Splash photo by Mike Vlahovich

From left, daughter Leslee McLachlan, wife Mary Floy Dolphin and daughter Denise Coyle remembered the life of family patriarch Howard Dolphin at Mary Floy’s home recently. In the background of the photo is the front of the old Liberty Lake Post Office on Melkapsi, where the Dolphins got their mail in days gone by.

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Family remembers Howard Dolphin
3/26/2014 12:32:01 PM

By Mike Vlahovich
Splash Contributor

The memory is etched indelibly in the minds of his family:  Howard Dolphin, rake in hand and lost in reverie, grooming some 500 feet of beachfront along Liberty Lake.

He may have spread other chores around, "but the one thing he liked doing was raking the beach," said his youngest daughter, Denise Coyle.

It was out of necessity, certainly, in maintaining Sandy Beach Resort. But it was also therapeutic.

"I think he found solitude doing it," Howard's widow, Mary Floy, said. "He said he solved a lot of problems." 

Dolphin died last month at age 86, leaving behind a legacy that, like a diamond, had many facets.

Most who knew him saw him through the lens of high school teacher, athletic director and Hall of Fame track and field coach.

But as a child of the Depression, he learned early the value of hard work, not only out of necessity, but for the rewards it could bring.

When he and Mary Floy wed nearly 64 years ago, he married into a family whose name was synonymous with Liberty Lake - the Neyland family dates back more than a century. For 30 years, Dolphin helped operate Sandy Beach Resort before it transitioned into a mobile home park.

He was both doting father and grandfather, who passed along values with a velvet hand, say his daughters, Coyle and Leslee McLachlan.

 "My dad was a phenomenal track coach," Coyle said. "But more than anything, he was a phenomenal man who loved his wife more than anything."

The Neylands put their stamp on Liberty Lake in 1902 when Daniel and Louisa moved from Pennsylvania. Mary Floy said they can't pinpoint how they got there, "but I'm glad they did."

Her father, Homer, bought two miles of beach front and 180 acres, much of which he subdivided and sold after moving from Seattle in 1940, when Mary Floy was age 12. 

He developed Sandy Beach Resort, which included rental cabins and boats and the water system that runs from Molter Road to the lake. Today, the system and 60-lot mobile home park are watched over by Denise. She and her husband, Tim, live in the original home, twice moved and since renovated, across from her mother's house on the beach.

In 1961, the Dolphins and Mary Floy's sister and brother-in-law, Betty and Joe Trembly, who live just up the hill from the resort, purchased Sandy Beach Resort from their parents. 

"Some years, we (barely) made the payment," Mary Floy said. "But we never missed a payment to my dad."

Howard and Mary Floy Dolphin were honored as grand marshals of the 2004 Liberty Lake Fourth of July parade, an honor that has represented a who's-who of Liberty Lake's history since it started in 1989. Mary Floy's mother, Della Neyland, was the 1993 honoree (Homer passed away in 1971). 

During a 2 ½-hour sitdown with Mary Floy and her daughters, the anecdotes about life at the lake flew, too many to recount here. A sampling:

• How did she and Howard meet? A student body officer at Central Valley, Mary Floy was invited to a dance at West Valley, where Howard was ASB president. Her date ultimately couldn't make it, so he fixed her up with Howard. 

"We had a few dates; he came out all summer and swam," she recalled. When he got out of the service, "he said it's either me or not me at all. I said OK." 

They married in 1950.

• Winters could be cold. Mary Floy recalled the times her dad and husband drove cars on the frozen lake. That is, until the time Homer's vehicle broke through the ice. 

"We used to harvest the ice and store it for the summer to put in ice boxes," Mary Floy said. "I was so glad to get rid of those ice boxes."

• The daughters reminisced about growing up. Like their mother, work at the resort began when they were young - from policing pop bottles to making snow cones, cleaning cabins and ultimately collecting money from the customers. McLachlan said she learned to drive in a World War II vintage jeep. Once, when preparing to tow a log, she forgot she'd left the engine in reverse and almost ran over her dad. She also drove a vintage garbage truck that Howard walked beside and loaded with trash.

"We're like farmers," McLachlan said. "It's a labor of love, a way of life." 

Added Coyle, "You learned about people and you learned how to work. But it wasn't all work. We had the greatest of bosses. If we had a date, we got the early shift." 

"Beach clearers" - storms that drove away customers - gave way to warm sunshine providing opportunity for the girls to swim. 

• Discipline was seldom, but when it happened, the girls would be sent to their father for a chat. 

"We heard a lot of times, ‘wait ‘til your dad comes home,'" McLachlan laughed.

Coyle explained how "he would start talking and talking and a half hour might go by. I would say to dad, ‘can't you just spank us?'" 

"He was not a man of a lot of words, so every word meant something," McLachlan added. He wouldn't raise his voice, but would tell them how disappointed he was. "That is what hurt the worst."

• As might be expected, much of life revolved around sports. When Leslee married Jim McLachlan and Denise married Tim Coyle, the weddings had to be between sports seasons. 

"Sports was a way of life; we didn't know anything else," McLachlan said. "Mom was at everything, and so were we." 

Jim McLachlan was one of Howard's athletes, who in turn became a successful track coach. 

"Mom was the best trainer ever for being a coach's wife," McLachlan said. 

Denise's daughters, Jenny and Peggy, gravitated to basketball for state-placing CV teams. 

"Dad was out there many nights shagging for the girls," she said. "He told them, ‘if you find a love for a sport, go for it.'"

Howard and Mary Floy Dolphin traveled to Olympics around the world, to numerous national track meets and to meets in Eugene as late as last year. He died on their 31st visit to their "second home" condominium in Honolulu on the day high school track season began.

"God took him too soon," said a tearful Mary Floy.

"He's still here; he's with us," Coyle comforted.

"But I can't touch him," said her mom.

Howard Dolphin, a man in full, touched the lives of thousands.

FOR MORE: Read Howard Dolphin's obituary 

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