Twenty years ago this week, on a Sunday morning, Herald readers found this on the front of their Local section: “I’d like to introduce myself.”
That first column was published Oct. 26, 1997. Here we are again, on a Sunday morning, two decades later.
I had already been here 16 years when this column was launched, having started at The Herald in March of 1981. I spent a decade on the copy desk, and from 1992 to ’97 was features editor. When I leave The Daily Herald — that time isn’t here yet — I’ll remember this job most, and best.
Doing the arithmetic, three columns per week for 20 years, it adds up to 3,120. There were vacations, but some years I wrote four a week. In telling thousands of stories, I have met remarkable people and learned much. There’s no way, here, to do justice to some 3,000 stories — but I’ll give it a try.
What follows are tidbits from 20 columns that have been memorable to me:
1. Mark Reiman: Once an Evergreen Middle School counselor, Mark Reiman had lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, for seven years when we met at his Everett home in 1998. That year, he traveled the country on a Season of Hope National Anthem Tour, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Major League ballparks. A most inspiring man, Reiman died in 2003.
2. Ed Nixon: Lynnwood’s Edward Nixon, the youngest of President Richard Nixon’s four brothers, told a wonderful tale of a road trip on Route 66, in a new black Oldsmobile coupe, with the future president. During a 2009 interview about his book “The Nixons: A Family Portrait,” the resemblance to his famous brother was uncanny.
3. Apryl Roberts: In 2016, Lynnwood’s Apryl Roberts was pregnant with her second daughter when she shared her battle with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Later, the courageous mom introduced Herald readers to her new baby, Haven Lee. She continues to fight for her life. Earlier this month, she posted on Facebook pictures of her participation in the 2017 Base 2 Space cancer research fundraising climb at the Space Needle.
4. Andree Hemmerle: A 2008 column was a lesson in history and forgiveness. Andree Hemmerle had traveled from France to Edmonds to meet her half-sisters. The women’s late father was a U.S. Army captain who served in World War II. Although he had a wife and child before going to war, he fathered Andree while in France. Decades later, the American sisters and their elderly mother welcomed the French woman with open arms.
5. Jared Dickson: On Dec. 7, 2016, Arlington’s Jared Dickson shared traumatic memories of the bombing, strafing and horrific aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Dickson, then 95, told of leaving his ship, the USS Curtiss, and of retrieving the dead from the water in a small boat.
6. Oso mudslide: Snohomish County’s monumental tragedy, the Oso mudslide, claimed 43 lives. It was followed by incomparable acts of heroism. I’ll never forget the memorial service for Darrington Library manager Linda McPherson, which filled the Darrington Community Center. A year later, I was at the library when its Linda McPherson Community Room was dedicated.
7. Eyman headache: Readers with long memories might recall the worst thing ever published with my column. I didn’t write it. In November 1999, after voters approved Tim Eyman’s first $30 car tab initiative, I-695, I wrote that I believed it was a case of “simple greed.” The vote meant big tax cuts for those with expensive cars, but also cuts in bus service for people without cars. The horrible headline said “I-695 backers just greedy simpletons.” I was stunned when I saw the newspaper. And I caught a lot of flak for that name-calling headline — written by a copy editor.
8: Chauffeuring sailors:In May 2003, the USS Abraham Lincoln docked in Everett after a 10-month deployment that ended following the initial invasion of Iraq. I was asked by the Everett Rotary Club to help provide ride service to sailors needing lifts to Sea-Tac Airport, military housing in Seattle and other destinations. “What a wonderful day it was,” I wrote after a day spent driving my car, which was jammed with jubilant sailors.
9: Prison in Monroe: Twice I have been inside the Monroe Correctional Complex. In 2000, I met John O’Connell, a terrific Edmonds Community College teacher who spent much of his career educating inmates. And in 2006, I was there when Thelbert Lawson was given an Incarcerated Veteran of the Year award. Those visits behind bars were chilling, but I wouldn’t have missed them.
