OYSTERFEST HISTORY 1982 to 2021
An oyster festival in the Mason County area was natural and inevitable. The area has lots of clean saltwater shoreline and native tribes, including ancestors of the current day Squaxin Island and Skokomish tribes, had harvested oysters in the region for many years. As pioneers reached the West Coast of America, they too discovered the oyster as a delicious food. In 1890, Taylor Shellfish Co., a commercial oyster producer began to grow oysters and it has grown to be the largest oyster producer in Mason County and arguably the largest producer of farmed shellfish in the United States. Many other oyster growers joined over the years. Hama Hama started selling oysters in the1950’s, The Salish Seafood Co. was started by the Squaxin Island Tribe in the 1970’s. The area was ready to celebrate its bounty of the sea and its accomplishments in developing the shellfish industry in the area. It was ready for someone with a vision to start an OysterFest. That person turned out to be Dick Oltman who in 1982 came up with a detailed plan for such a festival. He offered that plan to several groups until finally the Shelton Skookum Rotary Club, which had limited success with previous fund raisers, said “Why not, let’s do it” and with enthusiasm and lots of work the OysterFest was born.
Oltman’s vision was to create an event that would bring people to our community after the summer high season, extending the economic benefits of tourism for the entire community. He planned the event to showcase Mason County’s treasured oysters and aquaculture industry, throwing a spotlight on the fact that the shellfish and timber industries can and do coexist successfully. From the beginning, the centerpiece was to be the official West Coast Oyster Shucking Championship. This plus 100 food vendors and exhibitors, all of whom are local, nonprofit organizations using the festival to generate funds for their mission-driven operations in our community, has turned OysterFest into the largest annual fundraising event in the county, Other popular elements of OysterFest include the Seafood Cook-off, the Washington wine tasting hall, the microbrew tent, and the live entertainment stages. Through all of these activities, a great deal of education is provided by exhibitors who showcase best practices about maintaining clean waterways, shellfish habitat and recycling. The event is made possible by hundreds of volunteers who run every aspect of the festival and promote the Rotary ideal of service above self. Money raised at the festival by the Skookum Rotary Club and the non-profit vendors goes to provide scholarships to local students, education activities like the annual Science Fair, support of food banks, Excellence in Education Program (that recognizes the achievements of the top 10% of 8th graders in Mason County) and other social service organizations to improve the lives of people living in Mason County. In addition, during the past years, the Rotary organization has supported the construction of a YMCA in Shelton and has participated in eradicating polio around the world.
The date for OysterFest was selected in considering weather history, the oyster spawning cycle, and timing so that the West Coast shucking champion could attend the Nation competition in Maryland
OysterFest festivities are traditionally launched with a “Washington State Oyster Week” proclamation by Washington’s Governor. In 1983 Members of Skookum Rotary traveled to Olympia to meet Governor John Spellman in a rather unique way traveling nine miles by rowboat to meet the Governor and get his proclamation.
During OysterFest’s thirty-eight-year history some things have changed but the original plan has remained the same. Some activities like the Art & Photography contests have come and gone, and admission fees have increased from $1 in 1982 to $7 in 2019. The popular Cook-off has not been held in the last couple of years. Shucking Competition, entertainment, education, wine tasting, microbrews and food, food and more food have been the foundation for this 38 year history. Arguably, OysterFest has the widest selection of raw and prepared seafood dishes in the State and of course other choices as well to please a variety of tastes.
From the first OysterFest in 1982 to 2014 the OysterFest thrived at the Mason County Fairgrounds. However, due to FAA regulations and requirements, the Fairground had to be vacated. Fortunately, the Shelton Airport agreed to rent the old runway for the new location. That was quite a change. At the Fairgrounds there were buildings, all the utilities, fencing as well as bleachers for the shucking competition audience. At the runway, Skookum Rotary had to build everything; rent and set up tents, run in water lines and electrical connections for lighting and vendor use, bring in sanitary services, rent and set up a security fences, and set up a communication system, All this added considerable cost and effort. However, in spite of the challenges and accompanying concerns, the Skookum Rotary lived up to its reputation as a club that gets things done and pulled off a very successful Festival at the new location. As expected, festival setup and operating costs were up. In 2014 when all income was tallied, setup costs at the Fairgrounds took up 48.1 percent of total income. In 2015, on the old runway, setup costs were up to 55.7% and the costs have continued to increase to where in 2019 they took 60% of a record income that was bolstered by a gate price increase from $5 to $7.
Over the ten year period of 2009 to 2019, income generated increased by 26% while expenses related to settig up and running the festival have gone up by 72%. Needless to say the 39th and 40th OysterFest’s were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had tremendous online media support with lots of fun activities to celebrate seafood and clean water.
We look forward to seeing you October 1 and 2, 2022.
OysterFest Dollars At Work!
How Skookum Rotary Translates OysterFest Earnings into Activities
$90,00 in Scholarship Awards during 2018-2020 *
Community Grants for local Not-For-Profit organizations – food banks, shelters, YMCA, youth etc.
