Families reunite in Tri-Cities for Water Follies

Herald staff writersJuly 28, 2013 

It’s no surprise that Tyson Pischel’s family comes back to Pasco for Water Follies, with a private dock where they can watch hydroplanes race around turn 2 and a house overlooking the river.

But it’s getting to see people they otherwise might not see that really makes the weekend special.

“We have friends we see once or twice a year, and once is usually around the boat races,” said Pischel, 54. “We’ve lived here since I was 3 years old. It’s just been a tradition.”

Pischel lives in Badger Canyon in Kennewick now, but about 100 people gather at his father’s house during Water Follies. Around a third of them come from out of town, he said.

Family friend Bob Butterfield comes in from Bonney Lake each year. While Pischel watches the races closely on his dock, Butterfield sits back on the grass.

“Basically, I like the fellowship more than anything,” he said. “I hardly know who won the race.”

Most of the people who come to Pischel’s party stay with friends or in a hotel, but his brother, Scoter Pischel of Cheney, gets to stay in the house. But even though he wakes up at the Water Follies, he still does his part to make the party go well.

“I went to the store this morning and got food for the day,” Scoter Pischel said. “I got everybody set up.”

Tyson Pischel’s son Robert, 14, watched the races from the dock with his dad.

Not far away, Lupe Chavez of Pasco took three generations of his family out to the Water Follies. They’ve congregated in the same spot in Pasco for 13 years, he said. It used to be overgrown with weeds, but is now a grassy park space.

The family has had up to 30 people come out in the past, but Chavez said it was down to 20 this year.

“It’s a family event,” Chavez said. “We get to enjoy the race, everybody brings something to eat, we share and enjoy the weekend.”

A few hundred yards to the west on the Pasco side, Dave Smith’s family enjoyed the event from the water’s edge. He has been coming to the Water Follies for 32 years, his wife Carrie for 27. They have passed on their love of the event to sons Tyrion, 16, Carson, 12, and daughter Karlie, 13.

They remember the days when attendees could back their pickups right up to the Columbia on the Pasco side. But they appreciate the more family-friendly atmosphere now.

“It’s crawdads for him, boat races for us,” Carrie Smith said, pointing to Carson, who had plucked two of the crawfish out of the river. “It’s a good time to catch up with old friends.”

Well, Carson enjoys the racing too.

“I like watching how fast they go and watching the water shoot up,” he said.

Richard and Rachelle Sonesen came in from Yakima to watch the races with family Sunday in Pasco. Their family put up a tent along a slight bend in the river. While this was Richard’s first trip to the Water Follies, Tri-City native Rachelle came as a child. She is now showing them to their children, Blayne, 5, and Roxy, 4.

“We’ll probably come every year,” Rachelle said. “They think this is pretty awesome.”

They will likely return to the Pasco side of the river. While they aren’t close to the pits, and there aren’t as many food and entertainment options, they love the open green space and more easily accessible water.

“On the Kennewick side, it was much more chaotic,” Rachelle said. “Over here, it’s more family oriented. Over there are a lot more activities, but here it’s just river fun.”

On the other side of the river in Columbia Park, Randy Smith of Kennewick watched the races Sunday near the barge with his wife, father-in-law, two children and grandson. His son skipped summer camp to watch the races with the family.

The races have evolved through the years, Smith said. The Water Follies used to be a place he wouldn’t think about bringing his children to.

“Its a nice family event now,” he said. “My kids look forward to it every year.”

As Smith’s children watched the races with their grandfather, Smith reflected on the moment and what the day meant to him.

“It’s just a really nice deal,” he said. “They will remember this for a long time.”

If it weren’t for the boat races, Jim and Jaye Payne may have never met Mike Byron. The Richland couple and the Seattle man met at the races 18 years ago and they have returned every year since to the Kennewick side of the river for the weekend.

“Without boat races we wouldn’t see him every year,” Jaye Payne said.

The Paynes have been coming since the late 1970s and use the weekend as a makeshift reunion for the hodgepodge of friends they have made at the races over the years.

They now consider that group of friends as family. The races aren’t the glue that holds the friendships together, but it does provide them with the opportunity to reunite and strengthen the bonds, the Paynes said.

“It’s really a time for us to bring everyone together,” Jim Payne said. “This is what this is all about.”

The group plans on watching the races together for as long as their bodies will let them.

“We will be coming until we die,” Jaye Payne said.

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