This was originally posted to: Guemes Island Historical Society

GIHS - Minutes, June 2018


                                    GUEMES ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY

June 11, 2018



Present: Tom Deach (pres), Janice Veal (treas), Carol Deach, Glen Veal, Jim Morrison, Sandra D. Shimkus,  Janie & Mike Hansen, Dean Townsend, Marjorie Kilbreath, Anne & Don Passarelli, Randy Schnabel, Al & Nancy Bush, Allen Bush, Bob Cummings, Jackie  O’Neil, Joan Palmer, Linda B, Grant Brockmeyer, Rob Schroder, Emma Schroder, Carol Steffy, Jenny Stapp, Carol Harma, Win Anderson, Stephanie Kavanaugh & Bill Van Vlack, Morna McEachern, Barb Ohms, Bob Anderson, Bill Burlingame, Sue O’Donnell (sec)


Show and Tell: Tom presented the post-marked envelope from a letter sent to Alice Hobbs [Shoultz] in 1917.  It came from a relative in Lamar, Arkansas.  Historical Society also has a copy of envelop with a Guemes Island postmark from 1886.


Program: Program: Dr. William Burlingame, professor of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a board member of the Chapel Hill Historical Society in North Carolina.  At the suggestion of Win Anderson, Bill is organizing his memories into a manuscript about the 10 years (1946-1956) he lived on Guemes Island.  His topics for tonight will be schooling on Guemes and Anacortes during school district consolidation; the old Guemes ferry; 2nd coming of the telephone; and the electrification of Guemes.   Bill hopes to return in the future and present his slide collection, musings on island characters and personalities, island families, island social structure, and what he calls “kid wisdom.”   


Bill was born in 1938 in Santa Monica CA, moved to Yakima, but when WWII began, the family moved to Renton WA and Boeing plant two.  During the war, the Seattle metro area was expanding with defense industry employees and their families.  Schools became crowded, gasoline and high demand groceries were rationed, and life became more complicated and difficult. 


So, the family moved to Guemes Island!  Life still seemed hard but in different ways – to a nine-year-old boy used to listening to “Superman,” “Tom Mix.” and “Captain Midnight” on the radio.  Guemes had no electricity in 1946!  That meant temperamental Coleman lanterns, coal oil, and other kerosene lamps.  The flickering wicks weren’t the best for doing homework.  For radio, one had to convert to six volt, and had to hook up a six-volt car battery. Cooking and heating stoves were fueled by wood.


The family lived in a house south of Edens Road on 27 acres, previously owned by one of the Strom brothers.  A windmill pumped water up to a collapsing wooden barrel cistern.  At some point Bill’s Dad acquired a rubber fuel tank from a Boeing B-29 bomber for water storage—and well water was piped to the house.  When the windmill broke down, water had to be pumped by hand.  Periodically, the well had to be inspected, and nine-year-old Bill was just the size to be lowered in a bucket down the well to muck out whatever debris had accumulated.  No indoor plumbing necessitated a shameful outhouse.  Young Bill was not happy to use it or to admit to using an outhouse.  Neither was there electricity nor indoor plumbing in the 2-room school house, so again, the outhouse in rain, sleet, and snow. 


Bill has many memories of attending the 2-room school house on Guemes which was heated by an oil stove.  It was located on the SE corner at the “crossroads”.  Children rode their bikes or walked.  The building had a gabled roof with steps up to the school rooms; the classroom on the left was for the oldest children, grades 7,8,9, although that room had not been used for years.  The room on the right was for the youngest, grades 1-6.  There were only 15 students in grades 1 through 6 at that time.  Teenagers rode the ferry and attended junior high and high school in Anacortes.  Bill remembers the childhood games, taking turns pumping water, old timey desks with ink wells, the oil stove, hissing kerosene overhead lamps, circles of chairs for reading groups (3rd graders read the “Alice & Jerry” readers), and, of course, the outhouse. 


Academically Bill was advanced (skipped 5th grade and became a 6th grader) but remembers feeling immature socially and physically.  Even so, he moved along and graduated from Anacortes High School at age 16.  One of his good friends on Guemes was Loren Orsini and once during high school, they missed the ferry back to Guemes and were stuck in town overnight.  It was an inopportune moment for the ferry to break down.


