During our tour to Olympia last summer, The Deadlines (our touring moniker) got to know the state capital with the Experience Olympia & Beyond team. Last week, we ventured out to see some more of the “Beyond,” thanks in large part to Yelm resident Steve Klein, who contacted us to invite us to see Yelm’s unique spirit for ourselves.
So, with Klein, Experience Olympia & Beyond, and a rotating cast of other officials along for the ride, we decided to get off the beaten path and check out what Yelm and neighboring Tenino have to offer. Here are some notable takeaways from each city.
A Thriving Arts Scene
Our first stop in Yelm took us to The Triad Arts Theater, where founder Calamity Jayne ushered us into the homey and eclectic black box theater filled with couches as seats. At the theater, children take classes, community members put on musicals, filmmakers showcase their work, and more. The theater is the area’s one-stop-shop for all things performance — a space for fostering artistic creation for people of all ages.
“We want artists to feel comfortable here, like they’re performing for guests in their own living room,” said Jayne, explaining the intimate setup of the black box.
Jayne also introduced us to Yelm’s annual UFO Fest, which takes place the last weekend of July and in which the city takes great pride. The festival showcases scientists, musicians, vendors, and hot air balloons, providing space for enthusiasts and skeptics alike in a family-friendly environment.
A Bright Future
Next, we visited Yelm’s recently completed community center, where we met with Mayor JW Foster, City Administrator Michael Grayum, and Public Works Director Chad Bedlington, who filled us in on plans that Yelm has to update its city park with new play equipment and a splash park, which they hope to have open by summer.
“Since I moved out here 22 years ago, we’ve become one of the fastest growing cities in Western Washington,” Mayor Foster said. “This is a great location: We have natural amenities, arguably the best view of Mount Rainier in the area, the Nisqually River, and a fairly short commute to various work areas. We’re also working on establishing more work opportunities here in Yelm, and part of that will be through our partnership with South Puget Sound Community College.”
That partnership, which aims to improve educational prospects for residents and make earning a degree more accessible than it has been in the past, was further explained by SPSCC’s chief communications and legislative affairs officer Kelly Green.
“This city is so committed to ensuring that its constituents have access to every type of education,” Green said. “Our instructors teach our classes using their high school facilities, and we work with some of their high school instructors for a program called High School 21, which helps students over 21 earn a high school diploma at a reduced tuition rate and in a highly customizable way.”
Within a month of that program starting in Yelm, Green said, 10 students had already earned their high school diploma through High School 21; in three months, 16 people have done so.
Authentic Italian Pizza
For lunch, we stopped at La Gitana, a pizzeria that uses wood-fired ovens and authentic ingredients imported from Italy. The delicious food is complimented by a European ambiance: terrace dining in the summer and soft jazz music playing in the background.
Co-owner Marian Licxandru, who is originally from Romania, also told us of the Jazz Fest that he started in Yelm two years ago, which incorporates a similarly European atmosphere with live jazz in the park each summer.
After lunch, we headed to Tenino to visit “The Shed,” home of the Tenino Stone Carvers. A humble workshop and showroom home to four stone carvers — including Keith Phillips, who has been carving stone in Tenino since 1985 — has been in operation since 2014.
The history of a city built on sandstone quarrying companies in the late 19th century is kept alive today by the Tenino Stone Carvers. We had the privilege of watching a few of them as they worked and chatting with them about their craft.
The Shed was well worth a visit and whisked us back to another era.
The Wooden Dollar
Down the street, we stayed in the past as we got a tour of the Tenino Depot Museum, which was built in 1914 out of sandstone as the train depot stop in the city. City councilman John O’Callahan showed us around the museum, which is full of functioning historic artifacts like an organ, typewriters, and the press that once printed the Tenino wooden dollar.
“Back in the Great Depression, there was a run on the banks,” O’Callahan said. “People didn’t understand that banks don’t have all their money, and the banks ran out. In Tenino, three men came up with an idea to make wooden money; a lot of jurisdictions came up with this idea, but Tenino was the only city to get permission from the federal government to print our own money. That’s what makes Tenino’s wooden dollar unique.”
Today in the city, Tenino wooden dollars can still be bought dollar for dollar and spent at most businesses within city limits.
Special thanks to those who spent time showing us behind the scenes of Yelm and Tenino. If anyone is interested in hosting The Deadlines in the future, please reach out; we love getting out of the office and collecting story ideas from the cities we cover.