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Olympia Brewing Co. exhibit brings back memories: ‘Everybody has a story’

UPDATED: Sat., Nov. 4, 2017, 9:56 p.m.

TUMWATER, Wash. – Joe Lohrengel worked in Olympia Brewing Co.’s bottle shop for 30 years, starting in the 1950s. One of his brothers also worked at the brewery, and another brother drove a malt truck.

“You hear from very few people who’d complain about their job there,” said Lohrengel, 85, of Tumwater.

He and his wife were among the first people through the doors of the Schmidt House in Tumwater on Saturday to see “It’s the Art,” an exhibit of vintage Olympia Beer advertisements – cheerful scenes of the holiday dinner table or a day on the water, always with a beer.

“Everybody who worked there was so proud of it,” said Doris Lohrengel, 84. They came, Joe Lohrengel said, “just to stay connected, I guess.”

The 57 paintings featured are part of more than 400 works from the archives in the basement of the Schmidt House, the historic home of the brewery’s owner that is now managed by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation.

The brewery was the largest private employer in the county for decades; 14 years after it closed, people still want to feel close to it, said Megan Ockerman, 25, the foundation’s assistant curator. Ockerman grew up in Olympia and wrote her master’s thesis on the brewery.

“Everybody has a story about the brewery,” she said. “Everybody.”

Ken Thompson’s dad worked in the cellars, the pipe shop and then the engineering department. (“Oh, I know that name,” Joe Lohrengel said nearby.) Thompson, 60, said he remembers the brewery picnics and the company gifts at Christmas, the end-of-the-day whistle you could hear from the other side of town.

His wife, Kathy Thompson, 59, remembers skipping ahead on the brewery tour to get a root beer from the tasting room. In her freshman year at Tumwater High, the school band was tapped to play in a brewery commercial, and she was jealous that kids whose parents worked at the brewery got a close-up on camera.

“Everybody who grew up here knew somebody – your dad, or your friend’s dad – who worked there,” Kathy Thompson said. “It really put us on the map.”

Here’s proof: Bret Buck’s dad sold Olympia Beer at a franchise near Pittsburgh in the late 1970s; even as a kid, Buck knew people liked the beer’s stubby bottle.

Buck, now 48 and living in Olympia, recognized one of the ads on display from his dad’s place. It shows a man in an overcoat with a pipe between his teeth holding a case of beer on a snowy night, with “Always Welcome” written across the top.

“It’s the Art” is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (except for Thanksgiving) through Dec. 9.


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