The extraordinary life of Martin (“Marty”) C. Dirks, family man, adventurer and master storyteller who also made significant contributions to Seattle and King County infrastructure as a civil engineer, ended on July 16 in a Seattle hospital, surrounded by his loving family. He was 87.
Marty split his time between Seattle, where he was born on April 9, 1934, and Camano Island, where he was raised. Highlights of his teen years were chronicled in the Seattle Post Intelligencer by his father, Clarence, a sportswriter-turned “City-Bred Farmer” columnist. Clarence frequently wrote about his oldest son’s raising of award-winning Holsteins, rearing chickens and sheep, pitching hay, learning to drive a tractor, and of Marty’s numerous exploits with friends on the island.
Marty once listed 34 duties he had as a youth, from farm chores to working summers as a boatman at Camano fishing resorts to logging and, at age 16, spending one summer in a gold mining camp near Fairbanks before working as a cook in a forest fire fighting camp. He drove heavy equipment during the construction of the Hood Canal Bridge and other road projects and worked briefly as a commercial fisherman around Neah Bay. He had owned 13 vehicles, all in various states of repair, by the time he hit 18.
Following his 1952 graduation from Twin City High School in Stanwood, where he lettered in football, Marty attended Central Washington College in Ellensburg for a year before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps. He attributed his years as an avid hunter to his excellence in marksmanship ratings while in boot camp. He finished top in his class in aviation radio repair school before his assignment to airfield duty in the Mohave desert. Sgt. Dirks later took part in the “Operation Teapot” nuclear bomb tests in Frenchman Flats, Nev.
After three years in the military, Marty earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Washington. He married his wife of 61 years, Ann K. Smith, on Oct. 16, 1959 in West Seattle. He landed his first professional engineering position with Western Electric in New Jersey, where their twin sons Greg and Brian were born, but then took a position with Boeing so they could return to their beloved home state of Washington, settling in West Seattle where Ann was raised. The couple would have three more sons in Seattle over the next 11 years: John, Stephen and Tom.
Marty left Boeing after a year to work at Metro Engineers, a consortium of consulting engineering firms deployed by King County Metro to address the badly polluted Lake Washington and other civic projects. That led to Marty’s long career as a principal officer (and eventually president) of the Seattle firm of Kramer, Chin and Mayo (KCM). At KCM Marty had strong leadership roles over the design of several noteworthy projects, including the original sewage treatment plant at West Point in Seattle and later its extensive upgrade, several fish hatcheries and wastewater treatment plants across Washington, Alaska and the United States, municipal sewage systems, lake restoration projects, and stormwater systems. Marty was KCM’s project manager for the Seattle Aquarium. One of his proudest professional moments was traveling with his teammates to Washington, D.C. to accept his professional association’s national Grand Conceptor Award for the aquarium’s innovative design. In 1974 KCM won a contract with China to design a prawn rearing operation, one of the first of its kind to be awarded after China-U.S. relations were normalized. Marty went to China on behalf of the company for a few weeks to oversee its initial construction, his first of several trips there for other jobs. He also made numerous project trips to Alaska and other parts of the globe. He is credited with bringing in much of the company’s work through his extensive relationships in his field.
Marty was known through his many professional and personal life circles as a trouble-shooter, artful negotiator, problem solver and relationship builder. Marty was regarded as one of the region’s foremost experts in tunnels and sewer systems and his advice was sought even long after his retirement in 1995. He was a recipient of the Consulting Engineering Council of Washington’s Engineer of the Year award. Following his retirement Marty served on the boards of the Seattle Museum of History and Industry, the Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska and the South Seattle Community College Foundation, as well as a dispute resolution board for major public works projects. He kept in close contact with many of his high school classmates in Stanwood, even hosting a few class reunions on his property.
More significant to Marty than his professional life was his family and outdoor life.
In the 1960s Marty built a small cabin on Camano Island where the family spent most summer weekends and vacation time and lived for a year while he remodeled an older home in West Seattle. In 1972 Marty won the statewide, summer-long Seattle Sporting Goods fishing derby by catching a 44-pound chinook salmon off Camano and took home a boat as first prize. Marty helped his sons with their paper routes, became deeply involved in their Boy Scout activities and often took them salmon fishing and hunting.
Marty made annual fishing trips to British Columbia over the years and in the late 1990s began taking his sons along too until mostly hanging up his fishing rod eight years ago. Marty was known for his quick wit and humor and was generous with his time (and stories) with his family, many friends and neighbors. He served as a mentor to many young people, and nurtured professional mentorships. After learning to snow ski in his late 40s he co-organized annual ski trips of family and friends to McCall, Idaho.
He and Ann, who died in early January, enjoyed a long and fulfilling retirement. When not traveling to points around the world Marty and Ann spent time with family and friends in their West Seattle and Camano Island homes and volunteered for Ryther and other non-profits. When Ann became infirm, Marty became her primary caregiver for several years.
Besides his sons and their spouses (Nancy, Dee, Ellen and Suzy), Marty is survived by his brother Mike in Spokane, 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren, all of whom live in the greater Puget Sound region. Marty was the son of Clarence Dirks and Cleo Coons (Merrill).
Arrangements are by the Emmick Family Funeral Home in West Seattle. A limited capacity memorial service for Marty will be held at 11 a.m. on Aug. 28 at the Fauntleroy United Church of Christ in West Seattle. The family is arranging for additional seating and online viewing at the Hall at Fauntleroy across the street, followed by a “Party for Marty” there. The service will also stream online – please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for details. The family suggests donations in his name to Seattle Ryther or to the Stanwood-Camano Area Foundation, which has posted a special link at the top of its web page at https://s-caf.org/
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