conner is at the microphone. Wilfred Steve of Tulalip, Tandy Wilbur, Sr. of Swinomish, Sebastian Williams of Tulalip, and Father Andrew McGrath are seated. – Photo courtesy of Swinomish Tribal Archive/Helen Bob Lewis Collection
Names are sacred, some more than others.
On both sides of Swinomish Channel, the name John K. Bob has been revered for more than seven decades.
Bob, who had been a popular La Conner High student from Swinomish, was a U.S. Army Medic Tech Sergeant when killed in battle in Germany near the end of World War II.
The Swinomish Tribal Community baseball complex, developed in 1938 through the Works Progress Administration, was named for Bob during special Memorial Day ceremonies eight years later.
This Memorial Day marks the 74th anniversary of that 1946 dedication program, an event drawing what Puget Sound Mail editor Pat O’Leary described at the time as a “galaxy of speakers.” The podium included Swinomish Tribal Community leader Tandy Wilbur, Sr., La Conner Superintendent of Schools Jack Whittaker and N. Kenneth Nelson American Legion Post Commander Ronald Jensen, a rising Skagit County political figure, also of La Conner.
The ceremonies that day highlighted bonds of friendship between the Swinomish and La Conner communities, says Tribal Archivist and Records Manager Theresa Trebon.
“It’s a great story,” she told the Weekly News.
Wilbur opened with a formal welcome address, then called upon Northwestern Federation of American Indians President Sebastian Williams to serve as master of ceremonies.
When it was Jensen’s turn to speak, he stressed Bob’s bravery on behalf of a just cause.
“Men in the Medical Corps were subjected to extreme danger since they did not carry weapons,” Jensen said in account written by O’Leary for the June 6 edition of the Mail. “They went into danger zones to save their wounded buddies with only an insignia for protection, and this was never recognized or respected by the enemy.”
Jensen went on to praise the naming of the ballpark as a living memorial to remind future generations of the price paid for liberty and freedom by outstanding young men such as Bob.
Bob had enlisted for service in 1942 while still a senior at La Conner High.
Whittaker recalled Bob as a student of the highest character, never deviating from what he called the “golden rule of good and true sportsmanship.”
Whittaker, whose name graces La Conner High’s football field and running track, received a letter from Bob the day after his death was reported to his parents, says Trebon.
O’Leary published the letter Dec. 14, 1944 in the Mail. In his correspondence, Bob informs Whittaker that he had seen action in Belgium and Holland, where dikes were used for protection against mortar fire. He also asks Whittaker about La Conner High’s football and basketball teams before adding a post-script saying he was then in Germany.
At the 1946 dedication ceremonies, Trebon says Bob was remembered by Father Andrew McGrath as a faithful youth who served six years as an altar boy and always held others in high regard.
Williams recounted the role of Native Americans in World War II prior to presenting Wilbur with a plaque commemorating John K. Bob Ballpark and memorializing Melvin Ross and Roy Knight, two Swinomish veterans also killed in action in Europe.
Fittingly enough, the day included a baseball game. A Swinomish team that included Landy James, who had just completed his sophomore year at La Conner High and for whom the school’s gymnasium is now named, defeated Tulalip 5-3 before what O’Leary reported as a large crowd.
Bob was originally laid to rest in Belgium. It would be another 18 months after the ballpark was dedicated in his memory that Bob’s remains were returned home.
Once again, says Trebon, a member of the Jensen family was on hand to pay his respects.
“I discovered,” she says, “that Ronald Jensen’s brother, Francis Jensen, Jr., also a veteran, was one of the pallbearers in December 1947 when John K. Bob was brought back to Swinomish for burial.”