George R. Senner, 1924-2003
George R. Senner 1924-2003
While in the Park Service at Mount Rainier National Park, I developed some of the closest friendships of my life, and many of us guides and park rangers met gals who later became our wives. It was there that my brother K and I also found our second brother, George Randolph Senner.
I first met George at the University of Washington in 1947, where as World War II veterans we were taking advantage of the G.I. Bill to further our education. George was among the vets of the 10th Mountain Division (“Mountain Troops”) and, as he had also been serving as seasonal ranger at Mt. Rainier, we later became better acquainted through skiing, climbing, and participating in mountain search-and-rescue operations.
George had an interesting background. Born and raised on a Kansas farm, he and his folks moved to Tacoma where George went through public schools while noting Mt. Rainier on the southeastern horizon. With a friend he often biked to the mountain, peddling some 50 miles to Mowich Lake in the northwestern corner of the park, from where he began exploring the foothills peaks and snowfields.
While a senior in high school in 1942 George was called into the principal’s office and confronted by man in an olive green uniform: Al Rose, chief ranger of Mount Rainier National Park. Apparently he had heard of George’s cycling trips and was on a trip to town to seek out youths for summer work in the park, at a time when many college-age kids were being drafted into the army. He offered George a job as fire lookout at Anvil Rock during the summer of 1942. From then on George Senner was hooked on the mountain. During the summer evenings he often hiked the three miles to Paradise for a little night life before climbing back up to his post.
During World War II George served in the headquarters company of 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment of the famed 10th Mountain Division, and saw action in the Italian Campaign. Through the years he has maintained touch with his wartime buddies and made several return trips with his wife Glo to Italy to revisit scenes of those days of glory with the “Old 10th.” George sent me a typed version of his war-time diary, and I found mention of several of his fellow mountain troopers, some who were or became members of the AAC: Glen Dawson, Bill Hackett, Bert Hirtle, Shorty Lange, and John Montagne.
It was at Paradise after the war that he met Gloria Olson, who worked as a waitress for the Park Company. After their marriage and upon his graduation from the UW with a major in geography, George took Glo to Europe, intending to stay only for the summer. But he found work in the Alps of Germany and Austria with the U.S. government. For a while he managed the Schneefernerhaus atop the Zugspitze (Germany’s highest peak), and later he was part of a team that evaluated and returned to Germans the property confiscated from them during the war. In their wide travels, much by bicycle, George and Glo became well acquainted with Europe and the Alps, and this proved valuable to the trip K and I took with George through the Alps in 1973. The Senners’ return to the U.S. was expedited with a Civil Service transfer from Europe to serving as a civilian advisor in the Army’s Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command at Camp Hale. There he regained contact with some of his “Old 10th” buddies.
George had his career as sales rep for the Griffin Envelope Co./North Pacific Banknote Co. in Seattle, and made many friends in the local business community, even taking some up Mt. Rainier. Besides scrambling around together on Mt. Rainier—including taking Governor Dan Evans to the summit in 1965—and other Northwest volcanoes and peaks in the North Cascades and Olympics, George and I shared a rope in bringing Jim and Lou Whittaker down Mt. McKinley after their accident high on the mountain in 1960. Then in 1965 George arranged for me to join him in a climb of Mt. Kennedy in Yukon Territory, which culminated in our joining the party that took Senator Robert F. Kennedy to the summit.
Between pioneering new routes and serving in a number of rescue operations on Mt. Rainier and throughout the Cascades in the 1950s, George was a popular guide to the many friends, neophytes, and VIPs he took up The Mountain over many decades. He’s been a member of the American Alpine Club since 1949 and was a charter member of the Seattle Mountain Rescue Unit in 1948, along with the 10th Mountain Division Association, the Pacific Northwest Ski Instructors Association, and the Ancient Skiers.
In our retirement years, as “Old Cronies Expeditions,” George, my brother K and I, along with Elvin R. Bob (“Swede”) Johnson and Kurt Beam, made a number of auto trips throughout the western U.S. and Canadian Rockies. These trips were enlivened with observations of the geologic settings and climbing history of the mountains, and I’ll never forget the running descriptions by K—a real authority on the subject—of the geology of the Canyonlands of western Colorado and Utah. Meanwhile, during our cocktail hours in various motels along the route, George would relate the details of the many trips he shared with Glo in Europe and across the U.S.—his famous “Glo ‘n’ I” stories. For our later trips, George had acquired a camcorder and he prepared a great audiovisual record our trips to the Canadian Rockies and down the Oregon-California coast. Now that George, brother K, and Bob Johnson have passed on, these videos have provided Kurt and me with the clearest “contact” with our old cronies.
All of us who’ve known George will miss his cheery smile and personality—and sharing stories of mountains and mountaineers. Above all, we’ll remember the great parties he and Glo hosted at their Seattle home, which kept many of us oldsters in touch with each other over the decades. Besides his wife Gloria, George is survived by daughters Kris, Gretchen, and Trudi and their families, all devoted mountain lovers and skiers.
Dee Molenaar, AAC