Colman, Kenneth Burwell (1896-1982)

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 4/13/2006
  • Essay 7706
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Kenneth Burwell Colman was a third-generation member of an influential pioneer family in Seattle and an important contributor to the community. Colman worked quietly and steadily throughout his life to facilitate civic improvements, especially for boys and girls of the region. Kenneth Colman and his sister Isabel Colman Pierce donated Camp Orkila on Orcas Island to the YMCA, Colman Pool in West Seattle to the city of Seattle, and the Seabeck Christian Conference Center, the oldest continually operating conference and retreat center in the Pacific Northwest, to serve charitable and non-profit organizations exclusively. For his extensive and unique contributions to the fabric of life in Seattle, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Kenneth Colman First Citizen of 1941.

Grandson of Pioneers

Kenneth Colman was born in Seattle on July 29, 1896. His mother was Ida Burwell Colman (1863-1947) and his father was Laurence James Colman (1859-1935), son of Seattle pioneers Agnes Henderson Colman (1842-1935) and James Murray Colman (1832-1906). James Murray Colman came to Washington Territory in 1861 and to Seattle in 1872. He established a coal mine, the Cedar Mountain Coal Company, and the Seattle's first railroad, the Seattle & Walla Walla. The Colman Dock and the Colman Building in Seattle are named for him.

Laurence Colman established Colman Creosote Works on the site of the present Union Station Depot. The business was later moved to West Seattle and kept the Colman family solvent during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Laurence Colman and his brother George founded Colman Realty Company, investing in commercial properties throughout Seattle. Kenneth Colman joined the firm in 1920 and became director in 1935, upon the death of his father.

Kenneth Colman graduated from Seattle's Broadway High School and from the University of Washington. He was married three times, to Susan Latta Colman, to Edith Jeffers Colman (1905-1970), and to Betty R. Bogardus Colman (b. 1910), and had four children, Keith, Audrey, Mary, and Lauren. 

In the late 1920s Kenneth Colman and his father Laurence developed the exclusive Windermere development in the Laurelhurst neighborhood bordering Lake Washington. The neighborhood was at that time so remote that Kenneth's wife, mother, and grandmother resisted the idea of living there. Windermere had curved streets and underground utilities, a novelty at the time.

Camp Orkila and Colman Pool

In 1906 Kenneth Colman's father, Laurence, established a YMCA camp (later Camp Orkila) on the Colman family's waterfront property on Orcas Island. In 1938 the Colmans donated Camp Orkila and the surrounding property to the Seattle YMCA. Kenneth Colman later told The Seattle Times that he retained "vivid memories of camping and yachting trips with his father. "I admired him greatly," Kenneth said. "One of my vivid impressions was the confidence others placed in Father" ("Tribute To Pioneer Seattle Fathers").

In the summer of 1941 Kenneth Colman, his mother Ida, and his sister Isabel Colman Pierce built and donated Colman Pool in Lincoln Park to Seattle as a memorial to Laurence Colman.  Colman Pool is a saltwater swimming pool built on the site of a popular tide-fed swimming hole. The Colman family compound of homes was near Lincoln Park.

First Citizen

On December 20, 1941, in the wake of the Colman Pool donation, the Seattle Board of Realtors (later renamed King County-Seattle Association of Realtors) announced that Kenneth Colman was the recipient of their prestigious First Citizen Award. The First Citizen Award honors outstanding commitment and dedication to the Seattle community. The award was presented at a banquet January 15, 1941, at the Olympic Hotel. Kenneth Colman was the fourth recipient of the award, which honored his family's legacy as well as his personal civic dedication. Reporting the announcement that Colman had been chosen, The Seattle Times stated:

"In announcing the honor, the board's committee pointed out that the history of the Colman family parallels the growth of the Puget Sound area ... outstanding among the family's characteristics, the board committee pointed out, has been its faith in real estate, evidenced today by its major holdings here, including the Colman Building, the Colman Dock, the Windermere residential district, and widespread commercial industrial properties" ("Kenneth Colman Is Named 'First Citizen' of 1941").

War Years and Beyond

During World War II, Kenneth Colman served as Regional Director of the War Production Board (a prestigious volunteer position), organized Seattle's two downtown United Service Organization (USO) locations, and was president of the Seattle-King County War Chest. Colman joined the Seattle Rotary Club in 1936 and remained a lifelong member with a 40-year record of perfect attendance. In 1946 he was vice-president of the National Safety Board. Colman chaired the Seattle and King County United Good Neighbor fundraising drive in 1957. United Good Neighbor was a precursor to the United Way. He served on the Seattle Parks Department board and as a senior council member of the Metropolitan YMCA. 

