HEROES BEHIND THE SCENES – Another year, another successful Pioneer Picnic Salmon BBQ luncheon made, served, eaten, and cleaned up after. All hail and thanks to the “Good Girls:” Patsy Good, Virginia “Ginny” Good-Vlahovich and Kim Good-Rubenstein [center]. – Photo courtesy of Bill Reynolds
Warm weather made for warm memories at the 115th annual Pioneer Picnic in La Conner Thursday, drawing a festive group ranging from toddlers to local centenarian Joyce Johnson.
A good time was had by all, especially those who have attended regularly through the decades. Don Wick, one of the more recognizable personalities in Skagit County, has marked the Pioneer Picnic on his calendar since the early 1970s. Wick, then working for radio station KBRC, was assigned to set up the sound system for the 1973 Picnic. He liked what he saw. “I thought, wow, what a fantastic event,” he told the Weekly News. “So I’ve pretty much been to every one since.” Held the first Thursday in August at Pioneer Park, the Picnic features a complete salmon barbecue luncheon, with the fish prepared by the Good Girls – Patsy Good, Virginia “Ginny” Good-Vlahovich and Kim Good-Rubenstein – and the meal served by members of the La Conner Civic Garden Club. Former La Conner Town Councilman Jerry Hedbom, who knows a thing or three about salmon prep, was among the many who gave a ringing endorsement of the dinner, which in addition to capturing the flavor of the event raised funds for the Skagit County Historical Museum and a scholarship provided by the Garden Club. This year’s Picnic honored the Fisher and DeGoede families for remarkable contributions to Skagit County. The Fishers have been an integral part of the county since before the turn of the 20th century – as pioneers in all its major industries, most notably construction. They were recognized as the Pioneer Family of the Year. The DeGoedes, innovators in the bulb industry and key figures in launching the world-famous Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, were recipients of the Pioneer Spirit Award. Maria DeGoede Kerley, the Town of La Conner’s Finance Director, paid tribute to her parents, Jeannette and the late Tom DeGoede, during the Skagit County Pioneer Association program that followed lunch. Kerley’s heartfelt remarks, both humorous and nostalgic – her voice cracked a couple times – focused on lesser known facts about the couple who founded the popular Tulip Town venue midway between La Conner and Mount Vernon. She explained, for instance, how her dad, a native of Holland, came to be known as “Tom” when his given name was Anthony. Newly arrived in Skagit County, he was still mastering English. “Mom thought he said his name was Tom,” Kerley noted. “What he actually said was his name was ‘Tone,’ for Anthony.” Tom stuck. As he learned about American culture, Jeannette learned about growing flowers, said Kerley. It proved an ideal combination. Their business grew to the point where they could hire local students to work on the farm. “They employed many kids from the valley,” Kerley said, her mom at her side. “Even if they just came to visit, dad had a job for them,” she quipped. Faith, generosity and love were hallmarks of a family business that evolved into Tulip Town, which the DeGoedes grew into a signature Skagit Valley enterprise, recently purchased by Mount Vernon-based Spinach Bus Ventures. The Fisher family had long been on the Pioneer Association’s radar for special accolades. But the Picnic has usually conflicted with summer boating trips that family patriarch Bob Fisher, now 90, takes to Alaska. “When it would come up,” Chad Fisher, one of Bob’s sons explained, “dad would say, ‘I’ll be on my boat, there’s fish to catch.’ But this time he said, I’ll be home.’’ Chad Fisher talked about the hardships overcome by past generations of Skagit residents. He recounted how his great-grandfather was once in a shoot-out with a would-be robber and that his grandfather had a hand severed while operating a pile driver during construction of the old North Fork Bridge near Rexville. “It’s amazing how tough those guys were,” he said of the early Skagit pioneers. “I can’t imagine what this county looked like back then, when you could only get places on foot or on the water. It took a couple days just to go to a dance. “I can’t imagine,” he added, “how they moved those 12-to-14-foot logs without the machinery and equipment we have today.” A Burlington-Edison High grad, Bob Fisher went off to school in Portland, where he was able to showcase superb carpentry skills while working a side job at a military base there. That eventually led to a career in which the Fisher name would become synonymous with residential, commercial, and industrial construction in Skagit County and around the nation. Bob Fisher shared that he often attended the Pioneer Picnic with his dad, the famed one-handed dairyman, and thus became familiar with the history of the valley he’s loved for a lifetime. “Why would anybody leave here,” he asked, “and not live here?”