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Stolen totem pole will rise again in Renton

Woodcarver Jim Ploegman carved the Fred Meyer totem pole about 35 years ago, and now plans to aid in the restoration. The totem pole was stolen more than a month ago, before the Seattle Police Department found it with one also stolen from West Seattle.  - CELESTE GRACEY/Renton Reporter
Woodcarver Jim Ploegman carved the Fred Meyer totem pole about 35 years ago, and now plans to aid in the restoration. The totem pole was stolen more than a month ago, before the Seattle Police Department found it with one also stolen from West Seattle.
— image credit: CELESTE GRACEY/Renton Reporter

Thanks to the original woodcarver, Seattle police have identified the owners of a Renton totem pole, which was stolen and then recovered alongside a West Seattle pole.

"Unfortunately there are a lot of unscrupulous people in this world that will pay to get something like that," said White Bear, a member of the Duwamish Indian tribe.

The Seattle Police Department was happy to see the totem pole returned to Renton.

"There were bugs falling out of it in the police evidence room, and they wanted it out of there," said Jim Ploegman, who originally carved the pole 35 years ago.

The renewed interest in the 22-foot pole will help accelerate the restoration process, White Bear said.

The Ranier Avenue Fred Meyer, rightful owner, could put up to $10,000 into helping White Bear restore the pole, Bear said, who plans to restore the pole.

The faded totem pole had fallen so far from the public's attention that no one could say when it was stolen.

"Nobody who worked here (Fred Meyer) had ever seen it, because it was all faded and it looked like a telephone pole," said manager Eric Georgia.

No one knows how the about 800-pound Renton pole was stolen, but it was found in early December.

A company was contracted to remove the pole from West Seattle in broad daylight under the guise that it was being restored.

"They had a crane company who had the proper tools to remove this thing," said Seattle Police spokesperson Mark Jamieson.

The crew, convinced it was doing an honest job, received aid from two Seattle police officers, who directed traffic, Ploegman said.

Police tracked the West Seattle pole to a home in Keizer, Ore., where they found a second pole, he said. "But they don't know where the Hell the other one has come from."

When Ploegman heard that the Fred Meyer totem pole was also missing, he knew the one police hadn't identified was likely his.

The Seattle Parks Department brought both poles to Seattle.

The company hired to remove the West Seattle pole was then hired by Seattle police to return Renton's pole.

It now sits outside Ploegman's workshop, waiting for restoration to begin.

"I know the pole is in a good place, and I'll be able to get some advice from Jim on how to properly restore this," White Bear said.

Bear discovered the pole after parking under it at Fred Meyer. About eight months ago, Georgia gave White Bear permission to restore the pole.

The pole was commissioned in 1975 by Mr. Edwards, owner of the Renton Shopping Center.

It's worth about $1,500 per foot, Ploegman said.

"The only thing that survived from the original shopping center was that totem pole," Ploegman said.

The totem pole was made in honor of Henry Moses, the last hereditary chief of the Duwamish tribe.

Moses played on Renton High School's basketball team as the lone Native American in the early 1900s. Attempting to harass the team, opponents started calling them indians, Ploegman said.

The school decided to retain the nickname as its permanent mascot in honor of Moses.

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