Full circle

  • By Oscar Halpert Enterprise editor
  • Friday, February 1, 2008 11:45am


In the beginning, there were stumps.

At least, that’s what early residents of Alderwood Manor saw frequently within their expansive fields of view.

As a young child, Betty Lou Gaeng saw those stumps, remnants of the Puget Mill Co.’s logging operations. Logging set the stage for the introduction of 5-acre chicken farms, such as the one her father bought in 1933.

Twenty-six years before Lynnwood became a city, Walter A. Deebach and his wife, Marie, moved their six children north from Seattle to live the life of chicken farmers.

It was during the Great Depression and dad, a commercial artist who’d served in WWI, had just been laid off from his Seattle job, recalled Gaeng, 81, a researcher and writer with the Sno-Isle Geneological Society.

With cash in short supply, Deebach relied heavily upon bartering for goods. He also painted road signs in the area, a job that arrived courtesy of the Works Progress Administration, a get-to-work program initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some years later, he’d take a job as a Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputy.

“He did them at home,” Gaeng said of the road signs her father made. “He painted them white and they had black lettering. I used to watch him at home.”

Poverty was rampant in those days, Gaeng says, but the family didn’t feel poor because nearly everyone else was in the same predicament.

“We often put cardboard in our shoes, ” she said. “But I was lucky; my mother was an excellent seamstress.”

Betty Lou, brother Bob and four other siblings spent four years living in what they call “shackettes,” on the farm, close to Lake Stickney along Old Manor Road. The abodes were their homes; albeit quite small by today’s standards.

“We used to swim in Swamp Creek; we had kind of a swimming hole,” Gaeng says. The kids spent a lot of time roaming long distances along gravel roads largely devoid of automobiles.

Goats and chickens, Gaeng named them all on the farm and that act seemed to bring her closer to them.

“When we had dinner on Sundays, I never ate,” she says.

Daily chores kept the kids busy. Brother Bob, now 82, and his brothers chopped wood every day.

“We made our own shakes for the roof,” he says.

Those were the days when Alderwood Manor seemed to revolve around Manor Hardware, the Masonic Lodge, Norm Johnson’s barbershop and a grocery store owned by Herm Wickers, whose generosity, Gaeng recalls, knew few bounds.

“Herm Wickers carried so many people of Alderwood Manor on his credit lists,” she said. “His generosity and Norm Johnson’s carried the area.”

In 1937 their father became ill and the family left the chicken farm, moving first to Edmonds, then to nearby Seattle Heights — at that time, the neighborhood near Edmonds Woodway High School.

In those days, Edmonds was known as a mill town.

“If you saw someone missing fingers, you knew they worked at the mill,” Bob Deebach says.

Walter A. Deebach went on to work as a deputy with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department. In 1939, he established the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1040 and represented the state in veterans affairs for 25 years. Today, Veterans Park in Lynnwood is named after him. Bob Deebach went off to serve on a battleship in WWII, then raised his own family.

Gaeng raised four children on her own in Edmonds, married and lived around the United States.

In her later years, she returned to Lynnwood and now lives in the Alderwood Court Apartments along 36th Avenue West, the former North Trunk Road. On Tuesdays, she volunteers with the geneological society at Heritage Park.

She’s come full circle.

“I never liked housework,” she says. “I saw this apartment and thought it was just perfect.”

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