As the excitement builds around the soft opening of the first downtown hotel in 38 years, longtime educator and former principal John Graf thought about it for a second, then smiled at the thought of his contribution.

Graf spent 23 years with the Ellensburg School District, as a teacher and an administrator, dating back to 1995, before he finally stepped down as the principal at Lincoln Elementary School last year to pursue other interests.

He’s an Ellensburg guy, spending a couple of decades educating Ellensburg kids. He volunteers on the board of the Ellensburg Downtown Association. He likes this community and making a contribution to its future.

Graf sat in the D&M Coffee shop on corner of Fourth and Pearl, sipping coffee and talking about his latest contribution, explaining the process of turning a 27-foot black walnut tree trunk into a 14-foot thing of beauty that will be a part of the decor in the Hotel Windrow’s Basalt Restaurant.

Plans are to open the Basalt Restaurant with the Hotel Windrow, which is expected to open Dec. 18, according to managing partner Steve Townsend.

Graf will be the first to tell you his true passion is educational transformation, but as the owner of a sawmill in the lower Yakima Valley at his dad’s house near Grandview, having spent a significant amount of time shaping wood, the idea of having one of his tables at the restaurant in the first downtown hotel in over three decades. Well let’s just say, that’s pretty cool.

“I think the story (of this table) speaks to the idea of the team at the Basalt growing their roots. It comes from a tree that grew near Outlook. Here you have this beautiful piece of material on display on the very first level of the hotel, and everything grows from that space,” said Graf, who put 125 hours into the making the table.

“Having something with ties to the land, going into the first downtown hotel in years, gives me goose bumps right now. To me, Ellensburg is getting ready for a rebirth. We believe that the Hotel Windrow will bring about an even better vibrancy for downtown Ellensburg.”

Townsend has maintained from the very beginning, he and his partners Rory Turner and Paul Jinneman, are determined to make the Hotel Windrow the community’s hotel, featuring local music in a gathering place where local artist’s work is on display throughout the 59-room hotel within walking distance of downtown businesses.

The Basalt restaurant is at the base of the atrium lobby.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

“I like building community tables. The idea is to pay forward the opportunity for conversation, gathering and friendships made around these tables,” Graf said. “In my opinion, that’s what we need right now is that human connection. Everything we have with this project, whether it be the people, the location to downtown, this table, it’s all connected, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”

It takes careful consideration as to what part of the tree will give the best display features with the least amount of warping or twisting. He marks the trunk, then cuts the desired slab before running it back down the mill to flatten after the drying process. He then takes it down from 3/4 inch thick with a 400 grit to take away all the imperfections. As the piece slowly comes to life, shaping, honing contours into something special through 125 hours in a labor of love.

“There is a local tie to this tree,” Graf explained. “I started off with a 27-foot trunk from a tree that grew in Outlook on the land Ben Frank used to run cattle on.

“I could have made that table 27 feet long, but space was a premium and we only had 14 feet to work with. It will be going into the space adjacent to the bar.”

His true passion is shaping the minds of students and watching their thought process grow. But the idea that one day they might sit at this table in the Basalt with friends or family, enjoy a quiet conversation with good food, does bring a smile to his face.

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