Early last week Vence Malernee emailed me a story idea.
A doyen of the Northwest hook-and-bullet world — a man who came up through the ranks when sporting writers clattered away on Underwoods and sent in their stories and grip-and-grin pics affixed with 5- and 10-cent stamps through the U.S. Mail — he had been amazed by the big views a picture posted to his employer’s Facebook page had received over the previous weekend.
It gave him an idea.
First thing Monday morning he got on his phone and tapped out a message that in a sense also encapsulated his writing and editing style over the past five decades: brief, to the point, remorselessly opportunity driven.
He was interested in putting together something on bowfishing for carp; I was intrigued, but needed more on the timeframe. The next day Vence responded that summer would be best, before September.
By that time, though, I was deep into the chaos of sending four magazines to press, so I put it on my mental backburner as something to follow up with him on this week.
I never got the chance.
On Monday I learned that Vence had passed away at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue on Easter of a heart attack.
Born Vencil P. Malernee in early 1947, he was 67 years old.
“Words cannot describe Vence, so know this, family was his highest priority,” an obituary reads. “He was loved and that’s the one thing he could take with him. He will be missed by all who knew him.”
An audibly shaken Glen Wooldridge recalled how the man known by his grand-daughter Avey as “Uncle Vence” was more than the longtime sales and marketing director of his family’s Seattle-based aluminum boat-building business.
“He was a good friend, an adviser, a confidante,” he said, choking back tears, then adding, “He was the first one who took me hunting.”
They bagged one too.
The pair first met on the banks of the Skykomish River in 1983. Wooldridge Boats was coming out with its first sleds with tunnels, an innovation “to enhance ‘clean’ water flow to the pump, minimize side slippage on hard cornering, raise the intake to be less apt to hit the jet foot in shallow running and enhance overall handling and jet performance,” according to the company.
Vence had initially assigned one of his writers at Fishing & Hunting News to go for a test ride with Glen in the 16-footer, but somewhere along the line, he decided he wanted to see the new boat perform firsthand too, so he floored it from F&H‘s office on Eastlake Avenue in Seattle and made it out to Sultan for the 10 a.m. run up through the old channels near the Wallace Flats.
Glen had scouted them just beforehand so that he knew what his new boat could handle, and even if Vence had been skeptical before skating that skinny water, by lunchtime back down in Monroe, he was plotting how he would play the story across the pages.
Ten years later, in 1993, Vence would be hired by Wooldridge, a move that shifted his name off the bylines and mastheads of the region’s longest-running outdoor-oriented publication and into the world of product catalogs, brochures and advertisements.
“He was a master of writing copy. It just flowed out of him,” recalled Glen.
Indeed, if there was ever anyone born to promote fishing, hunting and boating in the Northwest and beyond it might have been Vence, who was born in Aberdeen and grew up in the southern Olympic Peninsula town of Montesano back when the Chehalis and its tribs teamed with salmon and steelhead and Camp Grisdale had its heyday.
“I would have to go to bed, if it was a school night, and I would sneak F&H News into the bedroom and take a flashlight and read it under the covers,” Vence told the magazine’s then-managing editor John K. Marsh in 2003 for a 50-year anniversary issue.
He and his father, Clarence, were “maniacal hunters.”
“Every weekend Dad and I were up in the woods. We were scouting game when it wasn’t hunting season, we were hunting when it was. I mean, literally every weekend. I decided then someday I wanted to work for F&H,” he told John.
Vence’s first article, on reloading, a lifelong pursuit of his, was published by American Rifleman in the early 1960s while he was still just in junior high or high school — he couldn’t remember which when he and I were emailing about his three-part series on it for Northwest Sportsman that ran a few years ago now.
Later in the ’60s he freelanced for F&H for a couple years before hiring on in 1969, editing the magazine’s various Western editions — even writing under pen names — before moving up to managing editor and then director of editorial operations for owner Bill Farden.
