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Those who know her well say Grace Crecelius seems to embody her name

Grace Crecelius sorts through a paper bag full of clothing at Granny’s Attic, where she volunteers. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Grace Crecelius sorts through a paper bag full of clothing at Granny’s Attic, where she volunteers.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

The day after Grace Crecelius turned 90 last month, she put in a full day of work at Granny’s Attic, where she’s been a volunteer for 29 years.

She folded jeans, hung shirts and politely declined a birthday party the other volunteers wanted to throw for her.

The behind-the-scenes work suits Crecelius, who for decades has been a quiet but powerful force on the Island, helping to shape Vashon into a kinder and gentler place. Little wonder, then, that this white-haired community activist has won a place in many people’s hearts.

“She really fits her name,” said Donna Klemka, president of the Granny’s Attic board. “She just has such a broad reach of how she’s impacted her community — not just by contributing, but by initiating, which I think is wonderful.”

Crecelius has helped sculpt the Island landscape through her involvement with organizations such as Granny’s Attic, Vashon HouseHold, the Vashon Unitarian Fellowship and Results, a nationwide antipoverty organization with a branch on Vashon.

“She’s one of my favorite people in the world,” said Lesley Reed, a leader in the Vashon chapter of Results.

A “constant force” in the group, Crecelius has hand-written letters about poverty issues to legislators for decades, Reed said.

“I think it’s really cool,” she said. “She cares about people so much.”

Crecelius, a former teacher, sat on the couch of her simple west side home recently, where she described her life of civic activism and the beliefs that have motivated her throughout most of her 60 years on the Island.

She was a young girl during the Great Depression, where she witnessed the devastating impact of poverty as well as the role organizations can play in helping people find their way through a difficult time.

Several years later, she helped to found Vashon HouseHold, a nonprofit that builds affordable housing, and today remains emphatic about the importance of housing that low- to middle-income individuals and families can obtain.

“We’re dependent on the people in that bracket — teachers and the people who work in stores and the tradespeople,” she said. “We need living space for those people.”

One of several forward-thinking Islanders who came together for the cause of affordable housing decades ago, Crecelius said she never thought it could become as serious an issue as it is today.

“It wasn’t as critical then as it is now,” she said.

Her biggest honor, she said, is the recognition Vashon HouseHold gave her when it constructed its first apartment complex, JG Commons. The J in the name stands for fellow HouseHold founder Joy Goldstein; the G stands for Grace.

Crecelius has lived in her west side home since moving to the Island in 1946 and is proud of raising her children there, starting with almost nothing. Today, she shares her Colvos

Passage-facing home with her tabby cat, Tigerbell.

When they moved to Vashon, the Crecelius family lived off their land — a garden and a cow, to start — while her husband Chris dreamed up the invention that eventually found success and supported the family.

Though it has been sold to an employee, Chris’ business Olympic Instruments still inhabits the farmhouse adjoining the Crecelius home, and his invention — a wire and cordage meter, which measures the length of items such as rope — served as the family’s “bread and butter” for decades.

“It doesn’t have a very glamorous name,” Crecelius admitted, “but almost anywhere you go in this country you’ll find one of those.”

Even while Chris found success through his utilitarian invention, Grace Crecelius happily delved into the world of primary education. She never assumed she’d have a career of her own, she said, but was happy when she found one.

As a longtime first-grade teacher in Burton, Crecelius helped mold the Island’s future leaders — starting with literacy and arithmetic, she said.

“She is my absolute favorite teacher to this day,” said Faith Sohl, 46, who vividly remembers her year as a first-grader under the tutelage of “Mrs. Crecelius.”

Today, Sohl participates in the Great Decisions book

group with Crecelius, who has been a member for more than three decades.

“She really is an inspiration for me in how she lives her life,” Sohl said. “It’s something I look forward to every month: seeing her bright face and clever mind. It’s a pleasure to be in that room with her.”

The same year Crecelius retired from teaching at age 62, she dove headfirst into the busy life of a Granny’s Attic volunteer. One of 75 who help out at the expansive thrift store, Crecelius specializes in clothing. She sorts and hangs items of all shapes and sizes and thinks the task she does is a valuable one.

“I feel like I’m doing a service,” she said. “They need help, and I enjoy the people I work with.”

She said there was a mantra in her household when she was growing up: “Eat it up, wear it out or make it do.”

“We’re ‘making it do’ there at Granny’s by either fixing it up or just presenting it to sell it,” she said.

Islanders are hungry for Granny’s wares, she added.

“I don’t think they could make it without it,” she said, laughing. “I think its time has come. A lot of people used to be embarrassed about going to a thrift store, but now they think it’s patriotic.”

Granny’s Attic manager Richard Lipke said Crecelius is a “venerated” volunteer there.

“She’s generous, kind — I don’t think she’s got an evil thought in her mind,” he said. “She’s very progressive minded, very sharp minded. ... She’s a sweetheart.”

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