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If necessity is the mother of invention, then in ways, Hank Mann-Sykes is the father of Silverdale
Hank Sykes was sweeping up in the radio station in San Antonio, an orphan, a teenager not yet of high school age, when his Hollywood moment arrived.
They needed him, young Hank had to go on the air.
The boy with a penchant for broadcasting — he was transfixed by a transistor radio set as a youngster — took to the airwaves and introduced himself to the world as Mann, Hank Mann.
“There was no thought,” he recently said of that moment of invention, a spontaneous homage to the composer Henry Mancini, an acquaintance of his father. “It just came out.”
It stuck. Hank Mann-Sykes is how he is known today. At 71, he has been involved, if not tangentially, in most of the community projects in Silverdale for more than 20 years. From founding the Great Kitsap Duck Race, to helping to found and chairing the Central Kitsap Community Council, to volunteer work with Boy Scouts, youth sports, the list goes on.
That amount of community involvement prompts a question: why? The desire to be involved, to solve problems came early, and often, from sitting on government councils to coaching little league. He even once held a fundraiser to buy police dogs in Alaska.
“I’ve always done that, everywhere I’ve been,” he said of his inborn urge to help, to create community, and in the process, create a place for himself in the world. And, the reason is simple.
“I never had a home,” he said.
The way Mann-Sykes puts it, he “saw a need.”
If there’s a need for it, he’s the man to help get the job done. Most often, he probably came up with or supported the idea to begin with.
“Constantly my brain is going — what can make this world better?” he said at his home next to Wildcat Lake last month. Now held back by transplanted kidneys that require dialysis three days a week, and chagrined by an address that is technically Bremerton, he still lives up to the moniker, Mr. Silverdale.
Sometimes he is called Mr. Mayor, said with a touch of irony, as one of his latest pushes has been supporting plans to incorporate Silverdale into its own city.
Part of his mission has been to create a sense of community in Central Kitsap, to make its own place, rather than just the location of a mall, strip malls and affordable housing. Having been in four orphanages in his youth, he’s creating the community he never had growing up.
Although he has had a hand in nearly everything Central Kitsap-related — that Silverdale sign at the north end of Silverdale Way? It was his son’s Eagle Scout project in 2004 — he says he doesn’t deserve too much credit.
“I shouldn’t have even been number two,” he said on being the runner-up option to be named Silverdale’s newest road, which was selected by county commissioners in 2009 to be called Greaves Way, after the family that has a long-standing history in the area. “I didn’t do anything by myself.”
Lawrence Greaves, whose great grandfather arrived to Central Kitsap in 1889, said Mann-Sykes is one of the most civic-minded individuals he knows.
“It’s almost legendary,” said Greaves, Port of Silverdale commissioner, last week on Mann-Sykes’ civic engagement. “And always with the betterment of the community in mind.”
One of his more high-profile efforts took place while serving on the Leadership Committee to help raise money and promote the Haselwood Family YMCA. He identified that Silverdale needed a central location for residents to come together. Everything he has worked on, he said he has done because he saw a need for it.
“What’s ‘the place’?” he said about Silverdale. “I guess it’s that mall, but that’s not really a place.”
Now, Silverdale’s new “place” will be the Central Kitsap Community Campus where the YMCA is being built.
Mann-Sykes and his wife, Loisanne Sykes, donated at the founders level for the Haselwood Family YMCA, which is a gift between $10,000 and $25,000, said Jessie Palmer, campaign director for the Haselwood Family YMCA. They were leading by example for other community members, he said Tuesday, adding that the YMCA is $1.5 million away from its campaign goal of $12 million. Mann-Sykes also helped YMCA staff hold meetings with donors and community members they otherwise would have had difficulty getting on their own, he added.
“Hank is an icon in Silverdale,” Palmer said. “Some call him the mayor of Silverdale.”
And although he claims Silverdale as his home, he was born in Jackson, Miss. on Dec. 15, 1939. He and his younger brother lived with their parents until he was 4 years old. Childhood for the two brothers included hopping around from one orphanage to the next in several different states.
In 1957, Mann-Sykes enlisted and joined the Air Force. He was in the fuels specialist school at the Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas where he learned how to refuel aircraft carriers. He soon found himself in radio and television with the armed forces. Working in the armed forces radio and television division was his “biggest dream.” He has childhood memories of gathering around the radio and listening to shows and tunes. He played music from country to jazz and at one point had his own hunting and fishing report while in Alaska.
When Mann-Sykes retired from the Air Force in 1969, he remained in the broadcast arena. He spent time as a radio announcer and later worked in the general sales and managerial side of the business.
Married thrice, with five kids, he married Loisanne Sykes in 1983 and about 1988 left King County for the West Sound to become the general manager and consultant for KBRO radio in Bremerton.
Throughout all his endeavors, the man has always been hard working while keeping a good sense of humor.
Mary Earl has worked with Mann-Sykes on a number of projects and committees including the Central Kitsap Community Council, Whaling Days and the community campus design committee. He often refers to her as “madam president” because she was president of Whaling Days in the early 1990s.
Back then, during meetings for Whaling Days, Earl said when Mann-Sykes steered off topic, she would tell him to “take it outside.” Years later, when Mann-Sykes was president of the community council and Earl was chatting next to the person seated next to her, he told her to “take it outside.”
“He was waiting for at least a dozen years to say it to me,” Earl said. “I couldn’t stop laughing. I finally got a taste of my own medicine.”
A diehard Democrat, Mann-Sykes isn’t shy about voicing his opinions on current affairs. But he said he has a respect for the views of others, and doesn’t let it get in the way of bringing Central Kitsap together.
“He has a lot of passion,” said County Commissioner Josh Brown, who counts Mann-Sykes as one of his most vocal supporters. “He has that fire in the belly of wanting to get things done — and that’s a good thing to have.”
Jack Hamilton, chairman of the Kitsap County Republican Party, and Mann-Sykes have worked on several projects together with the Silverdale Rotary Club and United Way.
“Most people facing health problems would have simply gone home and cared for themselves,” he said. “Hank has never done that.”
In October 1990, Mann-Sykes received a pancreas and kidney transplant at the University of Washington Medical Center. His health has restricted his independence, limiting him to driving during the day. But, he says he’s not ready to quit.
“It’s my calling, God has gifted me with certain talents to get things done,” he said of his desire to do his share. “I need a purpose, I’ve made lots of money, but money has never satisfied me.”
At a Citizens United for Silverdale meeting last month, the group pushing for Silverdale incorporation was discussing an upcoming public meeting and the information they needed to gather from the county. Mann-Sykes stepped out of the room and called Brown to request some of the data.
When he returned to the room the group was discussing another task, another errand that wouldn’t likely bring with it much recognition, or even sense of accomplishment.
Mann-Sykes then announced he wasn’t dead yet, and volunteered.