Grand marshal is a man who’s given decades to the Island

Leo Montague - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Leo Montague
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

Vashon’s newly anointed Strawberry Festival grand marshal is glad to pass on a few morsels of wisdom to a loyal subject.

“Keep happy. Exercise. Don’t eat junk food,” Leo Montague, 86, said from his armchair throne last week.

A tall man with a striking smile and a sharp wit, Montague has done an enormous amount in his half-century on Vashon and is deserving of the honorary position, Islanders said.

A founder of the Vashon Health Center, one of the Island’s first community council presidents and a former school board member, nowadays the grand marshal prefers to spend his afternoons “solving the world’s problems” at Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie.

“We sit and tell stories of glory — a lot of talking goes on, not much listening,” said the former Boeing engineer with a smile.

Montague is well known at the Roasterie and across the Island for his vivacious personality and his dedication to the community, said Leslie Shattuck, who with her husband Jon Carlson nominated Montague to be this year’s grand marshal.

“A lot of people think he’s wonderful,” she said. “He’s a true example of a Vashon spirit.”

The letter Shattuck wrote in support of Montague’s marshalship was posted at the Roasterie for two days last month, and in that time, more than 50 Islanders added their signatures to the nomination, she said.

“He epitomizes the history of Vashon,” said Joyce Olson, who heads the committee that selected Montague as marshal.

The Island’s grand marshal, who leads both Strawberry Festival parades and generally bestows goodwill upon festivalgoers, “has to be someone who has shown an interest in the Island community and has participated in what the Island is and was,” Olson said.

Montague, with decades of commitment to Island causes, fits the bill, she said.

The grand marshal has been devoted to Island issues that reflect what he says are his personal philosophies — tolerance, health care for all, freedom of thought, responsibility for personal actions and education for youth. Even after a stroke eight years ago that has made walking difficult, he continues to take part in civic and social activities with zest — and a wicked sense of humor.

Montague’s life on Vashon dates back to 1959, when he, his wife Opal and their children moved to the Island. It was the perfect place, he said, to raise a family and a farm.

A passionate community activist, he helped keep health care vibrant on Vashon four decades ago, when the Island’s only doctor threatened to quit because he was so inundated with calls.

A group of Islanders, including Montague and his wife, set out to find another doctor. In the process, they formed the committee that oversaw the creation of what is now the Vashon Health Center on Sunrise Ridge.

“Leo was essential” to the start of the center in 1974, said Sunrise Ridge board member Margaret Mackey.

Montague served on the Sunrise Ridge board for more than 30 years before he “retired with honors” a few years ago, he said. He volunteered at Granny’s Attic, the nonprofit thrift store created to support the health center, for decades; he even formed a men’s workshop called the Grandpas to repair donated items to be resold.

“We kept getting lots of old toasters and electrical appliances and old furniture,” Montague said. “It was just passing through and going to the dump, so we set up a shop where we could check it out, clean it up and resurrect it.”

An avid reader, Montague brought a literary institution to Vashon — the Great Books discussion group, now more than 30 years established.

A father of four, Montague was a trailblazer for youth organizations and education on the Island, heading up one of Vashon’s first Boy Scout troops for 10 years and serving on the public school board more than once.

Montague said he’s looking forward to his role as the cheerful leader of Vashon’s festival parades, where he’ll give a regal greeting to all as he passes, seated in a gleaming parade vehicle.

“The sitting I can do,” he said, grinning. “The wave I’ll have to practice.”

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