While living on Guemes with his family, Bill experienced the coming of electricity to the island and the 2nd coming of telephone service (the telephone cable under Guemes Channel had been severed in early 1900s).  Summers, beginning at age 9, Bill picked strawberries for Charlie Gibbons (Louis Shoultz’ brother-in-law).  In those years there were many fewer cars on Guemes.  The wooden-hulled, 6-car ferry (1922-1959), was adequate.  Bill remembers the captain, Sandy Bernsen and Melvin Larsen, the deckhand, squeezing a 7th car on so as to avoid another trip across the channel!  The upper port side of ferry had a space called “coffin corner” where it was often difficult to park a car.  Once or twice, he recalls the swells which were so huge, that only passengers could make the trip.  In company with many islanders, Bill compared the navigation skills of the various captains--Bernsen, Bill Bessner, and Bob Leatherwood.


The Guemes school was one of the small, poorly funded rural schools operated by the county and not administered by the Anacortes School District.  In the winter of 1949 the islanders sought better services and voted to consolidate with the Anacortes schools.  The upper grades gradually shifted to Anacortes until the Guemes School eventually closed in 1962.  It certainly made a longer day for the primary grades children, but advantages, including a new school bus, prevailed.


Jane and Bill Veal came west from Kansas.  Bill was a meteorologist in the Navy and was assigned to Whidbey Naval Air Station.  The Veals loved the Northwest and in 1945 bought 10 acres and a small house on Guemes, sight unseen!  They moved to the island when the war ended and joined the community, adding their enthusiasm and expertise to community affairs. (Carol Shoultz Deach remembers Jane Veal working as a substitute teacher at the Guemes School). 


The Guemes Improvement Club tackled the issues of the island school and electrical power.  The preponderance of islanders determined that Guemes should be part of the Anacortes School District.  And in 1949, they made it happen!!   New ideas!  AND they got a school bus, to be driven by Clifford Weigel, Kick’s father, for the next decade.  He circumnavigated the island twice a day and ensured that every pupil made it safely across Guemes Channel, although the primary grades remained on the island. Bill Veal (along with others – Colonel Vonnegut, Bubble, and others) with Improvement Club backing, brought electricity to Guemes (1949).  They hired “Doc” Finley from B.C., formed a corporation, sold shares, and had fund-raising events at the Community Hall.   


Phone service was interesting.  From about 1905 there had been cables under the channel.  But, more than once, the cable would be snagged and severed by a ship’s anchor.  Eventually, in the 1940s, microwave replaced the cable for phone service.  There were three “party lines” each with ten members.  When a phone rang, it rang in 10 households.  Each family had a particular ring and would have to listen before answering.


Bill and Glen Veal had an interesting conversation about the Veal barn in the valley, built of all local materials and raised in a community effort.  It has a weather vane presented to Bill Veal by the yearbook staff of AHS during Bill Burlingame’s senior year (1955).  Mr. Veal helped them through this crisis after the contracted photographer reneged in photographing for the yearbook.  

Old Business:


Treasurers Report - (attached) 


Current balance is $34,279.44  (+ ~$4,500 in CDs)

Janice reports donations to the society by Laurin Cady and Ron Flint.  Also memorials to Corrine Gilkey and Iris Forrester Sherman.


New Business:


Work party – Father’s Day (June 17) there will be an ice cream social presented by Ground Floor Guemes to benefit CERT.  We will need a work party to prepare poster boards with the history of the 1990 wind storm to go along with the theme of the day – CERT preparations for disasters.  Sally will bring flowers to sell to benefit both CERT and Historical Society.


Website – Tom will research how to have our own web page which could be linked to Linetime.  Many in our community have the skills to figure this out.  (Mention was made of Nanette Cordon who transcribed some of our history interviews and also indexed copies of the Evening Star.  GICCA will be posting a new web page soon.  Some of the local businesses have web pages on Linetime.


“Tree of Life” – Guemes artist Bob Anderson presented his idea to make a topographic map of the island.  It will be a participatory collage project embellished with a “Tree of Life”.  He will bring it to various events and welcome children and other artists to participate in the production.  When finished it can be displayed at different events.  Sue moved for the Society to support Bob’s endeavor.  Passed.


Next meeting:  July 9, 2018, 7pm; Fellowship Hall, Guemes Island Community Church. Program will be Susan Rombeek speaking about the horrors of escaping from Nazi rule during WWII.


Coming Events:

DOG SHOW – August 18, 3rd Saturday.  We need volunteers to help organize.    


HARVEST MOON CRUISE – Cruise, September 14 – Dave has asked Monte of Mystic Sea if it would be possible to run 2 cruises the same week; each cruise could accommodate 55 passengers.  Special food is in the works.  Itinerary is a historical look at Cypress Island.


Recent Guemes losses:


Iris Forrester Sherman (1922-2018)


Respectfully submitted,

Sue O’Donnell (secretary)