Seattle Classic Guitar Society
|An Interview with SCGS Founding Members Ward & Lois Irwin|
By Rochelle Ritchie Spencer
|Recently Ward and Lois Irwin graciously invited Virginia Ryan, Dick Sacksteder and myself into their home so we could find out more about two of the founding members of the Seattle Classic Guitar Society. Afterwards, Dick said that perhaps it would have been easier to ask Ward and Lois what they haven't done in their lives! What we found out was Ward flew a transport plane in WWII and was in North Africa, India, and Europe. Coming home in one of the Victory ships it took them three days to dock as they arrived during a hurricane. Back in Michigan, Ward went to school on the G.I. Bill and one of his summer jobs was performing dogfights in WWI bi-planes for The Flying Tigers traveling air show. His boss told him that there was only one thing he should remember, "You always fly up, and I'll always fly down." Unfortunately, Ward was in danger of losing his hearing if he kept flying so he had to give it up. After graduation Boeing hired him as an engineer where he remained until he retired in 1982. Once in Washington, Ward met his future wife Lois – on a rope. They both belonged to The Mountaineers Club (and still do) and he met her on a climb. Lois was a registered nurse until she retired in 1967 and taught at the Edison Technical School (what is now Seattle Central Community College) and the Virginia Mason School of Nursing. They married in 1950 and have spent the majority of their free time these last 59 years traveling (especially to Alaska), climbing, kayaking and cross country skiing.
When he wasn't working or climbing mountains Ward was playing guitar. He had been around guitar music all of his life. In 1895 his father was playing in a guitar mandolin band in Ontario, Canada. Ward began playing on a 1886 Martin and was self taught via books such as the Carcassi Method. It wasn't until he was in his late 30's that Ward began taking formal lessons with Bob Flannery, another founding member of the Guitar Society, who taught in Ballard. In early 1958, local classical guitar aficionado, Edward (Bud) Hern, put an ad in the Seattle Times inviting people interested in playing classical guitar to meet at Joe Farmer's music store in Burien. Seven men and one woman showed up: Ward Irwin, Joe Farmer, Bob Flannery, Bill James, Bud and Fern Hern, Bob Morris and Arnie Pearson. One of their first resolutions was "that a society be formed... for the stimulation of wider interest and better playing of the finger style guitar." The group met monthly, and after board meetings they would have an open mic. In the early 1960's the Society could bring some top notch guitarists to Seattle for $200 (ticket sales would cover half, Bud Hern the other). After the concerts board members would have a reception in their homes for the artists. The Irwin's had Segovia and his first wife to their home. They offered wine but Segovia's wife wanted something a little harder so Lois had to go to a neighbors to borrow a bottle of whiskey. The French duo Presti and Lagoya also came to the Irwin's home. Lagoya wanted to play for the group so Ward offered him his guitar. Lagoya mumbled something in French and handed it back to Ward. Lagoya's interpreter translated that, "his guitar was only good for firewood."
Some of the other artists the Society brought to Seattle during those early years were John Williams, the Romero's, Siegfried Barron, and Rey de la Torre. Performances were usually held at the University of Washington's Meany Hall. At one board meeting in the mid-1960's it was time to elect a new president. Over the years all of the board members had put a lot of time and energy into the Society and no one was willing to take over the job as president again. The Society would have ended that night if Duncan McKenna, who was attending his first meeting, hadn't volunteered for the job. Ward continued to play guitar until the late 1980's when years of kayaking and cross-country skiing made it too difficult to continue, but, of course, Ward is still a big fan of classical guitar music.