SALLE AURIOL’S LEGACY AND NORTHWEST FENCING CENTER’S HISTORY
Northwest Fencing Center (“NWFC”), officially known as The Salle Auriol Fencing Club, is recognized in the US, and indeed in many countries of the world, for the quality of its coaches, its world-class facility, and its fencers. In fact, Portland today is recognized as one of the best places to fence in all of the US and, increasingly, individuals and teams from around the world come to Portland to train. Paradoxically, NWFC’s history, and its impact on the world of fencing is not well known. Our story, like that of many, is not unique. Our story begins in the 1960s.
Colleen Olney began fencing in the mid-1960s when she took up the sport for rehabilitation of her wrist following a car accident. Her rehabilitation turned into a life-long passion.
At the time she started fencing, there were only a handful of fencers in the area. She and other fencers knew of a fencing master in Seattle by the name of Leon Auriol. Leon was a native of France and earned his fencing master’s degree from the Institut National du Sport in Paris, France in 1962. He came to America in 1963 and began teaching in Seattle later that year. The local fencers were fortunate enough to have Leon make the drive to Portland to give lessons at various schools and community centers in the area.
Leon was coming to Portland on a regular basis in 1967. He had one requirement that the Portland community of fencers guarantee him at least eight lessons. In order to guarantee the eight lessons, Colleen sometimes made her sons, Michael and Robert Marx, fence. While the Portland fencers tried to convince Leon to move to Portland, he preferred to live in Seattle, but he told the group that his brother, Yves Auriol, might be interested in working with the group if they could get a permanent location. Yves earned his fencing master’s degree from the Institut National du Sport in 1968.
Leon sponsored his brother’s immigration from France in 1971. Before coming to the United States, Yves was a professional rugby player in France.
By 1972, with the backing of Colleen, Rocky Beach, and Rosemary Lown, Portland was home to a new fencing school, Salle Auriol School of Fencing (“Salle Auriol”), located in the old Elks Temple at 614 SW 11th Avenue, Portland, Oregon, and fencing master. The Elks Temple later became the Governor Hotel and was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Under Yves’ tutelage, the fencers began training more vigorously and to compete more. Yves was the right master for the job, running not only the athletes ragged with a strict technical training regimen, but parents also had to participate in conditioning classes as well, often hauling bags of sand up and down the stairwell of the Elks Temple. Results were not far behind.
In 1975, the local governing body for the sport of fencing, with the assistance of Salle Auriol and others in the area, hosted the Junior Olympic Championships at Portland State University. In 1977, they also hosted the national fencing championships at the Portland Hilton.
The notable achievements during this period included 12 national champions and 22 world team members.
Salle Auriol subsequently moved from the Elks Temple to space near the Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Park Avenue in downtown Portland. The site is now the Westin Hotel.
In 1979, Salle Auriol moved to the Cornell Court Club at 13939 NW Cornell Road, now known as the Sunset Athletic Club. This athletic club is where Salle Auriol began a long-term relationship with Chuck Richards and the Oregon Sports Academy and the Oregon Sports Trust who you will learn more about later in this article.
Assisting Yves at the Cornell Court Club was Alex Beguinet, another native of France. Alex received his fencing master’s degree from the National Sports Institute in Paris in 1976. Alex left Salle Auriol in 1980 and eventually went to work for Duke University in 1985.
During this period, the club was also the host of the fencers participating in the “Portland Project” where national caliber athletes from across the United States were brought together to train with Yves. To support this project, the U. S. Fencing Center Foundation (“USFCF”) was formed. The initial directors were Sharon Krogh, Doris Posedel, Chuck Richards, Colleen Olney, Bernard McGovern, Betty Santelli, and Fred Thorsen. Suzanne Brown, who later became Suzanne Marx, and Derek A. Holeman were both in the employ and service of the foundation. After the Portland Project had run its course, the foundation continued on to provide essential support for many of the local fencers at Salle Auriol, the Division, and other regional and national fencers.
In 1985, Yves left Portland to pursue a coaching position at the University of Notre Dame. This was also when Salle Auriol officially became The Salle Auriol Fencing Club (“SAFC”), a nonprofit corporation. The incorporators were Susan Badders, Suzanne Marx, and Michael McGowan. The initial board of directors were Robert Marx, Anne Klinger, Dana Via, JoAnne Deazley, and Susan Badders.
After Yves’ departure, Leon again commuted to Portland to teach two days a week and to assist SAFC in the search for a new fencing master. SAFC hired Regis Mantzer, another native of France, as its head coach in 1986. Regis received his fencing master’s degree from the Ecole Nationale de Maitre D’Armes in Dinard, France in 1986.
Some, but not all the achievements in the 1980s, included 14 national champions, 29 world team members, and 11 Olympians.
In May 1993, Une Touche de Portland, Inc. (“UTDP”) was incorporated by Steven D. Adler. His daughter fenced with Colleen at OES. She also fenced for SAFC. The initial directors were Pascal Gerard, Mike Bevers, Aurelia Hunt, Manuel de la Malena, and Regis Mantzer. All but one of these directors had fenced for SAFC. UTDP was set up as a public benefit corporation and qualified amateur sports organization.
Regis left Portland to go back to France in mid-1995. In October of that same year, Ken Lattin, Kristin Kralicek, and Suzanne Marx took over the management of UTDP. UTDP sought to continue the work started by the Portland Project and subsequently the USFCF, which ceased when the USFCF became the Oregon Fencing Alliance. To carry out its purpose, UTDP sponsored weekly training sessions, camps, and tournaments at Salle Auriol. Two of the tournaments it sponsored were the Une Touche Open and the Columbia International. It also awarded grants to individuals vying for international teams and to SAFC as well as other regional nonprofit organizations such as St. Andrew Nativity School, St. Mary’s Home for Boys, the Oregon Division, etc. UTDP was also responsible for raising funds and procuring services and materials for the construction of the current Northwest Fencing Center facility.
