Wink Soderberg has led an enterprising life, keeps active on TERO Commission

05.12.2017 Brent Merrill Elder Profile

Tribal Elder and former Tribal Council member William Joseph “Wink” Soderberg spent his early childhood in Grand Ronde. In the mid to late 1930s, the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation was a much different place than it is today.

When Wink, 83, was a boy there was no running water in his Reservation home and the family’s outhouse was a 50-yard sprint in the middle of the night or winter cold.

“My mother always kept us involved with Indians,” Wink says of his childhood. “When the federal government terminated us that didn’t make any difference to her. She still kept every record she could get for my family and my brother’s family.”

Wink, who served six years on Tribal Council from September 2005 through September 2011, was raised by his mother on his grandfather’s dairy farm that was located where the current Grand Ronde Community Water Association office is on Highway 18 near Spirit Mountain Casino.

Wink’s mother was Clarinda Maxine Quenelle and her parents were Fabian Frank Quenelle and Matilda “Tillie” Winslow.

Wink’s father was William Joseph Soderberg Jr., who bestowed the nickname on him.

“My dad, his sisters used to call him that,” Wink says. “That was his nickname. He didn’t care for it that much as he got older, so when I was born he stuck it on me. And then later, when I was thinking of getting rid of it, the kids wanted to call me ‘Winky’ and I said ‘No, you can’t do it.’ … So they started calling my middle son Wink, but he’s out of it now so I’m the only one. Where I go, the name is going with me.”

Wink’s brother, Arthur Francois Soderberg, walked on in 2007 at the age of 77.

“My mom and my brother and I were always pretty close,” Wink says.

Wink’s mother was a nurse and a popular barber in Grand Ronde when he was a child.

“My mother was very talented,” Wink says. “She used to cut hair on Saturdays and all the loggers would come down. My brother and I were very enterprising. We would go down there with her in the morning and we would get in the line. When she opened up there would be a long line and we would sell our spot in the line for a quarter. A quarter was pretty good money. The loggers thought that was pretty good so they went along with it.”

Wink and Arthur were sent to boarding school and they would see their mother when she visited to cut hair for the other school children.

Wink says it was his mother who instilled in him a love for the Tribe and its people, and when he was told about Marvin Kimsey, Merle Holmes, Margaret Provost, Dean Mercier and Darrell Mercier working on getting the Tribe restored, he knew he wanted to join the effort.

Wink says a discussion with Kimsey on what needed to be accomplished prompted him to drive from his Lake Oswego home with his wife Kathy. Wink says they attended every meeting the Tribe held and sometimes they were driving to Grand Ronde as much as three times a week.

“I told him (Kimsey) about my business experience and he said, ‘We will find something for you to do,’ ” Wink says. “And that’s how the whole thing started.”

Wink says the early days were about raising money for the Tribe’s future.

“We had to raise money for anything we wanted,” Wink says. “Most of that money was raised through cake sales and raffles. I wanted to be involved in an Indian organization. My mother kept track of all of our stuff and I thought at least I can be involved.”


Surrounded by family

Wink has been married to Kathy for almost 61 years – they are high school sweethearts who met while Wink was attending prep school in Mount Angel and she was enrolled at a nearby girls’ academy -- and they have three sons, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Wink’s son, Tribal Elder Steven Soderberg, and his wife Ronnie live next to Wink in Grand Meadows and have five sons and three grandchildren. Steve, 59, works at Spirit Mountain Casino in the Finance Department.

Wink’s son Gary lives in Alaska and has two daughters. Gary, 57, was a logger for 20 years and now strings lines for the local power company.

Wink’s son and namesake William Joseph “Bill” Soderberg III is 55 and lives in Seattle with his partner Dave and they have two adopted children. He is a psychiatrist with a Seattle practice and Dave is the head of an architecture firm.

Steven says he remembers coming to Grand Ronde with his father in the early 1980s to attend meetings at the Tribal Cemetery office.

“I was in my early 20s,” Steven says. “We would go over to the cemetery to the little office they had over there. People would bring snacks. I probably went to three or four meetings. Nobody was doing it for any money.”

Steven says the tone of the meetings was calm, but there was excitement among the people even though they had nothing yet.

“People were wondering if it could really be done and if restoring the Tribe was even possible,” Steven says.

Wink says being part of the Tribe in the days before Restoration was a crucial time for the membership. He says people were motivated to see all their work toward Restoration succeed.

