Joe Mentor made things go in Kitsap County

The first column I wrote about Joe Mentor was in February 1968, when he walked into my office at the Bremerton Sun and asked, “So why no Forward Thrust for Kitsap County?”

The first column I wrote about Joe Mentor was in February 1968, when he walked into my office at the Bremerton Sun and asked, “So why no Forward Thrust for Kitsap County?”

Forward Thrust was a big deal in King County where business bigshots promoted a bond issue for improvement to enhance Seattle’s stature to that of its rival cities down the West Coast.

“There are a lot of things we need and they don’t cost any impossible figures, either,” said Joe. “We need a civic center that would cost about $2.5 million; a public library at $250,000; a large, covered community swimming pool for about $150,000; and a marina for about $500,000.”

All these could be part of a downtown complex that would give Bremerton a tremendous boost, he said.

“They’re putting the center in by the college anyway, so if we put these basic facilities near there, we’d have the right kind of environment for conventions. We’d get restaurants and shops.”

And as long as a Forward Thrust package was being put together, other things could be included, he said, a new juvenile home, perhaps a public golf course, or a new county-city building.

Now, I knew he knew what he was talking about. Here was a guy born Giuseppe Migliorini who learned the building trade from his father, who Americanized their name to Mentor. When he was 8 years old, he was shingling roofs. In high school, he was bidding contracts for remodeling jobs. At 18, he was the subcontractor to install the plumbing in the comfort stations at Ohanapecosh Hot Springs on Mount Rainier. At 23, he was elected president of Kitsap County Homebuilders, and at 33, he was a self-made millionaire.

Telling him something couldn’t be done was waving a red flag. When he offered his home for a Dan Evans fund-raiser and they sold too many tickets, he added on to the house to make room.

At that time, he was thinking about running for an open seat in the state House. He was a Republican, but his party was petrified of him. Labor will kill him, he said, he’s a non-union employer. What about the rumors! Did a piano fall through the top floor in a Mentor built house once as labor liked to say? He may embarrass our Gov. Dan Evans. Joe was hurt.

“I’m willing to stand up and answer any rumors anybody interested in about me,” he said.

“One thing nobody’s ever heard and that’s that any guy ever got the best of me,” Mentor said. “And isn’t that the kind of person you want to send to the Legislature to fight for our county?”

The voters thought so.

In Olympia, Joe got in trouble right away. When Gov. Evans came out in favor of putting students on the board of regents of the universities, Joe opposed it. Students lack the one thing they need most to be making decisions affecting thousands of people, he said. Experience.

When campus radicals at the University of Washington threatened to burn buildings if all defense oriented activity didn’t cease, including the Applied Physics Laboratory, a meeting was set up with the Navy, Navy Base Association and the UW to discuss it. When Joe found out that the admiral heading the Naval Ordnance System Command in Washington, D.C. couldn’t make it, but was sending a rep, he got the admiral on the telephone and said we want you on deck.

The admiral agreed to come at a later date. The original meeting blew up as the Navy backed out to wait for the admiral. Everybody was furious at Joe, but the Applied Physics lab stayed at the UW.

Joe lasted two terms and lost his seat when they redistricted, and put him in the all Kitsap 23rd and third party candidate Cris Shardelman took 900 conservative votes that sank him.

I’m going to miss Joe Mentor. Sure, he cut corners, but he never hurt anybody but himself cutting red tape with a bulldozer.

“I sleep well at night,” he told me. “Nobody ever bribed me. I never took any money from anybody. I never left any on the table in any deal worked either. A nice Christian lady handles my accounting and takes care of that.” Indeed it does.

Buono Notte, Giuseppe. You gave three score and 10 a pretty good run. Think what Bremerton could be today if others had pursued your vision.

(Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.)