Colman was also a leader in the drive to replace the Seattle Public Library's downtown Carnegie-funded building. Seattle voters passed a $5 million bond issue to fund construction of a new library in 1956. The building opened in 1960. This building was in turn replaced with the current (2006) downtown library building in 2004.

In 1958 Seattle Mayor Gordon S. Clinton (b. 1920) appointed Colman to chair Seattle's urban renewal program. Colman's committee reviewed the housing code that set basic acceptable housing standards for the city. He was also active with the Fauntleroy YMCA (founded by his father) and the Fauntleroy Community Church.

After many years at the helm of the J. M. Colman Company, Kenneth Colman became vice-president and chairman of the board of Smith-Gandy Incorporated, a Seattle Ford dealership. He served on the board of the Seattle Symphony and was a member of the University Club, Rainier Club, Seattle Yacht Club, and Washington Athletic Club. A founding member of The Seattle Foundation, Colman also chaired the Citizen's Committee for the Civic Center Bond Issue. This issue approved funding to construct the Opera House and Seattle Repertory Theater and renovate the Civic Arena for the 1962 Century 21 Exposition. Colman chaired a committee that assembled gifts of art objects for the Opera House and Seattle Repertory Theater, personally donating artist Hilda Morris's sculpture entitled Muted Harp.

A Civic Leader

In 1962 Kenneth Colman received the National Association of Christians and Jews Brotherhood Award. J. F. Hayward presented the award to Colman, commending him for his "dedication to his church, his lay leadership in the Y.M.C.A., for his interest in and loyalty to the national conference and for his humanitarian concept of life and quiet unobtrusive way of serving others" (The Seattle Times, April 11, 1962).

In 1982 Kenneth Colman and his sister Isabel Colman Pierce deeded the Seabeck Conference Center property on Hood Canal to the nondenominational charitable corporation of Seabeck Christian Conference. The Colman family had owned this property since 1914, initially using it as a summer conference facility for the YWCA and YMCA. Kenneth Colman incorporated the grounds as a private, nonprofit conference center in 1936 and was involved with the organization until the time of his death.

Kenneth Colman died on April 27, 1982. He was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in West Seattle.

Sources: Beverly Winge, "U.G.N. Looks Forward to Another 'Over-The-Top' Campaign for Funds," The Seattle Times, September 8, 1957, p. 8; "Colman Named Chairman of Urban Agency," Ibid., March 13, 1958, p. 25; The Rev. Erle Howell, "Tribute to Pioneer Seattle Fathers," Ibid., June 15, 1958, p. 8; "Colman Honored For Civic Work," Ibid., April 11, 1962; "Volunteer Of Year named By Council," Ibid., June 2, 1964, p. 37; "Kenneth Colman Is Named City's 'First Citizen' Of 1941," Ibid., December 21, 1941; "Colman Heads Safety Group," Ibid., November 12, 1942; "Colman Honored By Faith Group," Ibid., March 13, 1962, p. B-4; "Rites Set For Kenneth Colman, Civic Leader," Ibid., April 29, 1982, p. C-4; "K. B. Colman, 85, An Activist In Civic Causes," Ibid., April 29, 1982, p. C-11; Dr. James R. Warren, "Ship Buried In History," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 24, 1982, p. C-4; Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 1 (January 1936), p. 94; "Mrs. Edith Colman, Financier's Wife," ibid., February 18, 1970; "Lincoln Park," Seattle Parks and Recreation website accessed December 15, 2005 (; "Comstock To Quit January 1; Work Lauded By Officials," clipping, n.d., File: "Colman," Biographical Files University of Washington Libraries Special Collections; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Colman, James Murray (1832-1906)" (by James R. Warren), "Seattle Neighborhoods: Fauntleroy -- Thumbnail History" (by Ron Richardson), and "YMCA Establishes Camp On Orcas Island In 1906" (by Cassandra Tate) (accessed January 4, 2006); "Kenneth Colman, of Pioneer Family, Weds His Secretary," clipping, January 4, 1940, in Scrapbooks on Alaska, Seattle, and Washington, compiled by Gilbert S. Costello, Vol. 16, p. 7, Seattle Public Library; Capitol's Who's Who for Washington 1949-50 (Portland: Capitol Publishing Company, 1949), 242; Raphael H. Levine, Rabbi Levine's Profiles In Service (Seattle: Evergreen Publishing Company, 1985), 48; Social Blue Book of Seattle, 1931-32, 1937-38, and 1954-55 (Seattle: Social Blue Book Publishing, 1931, 1937, 1954); King County, Washington marriage license No. 352035, filed March 5, 1971; Seabeck Christian Conference Center website accessed January 11, 2006 (

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