Vyone “Vy” Harrington Biel
July 15, 1921 – February 7, 2017
Vyone Harrington was born an only child in the northwoods of Wisconsin at YMCA Camp Manito-wish in the small town of Boulder Junction. Her parents James and Della Harrington were full-time custodians of the camp from its inception in 1919 until around 1934. Her name, pronounced “why-own,” was created by her parents to include the sound of the “Y” in YMCA.
Being a child of the Depression shaped Vyone; she was tenacious and frugal. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
At the end of World War II, Vyone joined the Foreign Service. She worked as a stenographer, stationed in Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. In the late 1940s she came to Seattle to help care for her ailing aunt. Shortly after arriving in Seattle, Vyone started her own stenographer business, transcribing court proceedings. Vyone was already familiar with Vashon Island because she had an uncle who had homesteaded on Vashon near Wax Orchard Rd. and 248th. As a young girl she had visited her uncle at his Vashon homestead.
In the mid-1950s Vyone married Nicholas I. Biel in Seattle. The honeymoon included a visit to Butchart Gardens, which may have planted the seed for her future botanical endeavors. After living in Seattle for a few years and with the birth of their first son, Jim, the couple moved to Vashon Island on Reddings Beach in 1958. Four years later their second son, Mike, was born. Vyone was active in the Unitarian Fellowship.
Once the boys were school-aged, Vyone started an antique shop called the Collectors’ Corner located in Pappy Dugan’s Country Store (currently Minglement). She expanded her business to include used furniture, a silver matching service, and a mail-order catalog.
Around this time Vyone came to be known as “Vy.” Ultimately, Vy purchased Pappy Dugan’s Country Store business, but not the building. Upon Pappy’s death, Vy was unable to complete her purchase of his building, so she acquired 10 acres to the south. Around 1981 with the help of her family, she built The Country Store in its current location, acting as her own general contractor. Much of the store was built with reclaimed lumber. The new 10-acre site allowed Vy to pursue her botanical interest. This included ever-expanding flower gardens, specimen trees, growing produce, greenhouses, and propagation. Vy pioneered freshly-picked, exotic salad green mixes, which she sold to chefs in Seattle, including the ones at the Alexis Hotel. Vy Biel owned and operated The Country Store in its current location for more than thirty years.
Vy gained modest fame as the inspiration for the character Aunt Vy in Berkeley Breathed’s 1994 children’s book Red Ranger Came Calling, which was based on the Vashon bicycle in the tree located across the street from The Country Store.
In December 2012 Vy began to require constant care and ceased to operate the Country Store. On the snowy morning of February 7, 2017, Vy passed away in an adult family home on Maury Island.
Vy is survived by her two sons, Jim Biel of Vashon Island and Mike Biel of Temecula, CA. Vy has no grandchildren. A celebration of her life has yet to be scheduled. Details will be announced.
A fitting epitaph for Vy Biel, island icon is:
Mother, Entrepreneur, Relentless Gardener & Queen of Clutter.