Gia Abachidze, originally from the Republic of Georgia in the former Soviet Union, was hired as head coach in 1996. Gia received his fencing master’s degree from the Georgian State Physical Training Institute in 1984.
With the guidance of Chuck Richards, SAFC began in 1997 to plan for its move to its present location in Beaverton, Oregon. If we learned anything from Colleen, it was if we have the will, we will find the way. We owe not only Chuck Richards a great deal of thanks for the facility we have today, but owe a debt of gratitude to many others, including but not limited to, Roger and Lyn Garcia, Robert and Suzanne Marx, Twin Oaks Autoworks Mgmt. Inc., Gia Abachidze, Michael Marx, Anna Angelova, Viktor Antanassov, the Oregon Sports Trust, UTDP, William G. Gilmore Steel Foundation, Czopek & Erdenberg, Dupont Flooring Systems, Rodda Paint, and Steve Patzlaff, past members, members and the board of directors at the time, and their families and friends. The construction of the actual facility began in February 1999. No one was too young to wield a hammer or lend a hand. Everyone rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Gia even had the new facility blessed.
SAFC adopted the alias “Northwest Fencing Center” in 1999 to promote the facility. This was also the year that Michael Marx came back to Portland to serve as a director and head coach of SAFC. He earned his fencing master’s degree in Poland in 1993.
The athletic achievements in the 1990s included, but are not limited, to 18 national champions, 14 world team members, 4 Olympians, and 3 World Champions.
The official inauguration of the Northwest Fencing Center (“NWFC”) took place in early 2000. Don Alperstein, the president of the United States Fencing Association and many of our former coaches came to the inauguration to celebrate all that SAFC and its sponsors, patrons, and members had accomplished. Many other fencing clubs began constructing similar facilities after NWFC established its own state of the art facility.
Gia and his family left NWFC to accept a position at Ohio State University in 2001. It was at this time that Michael changed the business model on how SAFC operated. More emphasis was placed on group instruction by age and aptitude. An adult class and home school classes were added. Individual lessons continued to be offered.
Michael remained with NWFC until 2008, when he accepted a position as full-time assistant coach at Duke University.
Sebastien Dos Santos joined NWFC in 2008. Sebastien was another Frenchman with considerable experience with pentathlon and a long tradition in fencing. Sebastien earned his fencing master’s degree from Federation Francaise d’Escrime et Ministere de la Jeunesse et des Sports in 2000.
Assisting Michael and Sebastien was Simon Abram, also a native of France. Simon received his fencing master’s degree from the same federation as Sebastien in 2006. Simon was only 21 years old when he earned his fencing master’s degree in France. Simon coached in Aix-en-Provence before coming to NWFC. Simon and Sebastien are cousins and their families have a long tradition in fencing.
UTDP merged with SAFC in 2009. UTDP not only brought over its assets and its exemptions from tax under IRC 501(c)(3) and IRC 501(j), it also brought over some of its officers, two of its tournaments, the Une Touche Open and the Columbia International, and its grant program. Two of UTDP’s officers currently serve on the NWFC Grant Committee, along with other individuals and a NWFC board member.
NWFC’s notable achievements in the 2000s included 25 national champions, 33 world team members, 3 Olympians, and 1 World Champion.
During this decade, NWFC also achieved the designation as a national training center by the national governing body for the sport.
In 2011, NWFC hired Christophe Duclos, another Frenchman, as head coach. Christophe holds a Sports Doctorate (Ph.D) in fencing awarded in 2005, as well as the first and second level diplomas awarded by the French National Fencing Formation Center, respectively, in 2000 and 2003.
In 2012, NWFC hired Cody Mattern to be the epee program director at NWFC. Cody earned his fencing master’s credentials in 2013 from the United States Fencing Coaches Association.
In 2013, NWFC celebrated its 40th anniversary with a tour of the Governor Hotel, a wine social at Jake’s Grill, a French Dinner at the Oregon Sports Office West, and lunch at NWFC. It was wonderful to reconnect with our former fencing masters, alumni, and current members and their families.
We are only five years into this decade, but some of NWFC’s accomplishments thus far include 9 national champions, 11 world team members, 2 world champions, and 1 Olympian.
Looking forward, the NWFC continues to support both the sport of fencing and athletes. Current efforts include deepening relationships with clubs and fencers abroad. NWFC also recently established a wheelchair program and is expanding its outreach programs. Due to the growth of fencing and our success, NWFC is now pondering whether to expand. NWFC is like the little engine that could. We chug along and achieve great things.
(August 10, 2015)
Note: Suzanne and Robert Marx and Raoul Rodriguez co-authored this article. The Marxes were the young students in the 1960-70s and did their best to recollect the information contained in this article. If you have anything to add or change, please contact Robert or Suzanne at Suzmarx1@comcast.net.Furthermore, in an attempt to limit this article to the background of the fencing club, the authors opted to limit the references to the coaches to those that were hired as fencing masters. There were many assistant coaches and individuals who helped mentor and teach along the way. Our omission is not intended as a slight in any way. We are grateful for their efforts and kinship. NWFC would not be what it is today without their help and the help of its members, past and present, those that volunteered and continue to volunteer, and our contributors and sponsors.NWFC has had numerous accomplishments, not all of which are mentioned in this article. Be sure to look at the banners in the main hall to see all the fine accomplishments of our fencers and coaches.