Good-bye, Grover’s Corners. Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths. And sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.
— “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder
My favorite play has always been Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” In fact, the play’s fictional town of Grover’s Corners has many similarities with our little town of Vashon. I remember that sense of community is one of the things that drew us to Vashon Island 18 years ago.
That’s 18 years of baseball Opening Days, PTSA auctions and third-grade programs. But in my mind, you don’t find many events as moving as the annual Vashon Island Community Scholarship Foundation awards.
This annual tradition (May 29 this year) is one of those classic events on the island that always leaves me feeling grateful to be part of this community. I feel the same when Eileen Wolcott shows “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the movie theater every year, or when the Thriftway Drill Team marches in the Strawberry Festival parade. There are certain moments that make me smile and just feel grateful to be a part of this place.
This year, I will be sitting in the audience as the mother of a graduating senior for the third and last time. And my heart is full as I think of watching these kids go up to the stage, kids I remember seeing play basketball on Saturdays or perform in the third-grade program at Chautauqua.
And my heart is extra full because our scholarship foundation has created awards this year in the name of two of my favorite island living legends, Dr. Gary Koch and Paul Colwell.
Gary and Paul are very different men but also cut much from the same cloth. Gary worked tirelessly for nearly 40 years as one of our island’s beloved physicians at Vashon Health Center. Along the way, he also sang opera and performed in Drama Dock, remained actively involved at the Lutheran church and, with his wife Marlee, raised two wonderful kids. Paul founded the internationally known singing group, Up with People, and traveled the world before setting on Vashon. He continues to work at the high school, often with special needs kids. He knows everyone, attends their events and always has a smile. He also is a musician, performing in an array of island groups.
Part of living in a small town is we are bound together in interesting ways. I am bound to both of my friends, Gary and Paul, through music. I have seen them both make countless people happy over the years. But I am also tied to them through asthma. When our daughter had asthma attacks in the middle of the night, Gary was the one who gave her coping skills and talked her through it. And our daughter decided to do her Night of the Notables presentation about Paul back in fourth grade. Why? Because he was famous and because he told her he used to have asthma. As she struggled with asthma, it meant everything to know someone could have asthma and be a singer, let alone travel the world.
If reports are to be believed, many of you are new. You may have moved here in the last several years. But what you may not fully appreciate is that these schools, these parks, these natural places, these musical groups — they were built by many before you, many who cared deeply for this island.
Gary Koch and Paul Colwell are both the best of examples of what makes Vashon Island great. Just like the scholarship awards are a great example of what makes this island great. You can honor both of these men with a donation to the scholarship foundation in the next two weeks. Then, then at least two lucky students, along with others in their class, will receive awards on May 29.
Our island truly is a lot like Grover’s Corners in “Our Town.” In our town, you can find Shawn Hoffman at IGA, who donates his parking lot many Sundays for kids to raise money for causes through washing cars. You can find the Portage Philharmonic performing at the street dance every year at Strawberry Festival while Pete Welch and Allison Shirk plan the music and make it all happen. You can find Dave Warren planting trees with the Forest Stewards or many volunteers hanging candy canes through town every Christmas.
Come May 29, I will be in the audience, watching one last kid go through the Scholarship Awards and wrapping up our time in the Vashon School District. And being so utterly glad for the journey of these last 18 years.
— Lauri Hennessey is the vice president of engagement for Woodland Park Zoo and a former Beachcomber columnist. She is a mother of three.
Island can still donate to this year’s Scholarship Awards in the name of Paul Colwell or Gary Koch until May 15. Find out more at vashonscholarshipfoundation.org.