John Browne, a Vashon musician, farmer and local icon, has entered the crowded field of candidates vying to become the next unofficial mayor of the island. His campaign will support programs and services provided by the Vashon Senior Center.
Browne “embodies the active life of an older adult,” said Executive Director Catherine Swearingen, adding that the center is thrilled to be represented by him.
Browne, a Seattle native and long-time Vashon resident, plays guitar, harmonica and the washboard. He started his musical career in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in the mid-1960s, then lived off the grid on the Oregon Coast, raised a family and started a garden before returning to Washington State. Browne has worked as a bus driver, a logger and a commercial fisherman, and for many years helped run Wax Orchard Farm.
In addition to his other pursuits, he also owns and manages Judd Creek Nursery with his wife, Vicki, plays in a band with gigs from Vashon to Portland, and is a regular fixture at the Vashon Farmer’s Market.
Browne said being unofficial mayor was on his bucket list.
“I promised myself I’d run for something [and now] seems like time,” he said. According to Browne, it’s important to remind people that Vashon has a history.
“When you get familiar with a place, age doesn’t matter; inclusion does. The Vashon Senior Center has a focus, and that focus is that no one is excluded,” he said.
When asked why he wants to raise money for the center, Browne said that his motivation stems from the desire to help the center remain a vital part of his own life — and the lives of Vashon’s senior population — for as long as possible. The programs and support that the center gives to seniors to help them stay active and independent are, to Browne, an especially worthy cause.
“There’s never enough money for the many good programs on Vashon and the good things people want to do. I want to help,” said Browne.
Susie Kalhorn, president of the senior center board of directors, led the push to recruit Browne.
“John encapsulates so much of what I think of as ‘old’ Vashon. He lives modestly and close to the land. He values nature, music and human relationships. He lives thoughtfully with a good dose of humor. He’s a senior worth emulating,” she said.
Meals and transportation pose the greatest challenges to the center’s budget, said Swearingen.
“As fuel prices rise, so do our transportation costs. We provide round-trip transportation to and from lunch through our Care-A-Van service three days each week, but need to raise money to cover the rising costs,” she said. “We would like to expand that to four days each week, train additional drivers and ensure that our members can get to and from the center. Funding for these two areas are a priority.”
Additional funding will go a long way to support a nutrition program that provides hot, home-cooked lunch four days per week, as well as transportation to and from lunch for isolated adultsthree days each week.
“Lunch donations only cover about half the cost of the food used for hot lunches. We have been extremely fortunate to have had an angel donor for the past few years who bridged the gap, but we now need to make up the difference,” said Swearingen.
Other essential programming that the center provides Vashon’s senior citizens ranges from an array of health, wellness and fitness exercise classes such as Zumba, guided meditation and tai chi, to opportunities for education, recreation, socialization and personal growth. The center connects individuals and often hosts experts who lead discussions about relevant topics such as Medicare enrollment, estate planning and the Community Van Program. Volunteers from the Neighbor to Neighbor program help older adults to age in place by assisting seniors with household chores, transportation and errands.
The Vashon Senior Center has been serving older adults on the island since 1980 and continues to have an active and supportive presence in the community.
“A vote for John is a donation to support our mission of enhancing the experience of being an older adult on Vashon,” said Swearingen. “Our membership has grown significantly over the past three years, yet our funding has gone down despite an increased need for senior services. Seniors at the center are technically anyone 55 years or older, but our doors are open to the whole community.”
Browne, meanwhile, plans to make appearances on behalf of the senior senter at the Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Election winners are announced during Strawberry Festival. $1 is one vote. Visit vashonchamber.com for more information.