Herman Sarkowsky, original Seahawks owner, dies at 89
Sarkowsky was also a successful real-estate developer, helped build Emerald Downs and had many philanthropic ventures.
/ Seattle Times staff reporter
Herman Sarkowsky, one of the men responsible for bringing the Seahawks and Emerald Downs to Seattle, died on Sunday in Seattle after a long illness. He was 89.
A successful real estate developer and businessman, Sarkowsky teamed with Lloyd Nordstrom and four others to form the ownership group that brought the Seahawks to Seattle in 1976.
The Nordstroms were the majority owners, but Sarkowsky played a pivotal role in landing the team. He had experience owning the Portland Trail Blazers — he was also one of the original owners to bring pro basketball to Portland in 1970 — and he knew the ins and outs of navigating the rocky pro sports landscape.
“He spoke the language of a pro sports owner, which we didn’t understand,” said John Nordstrom. “We didn’t understand how the league worked. We didn’t understand how you went out and hired a coach and general manager. We were really leaning on him to take us through that.
“For the rest of us, I wouldn’t say it was unsettling but it was a nervous time. Most of us were comfortable with our own businesses, but we just had no idea what we were jumping in to.”
Sarkowsky sold his stake in the Seahawks in 1988, but he remained an active member of the community. He was one of the early investors in Starbucks and a partner in the Frederick & Nelson department store chain. He developed the Seattle Municipal Tower (formerly Key Bank Tower and AT&T Gateway Tower). He was heavily involved in philanthropic ventures, including the University of Washington School of Medicine, United Way and the arts.
“I think because he was perceived as being powerful people were sort of intimidated by him,” said Cathy Sarkowsky, his daughter. “But he was a very kind, loving, sweet man. He had a very strong sense of family and community, and he cared deeply about staying in this community and helping it grow.”
His attachment to Seattle was evident during an interview last year in the way he characterized his role as an owner of the Seahawks.
“The original group felt that we had a community asset and that it was our good fortune to own it and run it,” he said early last year. “We felt our responsibility was to the community and to see that the team was the best we could put together.”
“I’m a bigger fan today than I was the day I sold it,” he added. “I still have great warm feelings for the club. And every time I go in that stadium and think that we sort of gave the push to get it started, I get a big kick out of it.”
Sarkowsky, who was Jewish, was born in 1925 and emigrated to the United States in 1934 with his family after leaving Nazi Germany. He graduated from the University of Washington, the first member of his family to graduate from college, and entered the real estate and home building business.
He developed a love for Thoroughbred racing, and his horse, Phone Chatter, won the 1993 Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Fillies. After Longacres racetrack was sold to The Boeing Company in 1990, Sarkowsky was among a group of investors that helped start Emerald Downs to fill the void.
“In the last 70 years, he was one of the icons of Seattle,” said Ron Crockett, the president of Emerald Downs. “No question about it.”
Sarkowsky is survived by his wife of 62 years, Faye, as well as his daughter, Cathy, and his son, Steve.
“The last time I saw him was at a Mariners game last year, and he had a grandson with him,” said King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer. “And I told his grandson, ‘A lot of things we take for granted in Seattle, your grandfather was a part of.’ ”
Services will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. at Temple de Hirsch Sinai in Seattle.