10. Grieving parents: I hope to never again have interviews as heartbreaking as those I remember from the fall of 2014. Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, parents of two first-graders shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School, shared their grief and anger during a visit to The Herald. They were here after a Marysville Pilchuck High School freshman shot five classmates, killing four of them, before turning the gun on himself. A month later, the mother of Gia Soriano, one of the Marysville Pilchuck students killed, described what happened this way: “Unimaginable.”
11. White House ceremony:In August 2002, I was in hot-as-blazes Washington, D.C., when Everett received its All-America City award. With then-Mayor Frank Anderson and others from the city, I visited the office of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and went to the award ceremony in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. I also popped into the White House press room. With a disposable camera, I snapped a photo of Helen Thomas, the veteran White House correspondent who died in 2013.
12: Polar bear swim: There’s a rational reason I decided to plunge into frigid Port Susan in late December 2001. Headed out of town, I needed to finish a column before I left. My quick and miserable swim was a way to write about a zany New Year’s tradition. I figure it qualifies me as a lifetime member of the polar bear club.
13. Goodyear Blimp: In August 2001, Goodyear Blimp pilot John Crayton took me along while offering rides on the humongous airship to winners of a radio station contest. The blimp, in the area for Seattle’s Seafair, was moored at Paine Field. After a ride above Harbour Pointe and over south Whidbey, I was relieved when a ground crew grabbed the anchor lines and brought us down. It was scary-fun.
14. Target shooting: I’ll never make it in the sport of Cowboy Fast Draw, but I got the chance to try in 2015. At the Snohomish home of Anthony “Tank” Dorman, then 11, I watched the boy pull a single action Colt .45 western style six-shooter from his holster, cock the hammer, fire and hit a steel target, all in a fraction of a second. He won a Fastest Gun Alive World Champion title in a youth category. I tried, and learned it’s tough.
15. Mary Pickford’s car: Few work days have been as enjoyable as one last summer when Vicki and Ron Selia took me for a ride in their Lincoln Continental, a 1961 beauty with back-seat “suicide doors.” The Lake Cassidy area couple’s car was once owned by Mary Pickford, the silent film legend.
16. Three graduates: June 2005 was a happy milestone month. I wrote about attending three graduations. My daughter earned a degree at Santa Clara University, my older son graduated from O’Dea High School in Seattle, and my youngest finished kindergarten at Immaculate Conception & Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. Those are sunny memories.
17: A favorite story: A 2007 column about Gunnar Kassen had ingredients I love in a local tale: a little history, a little Hollywood. Kassen was a dogsled musher noted for the 1925 lifesaving serum run to Nome, Alaska. The feat, which inspired the Iditarod race, was turned into an animated movie “Balto,” the name of the sled dog. For her book “The Cruelest Miles,” I helped New York author Laney Salisbury track down information about Kassen, who had lived in Everett. And I visited Kassen’s final resting place, Everett’s Cypress Lawn Memorial Park.
18. New role: My first grandson arrived in 2011, and with him a big decision. Would I be Grandma? Or Gram? I chose Nana, and wrote a column about all the important baby advice that had changed since I was a new mom. That delightful first grandson of mine is now in kindergarten.
19: My dad: It took me until June 6, 2014, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, to write in much detail about my father’s World War II service. My now 94-year-old dad served in the U.S. Army’s 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division. He landed at Utah Beach in Normandy, France, 17 days after D-Day and stayed in Germany past the war’s end as part of the Army of Occupation. I wrote that my dad, Spokane’s Richard Ahrens, shared the war stories “of a man who doesn’t tell war stories.”
20. Sorrows: Often I’ll get a call from someone saying “I remember when your husband died.” That, too, was almost 20 years ago. Jim Muhlstein, a Herald editor, was 45 when he died of a heart attack May 31, 1998. I wrote about losing Jim, and readers reached out in kindness. Seven months ago, my youngest child died. One day I might write about that devastating loss.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.