Grant funds awarded $60,400 2018 – 2020
International donations to ShelterBox, Mercy Ships, Polio Plus, Rotary Foundation and Global Grants
Mason County Science & Engineering Fair
Dictionaries for Mason County 4th Graders
Academic Excellence – Recognition for Top 10% Academic Performance for Mason County 8th and 11th Grade Students
New Teachers Reception for Mason County School Districts *
Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA)
$100,000 commitment to Shelton YMCA construction
COVID 19 Response Effort
Music in the Park
Downtown Beautification & Clean-Up
Other Activities conducted by our Not-For-Profit partners who earn money by providing food items and drink items at OysterFest events.
*Joint project with Shelton Rotary Club
OysterFest Dollars At Work!
2020 Academic & Vocational Scholarships. Total Awarded – $40,000+
The students below are a combination of 2020 High School Graduates and Continuing Education College Students.
A Joint Project of Skookum & Shelton Rotary Clubs.
-Name- -School- -Award-
Emily Adams – Shelton High School – Robert Burns (Performing Arts)
Aaron Boothe – Shelton High School – Bryce Finley (Computer Sciences)
Lily Dose – Shelton High School – Joy Doescher (Human Services)*
Michael Gillman – Shelton High School – Forest Festival (Timber the Ax Man)
Beau Harvey – Shelton High School – Rural Development Initiative (Civic Engagement)
Morgan Izzi – Shelton High School – Vocational (Trade Industries)
Elle Jennings – Shelton High School – Harvey Farrimond (Academic Scholarship*
Cheyanne Kenyon – Shelton High School – Vocational (Trade Industries)
Chase Moran – Shelton High School – Terry Olsen (Vocational Arts)*
Nathanael Ostheller – Shelton High School – Academic/Continuing Education
Jonah Perry – Shelton High School – Vocational (Trade Industries)
Grace Renecker – Shelton High School – Academic/Continuing Education
Jayde Smith – Shelton High School – Academic/Continuing Education
Jenavieve Striplin – Shelton High School – Vocational (Trade Industries)
Grace Toney – Shelton High School – Mary Penny (Medical Arts)#
Mackenzie Uch – Shelton High School – Doug Larson (Medical Arts)*
Kiara Ventura – Shelton High School – Academic/Continuing Education
Beau Ward – Shelton High School – Vocational (Trade Industries)
Molly Ye – Shelton High School – Janis Byrd (Business Arts)*
Kain Tinajero-Hernandez – Shelton High School – Forest Festival (Paul Bunyan)
Lillian Crawford – Choice High School – Vocational (Trade Industries)
Matilda Smither-Winslow – Choice High School – Dick Oltman (Environmental Studies/Tourism)*
Isabella Porter – North Mason High School – Lee Gillis (Educational Arts)*
Spencer Pruitt – North Mason High School – Academic/Continuing Education
Lukas Hansen – Washington Virtual Academy – Rotary Inspirational
Austin Karr – Washington Virtual Academy – Rural Development Initiative (Civic Engagement)
Josephine Beaudoin – University of Washington – Tom Spikes (Business Arts)#
Laura Henry – South Puget Sound CC – Academic/Continuing Education
Savannah Knutson – Baylor University – Terry Shaw (Academic)*
* denotes the honoring of a Skookum Rotarian or spouse # denotes the honoring of a Shelton Rotarian or spouse
Community & International Skookum Rotary Donation Recipients
2017, 2018 & 2019 OysterFest Proceeds: Donations Total – $185,385
|5XL Shelton||Harmony Hill||Rotary Foundation Polio Plus|
|A Gift For Special Children||Hood Canal Elementary School||Rotary Youth Leadership Awards|
|Academic Excellence||Hood Canal Food Bank|
|Adopt-A-Pet Shelton||Kitten Rescue||Saints Pantry|
|Asset Building Coalition Of Mason County||Mary M. Knight Elementary School||Scholastic Inc.|
|Belfair Elementary PTA||Mason Co. Fire Dist No. 11||Science Fair|
|Belfair HUB Center for Seniors||Mason County Historical Society||Shelter Box USA|
|Bordeaux Elementary School||Mason County Senior High School Academic & Vocational Scholarships*||Shelton Family Center|
|Child Care Action||Mason General Hospital Foundation||Shelton High School Interact Club|
|City of Shelton||Matlock Food Bank||Shelton High School NJROTC|
|Community Foundation of South Puget Sound||Mercy Ships||Shelton Mason County Chamber of Commerce|
|Crossroads Housing||Mt View Elementary School||Sound Learning|
|Durban Bay Partnership Global Grant||National Alliance on Mental Illness||South Sound Parent to Parent|
|Evergreen Elementary School||New Teachers Reception||South Sound Reading Foundation|
|Family Support Center||North Mason Firefighters Association||The Hub|
|Friends of the Shelton Library||Panhandle Lake 4-H||Turning Pointe|
|Great Bend Center for Music||Quick Water Swim Club||United Way of Mason County|
|Rotary Foundation Annual Fund||YMCA Shelton|
|* Joint Skookum & Shelton Rotary Clubs|