“They were committed,” Wink says of the members working on Restoration. “There was one thing that people thought about – you could see it in their eyes when they were in those meetings, you could see the passion. I was always tired going home, but I was kind of exuberant because that carries over.”

Wink says he enjoyed being part of something so important.


A Navy veteran

Wink is a Navy veteran, having served during the Korean War era from 1951-54. He served on two different ships: A refrigeration ship that supplied Navy depots and a survey ship that charted little-known portions of the Caribbean Sea.

After working 26 years for the Postal Service, Wink had several businesses usually involving sales. He spent time as a printing broker, wholesale broker, Amway salesman and he owned a Books Are Fun business before returning to Grand Ronde and eventually running for Tribal Council.

“The post office was my landmark, but I always had other businesses,” Wink says. “I read a million books; self-help books, business books and I had a garage full. I would listen to tapes all the time. I just learned.”

Wink says it was the book business that eventually prompted him to return to Grand Ronde after living his adult life in Lake Oswego. He and Steven displayed their books in the Education Department and at the health clinic, and at one of the local schools.

Kathy says it was the couple’s desire to be closer to Kimsey and his late wife Michelle and Wink’s desire to be closer to the Tribe that brought them home to Grand Ronde to live.

Wink credits Tribal Council member Chris Mercier and former Tribal Council member and current Early Childhood Education Program Manager Angie Blackwell for helping him get elected to Tribal Council upon returning to Grand Ronde.

“They had my viewpoint,” Wink says. “They were always right there. They helped a lot. We thought the same.”

Wink also thanks Rebecca Crocker and June Olson for the time they spent helping him get elected to Tribal Council.

Chris Mercier says his only regret from his time together on Tribal Council with Wink was that he didn’t pick his brain more and learn more about Wink’s time on council before Restoration.

“He was good to work with,” Chris Mercier says. “You couldn’t ever say he didn’t have a sense of humor. One thing I noticed about him – he was very outgoing and sociable. When I would go to NCAI (National Congress of American Indians) or ATNI (Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians) national, regional Tribal functions they knew Wink.

“He was always out pressing the flesh and making contact with people. People knew who he was and who he worked for. He was a good representative. He was charming in his own way.”


A big TERO proponent

Wink says one of the things he learned about on one of those Tribal conference trips was Tribal employment rights ordinances. Despite his retirement, Wink sits on the Grand Ronde Tribe’s current TERO Commission.

He said he happened upon a TERO session at a conference and decided to sit in to see what he could learn and how it might benefit Grand Ronde Tribal members.

Little did he know that what he learned that day and what he brought back to Grand Ronde would become his signature accomplishment while serving on Tribal Council.

“I was involved with a lot of things,” Wink says. “I’m involved in the TERO Commission now. I brought it back right away.”

TERO Compliance Officer Duke Kimsey says Wink is an important contributor to the TERO Commission and that he is thankful for the work Wink invested in to establishing the program.

“We’ve had some great accomplishments,” Duke Kimsey says. “Our goal is to get these guys on and get them a career. I think last year we filled 160 positions. With Wink, he is proud of this. He definitely had something to do with it. He inspired it.”

Duke Kimsey says that he admires Wink for his willingness to speak up and for his efforts to learn the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance.

“He was the first one in my office getting the ordinance, reading up on it, learning it,” Duke Kimsey says. “He doesn’t mind speaking out and he will ask questions. He is really on top of his game for this. I think it’s a good spot for him.”

Longtime colleague, friend and current Tribal Council Vice Chair Cheryle A. Kennedy agrees that Wink is in his element when working on TERO efforts.

“His entrepreneurial spirit still is alive today. He is still out there looking for opportunities,” Kennedy says. “He still has a lot of ideas that he thinks about. I’m very pleased that he’s on our TERO Commission because he always had an idea that our people can work, they can learn. We are bright people. We’re industrious. We just need to get the opportunities that may not have been afforded us. It’s a good fit for him.”

Kennedy says she is related to Wink and that the two have worked together for the betterment of the Tribe and its people since before 1983’s Restoration. Kennedy says that Wink was part of a small but persevering group trying to determine the vision of and future direction of the Tribe.

“Wink really hasn’t changed throughout the years,” Kennedy says. “I think that he maintained the same forward-looking attitude. We were trying to establish ourselves.”

Wink says he really hasn’t changed much and that his core values of family being important and the people of the Tribe being his priority are still the same.

“All I ever wanted to do, I didn’t care if I had money or anything, all I ever wanted to do in my life was be successful at something. That was my main goal,” Wink says.