Remembering Win Anderson

John Winston Anderson
John Winston Anderson was born in the tiny town of Spooner, Wisconsin in 1938 to Violet Olson Anderson and Isaac Anderson. Win was the second of 4 sons. The family moved to Vancouver, WA in search of work and business opportunities near family when he was seven years old. 

In 1952, his ever-restless Swedish father, drove the family across the country stuffed in a Morris Minor.  Arriving in New York, the family boarded a ship to Sweden. For close to a year, the family resided in southern Sweden connecting with family while learning language and culture. There, Win discovered and developed his love of Scandinavian wooden boats. When the family returned to Vancouver, he finished high school and was accepted to the University of Washington. Win juggled a variety of jobs to support his way through college. He enjoyed wrestling and making friends in his fraternity before diving into the university’s journalism department. There he honed his love of writing and reporting for the university newspaper. In school, he met his wife, Elaine. She would remain his constant companion through the years.

Upon graduation in 1961, he joined the US Navy. Win and Elaine were married that year and moved to Florida for his flight training. After posts in Mississippi and Texas, Win accepted base work in Iceland for a two-year commitment. This allowed Win and Elaine time to explore Iceland, Sweden and England in a purchased Saab.  They returned to the Northwest and Win found work running a weekly newspaper in Milwaukee, Oregon.

Shortly before the birth of their first child in 1967, he took a position as a news reporter at the Tacoma News Tribune. He covered pertinent news and events of the late 60’s and early 70’s throughout the city. This included interviewing Muhammad Ali in 1968, after Ali had changed his name from Cassias Clay and witnessing in real time a hostage standoff at the McNeil Island prison while on assignment.

At the time, Tacoma was rapidly changing through urban renewal. Win and another reporter, Bob Lane, discovered a beautiful brick firehouse built in 1907, slated to be demolished.  The two men determined with their wives to restore and save the building, turning it into a tavern, The Engine House No. 9. The task of restoring a brick building was not easy and took several years. Win moved his family into the second-floor apartment of the “E9” to keep costs low. Never one to languish, Win quit the newspaper and went to night school for wooden boat building through the GI bill all while running the burgeoning tavern business. Before selling it in 1978, they managed to put the firehouse on the national registry of historic buildings.

Following his love of carpentry and the family desire for a more rural life, Win and Elaine found Guemes Island and moved there in 1977.  He pursued in earnest, his love of building Norwegian style boats then quickly moved into carpentry on luxury boats moored in Anacortes. They purchased land on the south side of the island and dove into the project of establishing a home. Win found a home to be demolished in Mount Vernon and proceeded to move the structure to the island by barge. Scrambling to make a living, he spent his evenings and weekends remodeling the house, making it livable for his family.

From 1977 to 1988, he regularly commuted to and from Anacortes by his beloved rowboat. He was a founding member of the Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society (O.A.R.S.) and Win continued to enjoy rowing with the group until March of this year. He also volunteered for the island fire department for several years.  He started his own business, Anderson Boat, and later started North Island Boat with a business partner. In the early nineties, he was able to move into house building with a construction partner on Guemes. 

Returning to writing in his spare time, he edited the island church’s newsletter, The Little Candle. In 1995, Win and Elaine began publishing The Evening Star, a newsletter for the island and kept producing it until 2016. 

Win knew that development and construction would drastically change the island and wanted to keep it community based. He and Elaine spent several years seeking a zoning permit to build a commercial store and restaurant on property he had purchased in the early 80’s near the island’s ferry landing. After five years of a contentious legal battle, they received the rezone and he rapidly went to work building a store for the island. Anderson’s General Store opened in 1997 and quickly enveloped their lives until 2013 when the family sold it.  During this period, while his daughter and son-in-law ran the business, he had the happy benefit of being a caregiver of his grandson and namesake, Shaw Winston. 

A few of the memorable highlights in his later years were traveling to Sweden with his son, attending the second inauguration of Barack Obama with family and taking a river rafting trip through the Grand Canyon with his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
Win was passionate about the Guemes Island Historical Society and devoted numerous hours collecting artifacts, photos and clippings for a future museum.

Win loved visiting his family in Vancouver, especially his brother’s lodge near Mount St. Helens. He had a great love of his extended family of cousins and looked forward to family reunions at the family cabin in Wisconsin. He was an excellent photographer and letter writer wherein he documented family, events and nature. Win’s craftsmanship in wood was a constantly evolving art form. He created beautiful pieces highlighting his love of wood and its inherent beauty.

He leaves behind his wife, Elaine, son, Neil (Ying), daughter, Charlotte (David), and grandson (Shaw), as well as his brothers, Arvid, Glen and their families and numerous cousins.   A celebration of life will be planned for mid-2021.

Memories in his honor can be made to the Guemes Island Historical Society 7549H Edens Road, Anacortes WA 98221 and the Skagit Land Trust PO Box 1017 · 1020 S. 3rd St Mount Vernon, WA 98273.

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