I have read that there is discussion at Astoria High School about whether the school mascot, the “Fishermen,” needs to be “updated” to be more gender friendly.
While I no longer attend Astoria High, I would like to share my opinion on this matter. A school mascot often is chosen for something from the community and the Astoria mascot has deep roots in our community.
It may be hard for high school students living in Astoria today to understand why over 100 years ago the selected mascot would be the Fishermen.
But, looking into the history of Astoria, we find the fishing industry was one of the first ones in this area. This fishing led to a cannery being built in 1866 on the Columbia River. Soon, other canneries followed and, by 1883, there were over 55 canneries dotting the river.
Feeding these canneries were the fishermen who went out on the river. This industry brought people to Astoria — not only fishermen and cannery workers, but laborers and merchants whose businesses supported fishing.
Pacific salmon was among the most valuable fisheries in the world — centered here in Astoria. And it was the fisherman — with his ability to read the tides and weather, risk personal safety to find the salmon and work hard to bring in the fish — who was responsible for the growth of Astoria.
Perhaps now you can see why Fishermen was a natural choice when Astoria was selecting a mascot that represented the community.
Perhaps if I put this on a personal level, you can understand why Fishermen was a logical choice.
Granted, today you don’t see — or smell — truckloads of frozen fish going up Commercial Street, but 50 years ago that was a common sight. While the smell was bad, my mom used to remind me that it smelled like money — fish was responsible for many jobs.
It was for my family.
While my paternal grandparents came from Finland to farm in this area, it was my maternal grandparents that found love while fishing on the Columbia. Grandpa John was a fisherman one summer, where he met Grandma Sophia, who was a cook on a scow boat. She had been told by friends that it was the best way to “land” a husband, as fishermen would come unload their fish at the scow boat and then enjoy a hot meal cooked by the scow boat cook.
This is what happened to my grandparents and after that fishing season, they settled in Astoria. Grandpa John continued to be a fisherman for many years and he later became one of the first game wardens on the river.
I can remember Grandma Sophia saying that in Astoria’s early days there were as many churches as bars — bars for the hard-working fishermen to blow off steam from their demanding jobs and churches for fishermen families to pray at as the fishermen’s job was so high risk.
My parents, Dick and Helen Aho, were not fishermen, but they were merchants who benefited from selling salmon at their grocery store, Modern Cash Grocery on Commercial Street.
When the store was sold in the late 1960s, my dad went to work for Bumble Bee cold storage in the winter butchering frozen fish from the summer. Come April, my father would head up to the South Naknek in Alaska to manage the general store for Bumble Bee that served local and out-of-state fishermen.
It was from the efforts of those fishermen that enabled my sister and I to attend college. In the mid-1960s, my sister spent her summers working at Bumble Bee in Astoria. In the early 1970s, I worked at Bumble Bee in South Naknek.
For both of us, those paychecks helped put ourselves through college and made us into the teachers we were. As you can see, through three generations, the hard work of the fishermen of Astoria directly influenced my family.
I challenge those of you who are thinking it is time to change the Astoria mascot to ask your older neighbors to see if the fishing industry impacted them or their family.
Fishermen is also a term that represents character traits that both men and women can ascribe to — traits like preserving, stamina, guts, courage, knowledge, no fear of hard work, self-sacrifice and risk-taking.
I may be the odd one out, but during my time at Astoria High School from 1967 to 1970, at the end of a pep assembly or a game, when we were all asked to join in the singing of our alma mater and face Stomper, I would often think of the fishermen I know — parents of friends in the stands with me — and the risks they faced daily on the Columbia River.
I would also reflect on those traits they needed in fishing — traits that can benefit any of us. Mascots can give us a glimpse of the history of an area, but also inspire us; not just the athletes, but the fans as well. Fishermen does just that.
There is a concern in this present culture that mascots need to be gender friendly. In looking at the history of the Astoria fishing industry, there were always lady fishermen working alongside men in the fishing boats.
But if you want a more current response to the question of, “Do women prefer the term fisherwoman over fishermen?” check out the responses given by Toni Marsh — who first went to Alaska to work in the fishing industry in 1982 — to a Parade reporter. Marsh replied, “You earn respect as a male or a female fisher so the gender labels are not necessary. You work hard to be one of the crew and respected, not one of the ‘guys’ — there is a big difference.”
So if women who are actively fishing feel no need to be called fisherwomen, perhaps it might be time to put this desire to change the mascot of Astoria away and let the Fishermen remain — reminding generations to come how the fishing industry played a vital role in the development of our hometown.