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Originally published Monday, November 11, 2013 at 9:05 PM

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Pleasant surprise found at The Rainier Club

Nicole Brodeur finds herself at The Rainier Club twice in 24 hours. The first time as architect Jim Olson is honored with the laureate award; the second as musician Mike McCready is recognized for his philanthropy.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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In 14 years of living in Seattle, I’ve never set foot in The Rainier Club.

So imagine the weirdness of being there twice in 24 hours — and the surprise that it isn’t the cognac-and smoking-jacket joint it looks like from the street.

The club is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, but still knows how to throw a party.

On Wednesday night, the club bestowed its annual Rainier Laureate Award to Seattle architect Jim Olson, founder of Olson Kundig Architects, and someone who designs like the kid he used to be.

His buildings are known for blending into the nature around them, like the railroad trestles Olson used to follow through his boyhood woods.

At 73, he’s busier than he’s ever been, designing an art museum at Washington State University; the visitors center at Bellevue Botanical Gardens; houses in India and South Korea; and a hotel in Mexico. He dreams of designing a museum for a personal art collection that is open to the public.

And he still might, he said. After all, Frank Lloyd Wright was in his 90s when he designed the Guggenheim.

“It takes so long to learn what is right and what is wrong,” Olson told me as we stood in a corner during cocktail hour. “The older you get, you develop a repertoire and a confidence in your own decisions. And the more my clients trust me.”

In the room, editorial cartoonist and 2002 Rainier Club Laureate David Horsey, who loves that the honor comes with membership for life. He and the 2011 laureate, New York Times writer and author Tim Egan, can’t believe they can walk in anytime.

“If our grandfathers ever came here,” Horsey said, “they would have been delivering stuff to the back door.”

Women were only allowed in a side door and then led to a drawing room where they waited for their member husbands. They were finally allowed membership in 1977, and that drawing room is now named for the first woman member, the late federal Judge Betty Fletcher.

Since then, there have been four women presidents, three of whom were in attendance the other night: Ann Farrell, Beth McCawand current President Robin Pasquarella. President-elect Miller Adamspresented Olson with his award.

Former Sur La Table President Renee Behnkegave me some cookware recommendations for the holidays (Demeyere from Belgium, if you must know), but said that she’s still using the same LeCreuset she got for her 25th birthday (from Sur La Table) “and my old cast-iron skillet,” she said. “I love it.”

Retired ad man Don Kraft (his firm had the World’s Fair account) was there with his wife, Midge, whom he met when she was the 11th Seafair queen. She rolled her eyes as he recounted it all, but I loved it.

“People think The Rainier Club is an old stuffy thing,” Kraft said. “But it’s got a lot of pizazz.”

Speaking of pizazz

There was plenty the next day at a luncheon at which Pearl Jam’s Mike McCreadyand his wife, Ashley O’Connor McCready, were recognized for their philanthropy by the Seattle Philanthropic Advisors Network (SPAN).

In an onstage interview with SPAN board member Jane Searing, the McCreadys talked about Mike’s diagnosis with Crohn’s disease, and how Ashley urged him to get involved with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).

In 10 years, they have raised an estimated $1.3 million for CCFA Northwest through an annual luncheon, a “Flight to Mars” benefit concert and a CCFA Night with the Seattle Mariners. The money helps send CCFA kids to summer camp together.

The two also have become involved with the Seattle Symphony, hosting an event called Club Ludo that puts McCready and conductor Ludovic Morlot on stage together and draws a new crowd to symphony events.

“That brings more than a check we can write,” Ashley said.

And they are currently co-chairing a capital campaign for KEXP’s new home at Seattle Center.

Of the august surroundings, McCready cracked, “It might be the first time you have tattooed people in here.”

Women at work

That power surge you felt in the air on Thursday? Both Oprah Winfreyand political strategist Donna Brazilewere in town at the same time.

Winfrey was at Starbucks headquarters as part of a “Super Soul Sunday” piece she’s doing on company CEO Howard Schultz. It airs on OWN Dec. 8.

Brazile was the keynote speaker at the Women’s Funding Alliance’s (WFA) annual AMPLIFY breakfast. But she was in the ballroom the night before, helping make the flower arrangements for the tables.

“It’s humility, and it’s real,” WFA’s Kristen Spanglersaid of Brazile, who is a CNN commentator and a vice chairwoman at the Democratic National Committee.

“Every time I come to Seattle, you guys have a different mayor,” Brazile cracked. “But hey, change is good.”

WFA’s executive director, Liz Vivian, pointed out the fact that women in Washington state still make 70 cents for every dollar men make. Closing that gender wage gap would generate $7.8 billion annually, she said.

“None of us work this hard for this long to settle for 70 cents on the dollar,” Vivian said. “It’s time.”

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.



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About Nicole Brodeur's Names in Bold

On Tuesdays, I tell you about my travels through some of the week's social and philanthropic events — not just the ones for the swells, but those for work-a-day folks who care about making this region move and improve. 206-464-2334

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