Mr. R. M. “Tolly” Tollefson was the founder and builder of Tollycraft Yachts. He was born in Stites, Idaho on January 24, 1911. His Father, Theo and Mother Mae Decker raised him on their farm. In 1919, when he was 8 years old, they moved to Portland, Oregon. Tolly attended the University of Oregon studying Architecture for two years. In 1933 he moved to Kelso, Washington were he worked in Real Estate and Insurance. World War II broke out and he joined the United States Coast Guard in 1941. Serving as a Lieutenant, he had many adventures including a tour of duty to the South Pacific as Captain of a 150-foot salvage/rescue tugboat for 18 months.
In 1946 he purchased a Central Lumberyard and Millwork plant operating it until a raging fire destroyed the plant in 1952. That same year he began Tollycraft Yachts with 8 employees. In the spring of 1959 the Tollycraft Plant, adjacent to the Kelso, Washington Airport, was built in just 90 days. History began and throughout 35 years over 6,000 vessels were built.
In 1987, at 76 years old, Tolly sold the Tollycraft Company retiring from the business. At that time, he had 22 staff officers, including 6 production supervisors and employing over 260 employees. He was the largest employer in the community of Kelso. In 1988 he bought a condominium in Edmonds. His retirement allowed him to spend time enjoying his love of drawing and cruising those waters of the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
In 1991 Tolly took delivery of his final yacht, “Tolly”, the now famous beautiful blue hull 48-foot Tollycraft Yacht.
That same year, he moved into his home in Port Ludlow and moored his vessel at Port Ludlow Marina. For ten years, he cruised the San Juan Islands in Washington State and the spectacular waters of Canada including the Canadian Gulf Islands, Desolation Sound, Princess Louise Inlet and one season taking a cruise to Alaska.
He has attended nearly all of the Tollycraft Boating Club Rendezvous in Puget Sound and the Canadian Tollycruisers Rendezvous in Canada. He has averaged over 200 hours on “Tolly” each year cruising and meeting old and new friends.
After the 2001 boating season and a long and extended cruising to many of his favorite ports of call, Tolly decided to retire from active cruising selling his now famous blue hull Tollycraft, “Tolly”.
Tolly retired to his Port Lulow home drawing his “dream boats” and continued to enjoy visiting with his friends and family. Since becoming an armchair cruiser, he enjoys watching with binoculars the boating traffic in Admiralty Inlet or at the marina from his reading room window while lighting up his pipe. Every now and then he sees one of his Tollycraft Yachts cruise by and through an old habit gives a modest salute to one of his “family” members.
In January of 2001 Mr. R. M. “Tolly” Tollefson celebrated his 90th Birthday Party at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Seattle, Washington. To show his appreciation and gratitude for all the loyal friendships and support over the years, Tolly invited friends, family, previous staff from the “old” Tollycraft Yacht Company, dealers, suppliers and members from the Oregon, Canadian and Puget Sound Tollycraft clubs to his birthday party. It was a huge success with over 370 people in attendance. Tollycraft Boating Club continued to celebrate his birthday with Tolly every January, at the Elliot Bay Marina.
The club showcased Tolly and his legendary boats to the Seattle boating community in the 85th annual Opening Day of Boating Season Parade. Tolly was so excited to not only see 19 of the Clubs’ boats in the parade, but also to see so many other Tollycrafts lining the parade route on the log boom.
In January, 2011 more than 150 Tollycraft owners from the USA and Canada celebrated Tolly’s 100th Birthday with Tolly in Port Ludlow. Much of the original Senior Management Team from Tollycraft Corp. were also there. Tolly was very much engaged in the event and many owners later visited Tolly at his home for a more personal visit.
Later that year Tollycraft owners, Donna & Larry Coffey of Port Townsend organized a wonderful Tollycraft display at the Northwest Maritime Centre in Port Townsend, a display which was open to the public for two months. The display included photos, letters, documents and other memorabilia of Tolly and Tollycraft Yachts.
Sadly, at 21.35 hours on May 6, 2011, Robert Merland Tollefson cast off for the last time at the fine age of 100. Tolly left a wonderful legacy to us all. Fine yachts, great friends and an association of like minded boaters. Tolly was a ‘boater among boaters’. He will be missed by all.
It was high tide and Tolly left in time to catch the evening ebb tide for the last time….
Story courtesy of Three Sheets Northwest, local boating news, community and resources. Visit them at www.threesheetsnw.com