February, 2012

Once Upon a Time at Hump’s

Editorial Comments

by Deborah Steele Hazen

“We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature.” 

                   -  Edmund Burke


Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Fond memories, melancholy and happiness have been battling within us for the past week with the news of the closing of Hump’s Restaurant.

We are happy that Pam and Eric Sellix, who have worked very hard for over three decades in the family business that Pam grew up in, are finally going to be able to enjoy a belated and well-deserved retirement.

But that happiness is fighting with sadness at the passing of a long-established Clatskanie business that has been at the center of this community’s life for the past 65 years.

Only a few long-time area residents can remember when Forris Humphrey (nicknamed “Hump”) first came to town.

Forris grew up in Georgia and joined the Merchant Marines during World War II, serving as a cook on ships – including ammunition ships that loaded cargo bound for the Pacific Theatre at the Beaver Army Ammunition Depot – now Port Westward – near Clatskanie. He thought this town looked like a nice place to settle down.

When he returned here after the war, he bought the Brach’s candy store and soda fountain in 1947 and expanded the menu. Forris also met, fell in love with and married a young teacher from North Dakota, Rachel (Thompson) Reynolds, who had  come to town with her little girl after being widowed when her first husband was killed while serving in the military during World War II.

Forris adopted Pam, and by the end of 1949, the Humphreys were the parents of another daughter, Merry (Melonas).

For those of us who grew up in Clatskanie, Forris and Rachel were community leaders and role models – Forris, the savvy businessman (with the generous, tender heart that some never knew about), and Rachel, the lovely, gracious lady, who quietly and routinely performed private acts of kindness.

Pam, very much like her mother, was one of those girls, several years older than I, whom I idolized during my childhood. She was beautiful, intelligent, talented, poised and, most importantly, nice.

Merry, my classmate and friend, and Pam grew up eating most of their meals at Hump’s, and, as they grew older, working there, just as Pam and Eric’s daughters, Melinda and Terrell, did in their teens and young adulthoods. They are both now employed and residing elsewhere with their families.

It was fun for me, as a child, to stay overnight with Merry and get to eat dinner at Hump’s. On the other hand, Merry has told me that it was fun for her to visit friends who had family meals at home.

That’s the way family businesses are. The Humphrey girls grew up eating their meals at Hump’s, I grew up with printer’s ink under my fingernails, and my husband grew up assembling lawnmowers in the back of the hardware store.

In 1955, as the “new” Highway 30 route through Clatskanie was being completed, “Hump” and “Rae” constructed and opened their new drive-in restaurant on the site of the current Hump’s.

At first, it was a classic ‘50s-style restaurant with a counter and stools, a few booths and a drive-up window, specializing in burgers, fries and milkshakes. Before long they added broasted chicken – a town favorite.

Through the years, the Humphreys expanded the business, offering a wide variety of menu items, adding a more formal dining room, upstairs office space, and a lounge. I doubt if there’s anyone who remembers or can verify this, but my grandmother, Malvina Steele, who died 40 years ago, claimed to have given Forris and Rae the idea of naming Hump’s lounge, the “Camel Room.”

During the 1970s and ‘80s, when my generation was in our young adult years, the Camel Room was quite the hot spot. There are lots of fond memories – and a few best forgotten. I have witnessed the looks of concern on Rachel’s face, and I have heard of the times that she and Forris personally drove people home or found other ways to ensure their safety.

Both Forris and Rae were active in the Clatskanie Presbyterian Church. Forris was a member of the Clatskanie Masonic Lodge, and served, at various times, on the Clatskanie city council, the Columbia County planning commission, and the Port of St. Helens budget committee. He died suddenly in 1991 at the age of 76.

Rachel, who now resides at an assisted living facility in Portland, was active in P.E.O. and Eastern Star, and was always there with food, kindness and a helping hand for sick or grieving friends and acquaintances.

I will never forget that night in January of 1989 when Hump’s was destroyed by fire. In the dark pre-dawn hours as the Clatskanie firefighters were hosing down the smoldering ruins, Rachel and Pam were serving coffee and donuts out of the Conestoga (which the Sellixes also own) to the firefighters, the press and curious on-lookers and passersby.

It’s hard to do a service for that family; they’ve always been so busy serving others.

After graduating from Clatskanie High School, Pam received her degree from the University of Oregon. She was teaching in the San Francisco Bay area when she met Eric Sellix, a graduate of Princeton with a master’s degree from Stanford, who had served as a combat artillery officer in Vietnam. They were married in 1968, and lived on the East Coast for about 10 years, where Eric was employed as an electrical engineer specializing in computers. Melinda and Terrill were born during those years.

Change and Rebirth

In 1978, Pam and Eric made the life-changing decision to move their family to Clatskanie and take over the business from Forris and Rae.

In many ways, they also assumed Pam’s parents’ roles as community leaders. Both are active in their church, and in various organizations.

Eric has served on the school board, the city budget committee and the City of Clatskanie economic development task force. He’s also come to the aid of The Chief in times of computer upgrades and glitches, and it was Eric who took the unfinished video/DVD history of Clatskanie based on Melvina Barr’s old pictures and narration, and completed it.

During their first years back in Clatskanie, Pam was the pianist for the Clatskanie Presbyterian Church, accompanying both the choir and the congregation. She has been active for over 30 years in Chapter T P.E.O., serves as a director of the Clatskanie Foundation and is chair of its scholarship committee.

For decades Hump’s has hosted  the Clatskanie Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis Club, and Pam and Eric have been involved in and supportive of their programs, as well as many other projects for the good of the community.

Through the years, Hump’s has employed scores of local citizens. Many, many young people got their first job there, and learned valuable lessons about work ethics and responsibility.

Pam and Eric are quick to credit their hard-working staff members over the years for the success of the restaurant, and for making both visitors passing through and “the regulars” feel at home.

But, the ultimate responsibility of a family business lies on the shoulders of the family members. Like her parents before them, Pam and Eric have worked through illness and injury, the deaths of loved ones and the births of grandchildren. They have taken precious little time off. We wish them a joyful retirement.

For all of my lifetime, Hump’s Restaurant has been the setting for not only many, many meals, but meetings and receptions, birthday parties, anniversaries and wakes, breakfasts with Santa, class reunions, forums for candidates, book-signings, art shows, special events of all kinds. It has been the drop-off site for various organizations, the starting place of prayer chains, and a message center for the community.

After the old, much-remodeled building burned on that miserable January night 23 years ago, some wondered what the future would hold for Hump’s. It emerged, literally from the ashes, bigger and better than before.

When they reached normal retirement age a few years ago, Pam and Eric put the restaurant and the building up for sale. Unfortunately, that coincided with the recession.

The Sellixes kept toiling on until last November, when they made the decision to close and it was announced in this newspaper. Then, within a day or two an opportunity for someone to take over the managership arose. Ultimately, that didn’t come to fruition. So, the Sellixes made the decision to close the restaurant Sunday, Feb. 26.

It was a busy, nostalgic weekend for Hump’s and its customers.

While Pam and Eric have retired, we have every hope in the future for the facility. They are keeping all options open. Maybe it will re-open as a restaurant under different management or ownership; maybe the building will be reborn to other uses.

An era has passed, and another is looming on the horizon.

Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.”    

                      – Bruce Barton




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