Dan Still Remembered
The Daily Olympian November 27, 1977
Yelm- Most towns erect monument to city founders, mayors or other notable community leaders. Not Yelm. It has a monument to a man who came to town as a hobo and left 33 years later as a beloved legend.
Dan Maslowski wasn’t a typical tramp. Nor was he a city founder, but many say he was the top citizen of Yelm. He was a respected and trusted community member. His memory is lodged in the warmest spot of many a heart. Maslowski earned himself a niche as Yelm’s Mr. Clean.
Townsfolk who remember the old hobo have their favorite storied to tell. And all have nothing but good things to say about their old Dan. Some resent him being called a tramp.
The drinking fountain monument is in front of Yelm’s fire hall on Main Street. It reads, “Keep Yelm Clean. In memory of Dan Maslowski-1971.” It was placed there a year or so after old Dan’s death in July of 1971.
Yelm grocer and former state legislator Hal Wolf, and the late Bob Ellis, who once owned Bob’s Tavern, gathered donations for the monument. They sold bumper stickers that read, “Keep Yelm Clean for Dan.” Ellis’ son-in-law Jim Forrester, present owner of Bob’s Tavern, said some people thought the stickers were in referent to Gov. Dan Evans. It became something of a joke to keep people straightened out on the matter.
Ellis and Mel Johnson spent hours installing the fountain monument. “There’s not many tributes in this town and this is the only one on Main Street. Nobody else got into the hearts of people here,” Wolf declared.
Wolf was a young man when Maslowski hit town. He remembers his dad and others liked to buy Maslowski’s breakfast because they were so pleased with the way he kept the town clean. “He read a lot and sometimes gave the impression that he’d once had a formal education,” Wolf recalled.
“Since old Dan died, we’ve had a real problem in trying to keep the town clean. We’ve never solved it. Whenever something needed to be done for the city, Dan would do it. This town hasn’t been the same without him. There aren’t any hobos left today.”
As the story goes, Maslowski left his Wisconsin home at the age of 13 because of family problems. He rode the rails across America until finding Yelm in 1938. He once told Ellis, “The first night I got to Yelm they didn’t throw me in the can. So I just stayed. It was the first place where they didn’t throw me in the can.”
His first night in town, he bummed a handout at the door of Martin Gruber, then co-owner of the Gruber-Docherty Lumber company and later treasurer of Thurston county. But that was the last time he begged for food. After that he swept floors, chopped wood, cut grass, and did scores of other odd jobs about town. In return people gave him meals of maybe some change.
At first he slept in a little house behind Bruber’s, then city hall was his home until Ellis gave him a room in his hotel. In the early 1960’s, Ellis tore down the top story of the hotel and turned the first floor into a tavern and a Laundromat. Maslowski squeezed into a small room between the two.
That’s where he lived until his death except for three months he lived at the McKenna rest home.
As the years went by street cleaning became his forte. “He’d be up at four nearly every morning sweeping the streets whether it was rain, snow, or shine,” recalled Forrester.
“The town has never been as clean since old Dan died. He swept parking lots, porches, sidewalks and not only Main Street but every street in town.”
Others said he could often be seen outside shaking a fist at a horse rider going through town, if the horse dirtied the pavement.
After many years, the city finally put him on the payroll for his cleaning efforts. He got $25 per month.
Forrester said Maslowskit was good at sweeping out Bob’s Tavern until carpet was put in. “He didn’t like carpet because he couldn’t sweep it.”
“There’s not been many in the world that could smoke a cigar like Dan. He was the most contented, leisurely and relaxed smoker. But he had to quit drinking during his last three years because the doctor told him his heart was going band. He obeyed doctor’s orders.”
Mrs. Evelyn Fall, who remarried after the death of her husband Bob Ellis, remembers she and Ellis were newlyweds’ when Maslowski found Yelm. “He stacked wood and picked strawberries for my mom and dad and all the little kids loved him. If everyone was as good as old Dan was, this would be a great world,” she said.
Maslowski was completely trustworthy. The Ellis’s often would send him to the bank with their earnings for the day. It was common to see him talking to himself while working and he loved cats and plants.
He served many a night as town watchman and was especially helpful in that capacity during Yelm Prairie Days in the summers.
City Clerk Roger Eide remembers giving Maslowski free haircuts at his barbershop. “I’d say one on the house and sometimes he’s pay and sometimes he wouldn’t,” Eide said with a grin. “He very seldom would work for anyone who wouldn’t give him a meal. And he’d eat enough for a week.”
Eide wasn’t the only one to mention Maslowski’s appetite. The fact that the old boy could eat is something all comment on.
Mayor Lora B. Coates remembers Maslowski helper her and her husband harvest Christmas trees. “He was certainly a legend. He was as typical a small town character as you could find. But he was part of a vanishing breed.”
Maslowski died of a heart attack July 26, 1971. The town was hut down for the hour of his funeral.
A Daily Olympian story about the funeral hit national and international news wires. Mrs. Frieda Young, of Selkirkshire, Scotland, though she might be related to Maslowski and sent a letter of inquiry to Yelm. Mayor Coates sent all the information she had about Maslowskit to Mrs. Young.
The two corresponded for about a year, and Mrs. Young last wrote that she positively felt she was related to him.
Mrs. Connie Turner is one Yelm resident who still thinks often of old Dan. She visits his resting place in the Yelm cemetery at least once a year. She planted shrubbery on the grave since Maslowski liked “anything growing.” And she still takes care of the grave.
Mrs. Turner says Maslowski reminded her of her own father. So she sort of adopted him as a second father. One New Year’s Eve she got him on the dance floor, despite heavy bets that he wouldn’t. Most of the time he shied away from females.
It’s been said that no one ever captured the heard of Yelm as did Dan Maslowskit. And no one has since.