During his tenure F&H was both colorful — alliterative headlines like “Stripers Cruise Coos Sloughs” were the rage in the 1980s — and productive. Through its upbeat, snappy and informative “go-and-do” articles and map features that strove to give its subscribers “fireworks on the Third of July,” in the words of Farden, and new-product profiles, the magazine was at the peak of its power.
And it was a veritable factory for cranking out a generation of outdoor writers, including Wayne Kruse, now of the Everett Herald, Terry Rudnick, who enjoyed a long career with WDFW and now freelances for several magazines, Terry Sheely, formerly of Fishing Holes and now The Reel News, Patrick McGann, now the editor of Salmon Steelhead Journal, and Dave Workman, who writes widely for gun publications, including Northwest Sportsman.
“Vence was a cornerstone member of the F&H staff,” recalls Dave. “He was a strong voice for sportsmen and a firm believer in the consumptive use of our fish and game resources.”
He says Vence felt particularly strongly about blackmouth fishing on Puget Sound, then a fledgling fishery. Biologists had recently discovered that holding Chinook smolts at the hatchery an extra year kept them from heading to the North Pacific. The program now allows saltwater anglers to fish for their favorite species in protected waters nearly year-round, spawning not only opportunity but a cottage industry of fishing tackle.
“His on-the-water research opened the sport to tens of thousands of people,” says Dave.
Another on-the-water moment is forever burned into the memories of John, who joined the company as a copy editor in the mid-1980s and was its managing editor at the end, in late July 2008.
“This is the way I will always see Vence,” says John. “I remember riding in his sled up the Cowlitz, the wind in his face. He loved to go fast, but he was nimble picking through the whitewater and never had to slow down much. I also remember sitting in the front seat of his Suburban as he sped up the hill to the old Eastlake office, when snow had shut down Puget Sound traffic. Vence drove from Pierce County to Snohomish County that day picking up people who said they couldn’t make it into the office. When the brakelights flashed ahead, Vence stepped on the accelerator and eased it to the right.”
“Someone told me Vence had once raced quarter-midget or small go-karts as a hobby,” John remembers. “I believe it because that was his personality: daring, but nimble and in control.”
A prodigious man, Vence was economical if not downright thrifty with his words; he probably would be embarrassed by the length of this piece. The articles he sent me were stripped of extraneous “the’s” and other terms that might bog readers down or steal entire lines of valuable space because of some widow/orphan at the end of a paragraph. He preferred space-saving symbols and abbreviations that I was forever changing to inches, feet, ounces and pounds in the third-page monthly Wooldridge fishing column that runs in the magazine.
While I only ran into Vence once, at Bill Farden’s remembrance, I emailed him off and on with arcane fishing or hunting questions — say, deer in the Satsop in the 1950s and ’60s; the beginning of jig fishing for steelhead in the early ’70s — or when I was looking for the long perspective.
Sometimes he wrote back with something positive to say about Northwest Sportsman or a blog I’d written. Even though we came from different eras, we shared a birthday and went through a common door — I edited the Washington, Oregon, California, Rocky Mountain and Mid-Atlantic editions of F&H News at various times between summer 2004 and when the mag folded — so his comments always made me feel like I was doing something right.
Last year I was able to return the favor by helping him begin to understand how to harness social media. Wooldridge Boats now has Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds, as well as an active YouTube channel.
“He was an outstanding mentor of not only myself but all of the people around him,” says longtime friend Tom Nelson of SalmonUniversity.com. “He and I fished from the Columbia River north to the tip of Vancouver Island over the years. He understood the sportsfishing and hunting community better than anyone I knew. He was always looking for an adventure and we had many together. I will miss him.”
Preceded in death by his father Clarence, sister Charmian, and son Ward, Vence is survived by his wife Patricia; his mother Lairola; his sisters Celeste, Lillian and Camille; his son Paul and daughter Michelle and their significant others Debbie and Geoffrey; and grandchildren Jason, Katrina, Jordan and Mikey.
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