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8/9/2017 12:00:00 PM
Skagit pioneers beat historic heat at annual picnic
LISA AND MARIA WALLACE – The great-great granddaughters of the James Wallace  family led the 200-plus pioneers in the pledge of allegiance at this year’s 113th annual  pioneer picnic. That’s the family's tractor behind them. See stories on page 1 and 3.                                                                                                 – Photo by Don Coyote
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LISA AND MARIA WALLACE – The great-great granddaughters of the James Wallace  family led the 200-plus pioneers in the pledge of allegiance at this year’s 113th annual  pioneer picnic. That’s the family's tractor behind them. See stories on page 1 and 3.                                                                                                 – Photo by Don Coyote
One Pioneer’s story —

“I was born and raised here in La Conner. Went to La Conner schools all the way through. We left this area after I graduated University of Washington, then I went to work coast-to-coast in the can industry. We came back about 40 years later and built a house in Bay View.
I met my wife in first grade and married her. Not in first grade, of course. She’s a sucker for a guy in uniform. In first grade, we put on skits, and this was during the war. So, the teacher would put these little plays together and I was the one that got to have the marine uniform and hold the flag, and that was it. That’s all it took.
The area has changed remarkably since that time. It’s always good to come back and see changes and relive old memories. The bridge wasn’t even here when I went to school. We had the old bridge where you come into La Conner at Gilkey Square was the foot of the old bridge. And it was a swing bridge so the boats would toot the horn and the bridge would go up and traffic had to be stopped.”
— Roger Dalan
Skagit County Pioneer Association board member

By Bill Reynolds and Haley Ausbun
It was a made in the shade kind of day in La Conner on Thursday.
Good thing, too.
That’s because a historic heat wave coupled with hazy conditions from Canadian wildfires was the backdrop for the 113th annual Pioneer Picnic. Former Anacortes Police Chief Bonnie Bowers, who earlier in her career patrolled La Conner, was among the honored guests.
Bowers joined more than 200 people gathered at Pioneer Park to enjoy sockeye salmon barbecued by La Conner’s “Good Girls” and provided by members of the local Civic Garden Club.
The Civic Garden Club has served the picnic’s lunch for 65 years, as well as the bouquets decorating the picnic tables. The lunch helps fund maintenance for the club’s butterfly garden, club President Susie Devo said. Some 20 members prepare and cook the food on-site. Salmon, potatoes, green beans and pickled beets are signatures of the event every year.
“We see this as our little civic function,” Devo said.
The barbecue pit wasn’t as smoky as the sky overhead.
“It reminds me a little bit of downtown L.A.,” quipped Skagit County Pioneer Association President Kim Good-Rubenstein, a La Conner native who resided for a time in southern California.
She clearly enjoyed being back among her roots at the wooded park, where her family has prepared salmon at the picnic for more than three decades.
Good-Rubenstein’s father prepared the salmon until his passing in 2008, when the next generation took over. She says not much has changed about the picnic beside the people.
“As further generations are coming here and seeing this event,” she said. “It’s important for them to see the old pioneers and learn where they come from.”
Good-Rubenstein heaped praise on Town workers for prepping the park beforehand. They fire-proofed the grounds, so to speak.
“I want to thank them for making the park safe,” she said. “I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to have salmon today. But we’re able to have salmon.”
Jo Wolfe, Skagit County Historical Museum director, said they brought extra tents and water in preparation for the heat. But the venue proved ideal.
“Despite the heat, we got lucky,” Good-Rubenstein told those attending the post-luncheon program, “by having this nice breeze and all these trees for shade.”
Even so, most in attendance shunned formal attire for more comfortable garb. Shorts and short-sleeves were the order of the day.
The program, though, was long on substance.
Bowers was recipient of the Pioneer Spirit Award. The Wallace family of Burlington were recognized as Pioneer Family of the Year.
“I’m grateful for this award,” the humble Bowers, Skagit County’s first woman police chief said. “I don’t know how deserving I am, but I’m very thankful.”
Bowers, who entered law enforcement in 1984, said her intent from Day One was to remove gender as a factor in police work. She wrestled with receiving this award for pioneering spirit, Bower said, but has learned to look at the important achievements her individual perspective offered the position. She noted her work to improve police community engagement, prioritize domestic abuse and human trafficking issues.
Her achievements were national in scope, including graduation from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Academy, where she received her diploma from former director and current special counsel Robert Mueller.
“In the 80s it was a big deal to be a woman in the workforce, I fought so hard to be even,” Bowers said before the program. “But now I think we are beginning to appreciate what the individual brings to the table. If my femininity is one of the things I bring, I embrace it.”

Bowers’ daughter was due to give birth any day, so Bowers was lucky Thursday was not the day. She was also happy to be in La Conner again, she said.
Bowers shared the Pioneer Park amphitheater stage with a trio Wallace family members. Each told of their family’s remarkable sojourn from Scotland to America via Ireland. The family, following a stint in the Nebraska, eventually settled in Skagit Valley, an area they found akin to Ireland.
Though protestants, so-called “orange” Irish, the Wallace forebears farmed in Ireland at the mercy of British gentry.
They emigrated to the U.S., explained Jack Wallace, in hopes of being able to own land where they could farm, hunt, and fish at their pleasure.
Jack Wallace worked with Skagit County Historical Museum staff to write the history of the Wallaces for the event. He presented a book titled “The Wallaces in Skagit Valley: A Brief Family History” at the picnic. Additionally, Wallace and museum staff had curated old photos, on display on tables and bulletin boards.
Many Wallaces attended the picnic, all descendants of James Wallace, Jack Wallace said. “I’m happy to be here and get to know each other and share each other’s histories,” he said.
Since arriving in Skagit County in 1903, the Wallaces have established themselves as leaders in education, agriculture and business.
“Both of these recipients,” Good-Rubenstein said of the Wallaces and Bowers, “are very deserving of these awards. They both have a great sense of community.”
La Conner native Faye Whitney, who regularly leads the Pioneer Picnic group sing-a-longs, was unable to attend due to illness. Good-Rubenstein filled in ably, despite some initial hesitation. “I tried recruiting a replacement for Faye without much success,” she said. “I’ll do my best, but I’m not going to do a solo.”
Dan Royal and Jo Wolfe presented the respective Pioneer Association Historian and Skagit County Historical Museum reports.
Other awards were presented as well.
At the close of the program, Linda Kelly, from St. Paul, Minnesota, was recognized as the person having traveled the farthest to attend the Pioneer Picnic. Bill Meador, 93, of La Conner, was honored as the oldest man in attendance. Mary Jane Crogstad Vetter, 88, earned applause for being the oldest woman.
The good-natured Vetter accepted her honor with mild protest, though.
“Eighty-eight isn’t that old,” she said. “I think all the older people had already left.”

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