An inspiring newspaper column becomes a book

You’ve read their stories on the pages of The Beachcomber and heard their words of wisdom. Accept people as they are. Adapt. Be your own boss. Do art. Include everybody. Protect the earth. Step up and do something.

The stories of Vashon seniors — sprinkled with both surprising biographies and sage advice — have rolled out in the long-running Beachcomber column, “Life Lessons from the Seniors of Vashon,” since 2017 — a paid ad sponsored by Windermere Vashon.

Now, the lessons are compiled together in a new book, a collection of 130 life stories of island residents written as a labor of love and reverence by veteran journalist and author John McCoy.

“What is an important lesson you’ve learned in life?” McCoy asked seniors. In one-on-one interviews, he explored their histories, their motivations, and their successes and failures. Among the answers are: Live boldly. Seek serenity. Help others. Be you. Trust a friend.

Writing tight and to the point, McCoy told each life story in a succinct 375 words to fit the newspaper column format of The Beachcomber. The “Life Lessons” book includes the original newspaper stories with portrait photos, plus additional art, graphics, and pictures that illustrate the lessons. Some of the additional photos were taken 70 years ago.

Produced under the auspices of the Vashon-Maury Senior Center, the “Life Lessons” book is the product of four island seniors, who volunteered their time on the project. Mike Masi, who designed the newspaper column/ad; Richard Rogers, who designed the book; Alice Bloch, who edited and proofed the text; and McCoy, who did the interviews and wrote the stories.

In a forward to the book, McCoy described how he interviews seniors at the Senior Center, in their homes, in coffee shops, on park benches, and in library meeting rooms. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he conducted interviews over the phone, on Zoom video, or masked outdoors, six feet apart.

A seasoned journalist, McCoy was able to draw out his subjects, describing the majority of them as “candid and forthcoming, willing to tell me about the good and the bad, the joyful and the sorrowful.”

Along the way, he found inspiration in the distillation of their stories — asking, “what singular lesson have they learned in 60, 70, 80, or 90 years of life that made a difference for them—and, perhaps, could make a difference for us?”

The paperback book, which sells for $15, is now available at the Senior Center, the Vashon Bookshop, and All proceeds will go to the Vashon Senior Center.