In remembrance of the lives they led on Vashon

We mourn and celebrate the islanders who left us in 2023.

As 2024 dawns, we mourn and celebrate the islanders who left us in 2023. Each of the obituaries in our newspaper this year detailed a soul who walked our island, changing it forever.

Here, we again pay tribute to some of these notable neighbors, four of whom died in late December 2022, but were not memorialized in obituaries in our paper until 2023.

Patricia A. Buchanan, a devoted community activist who later in life became a fiercely competitive triathlete, was the first person to receive a completely green burial in Vashon Cemetery, on Jan. 21. Buchanan died in mid-December 2023, at the age of 72.

Pauline Shiosa was incarcerated with her family at the age of 13 at Tule Lake Concentration Camp in California, following Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 during World War II. As an adult, she became an accomplished chef, dietician, and food author and stylist for Northwest Gourmet Magazine. She also lectured middle and high school students about her incarceration experience.​​ She moved to Vashon in 2004 to share her life with her grandchildren. She died on Dec. 15, 2022, at the age of 94.

Barbara Steen, known to generations as “Mother Steen” for her stalwart service to causes including the Vashon Heritage Museum, King County Cemetery District #1, the Vashon Island Golf and County Club, and Vashon United Methodist Church, died on Dec. 27, 2022. She was 93 years old.

​​Renae Thomas Taylor, an award-winning Vashon teacher who pioneered Chautauqua Elementary School’s multi-age program, died on Dec. 30, 2022. She was 84 years old.  

Carol Anne Eckman, whose retirement life on Vashon was filled with service to the St. John Vianney Parish, the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness, Vashon Opera, Vashon-Maury Island Garden Club, and her friends, family and neighbors, died on Feb. 6 at the age of 85.

Rex Stratton, whose years on Vashon from 1998-2016 left a legacy of stewardship to island organizations and enterprises including Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, Island GreenTech, Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union, and Vashon Theatre, died on Feb. 9 at the age of 78.

Taro Nishiyori was only six months old in May of 1942 when he became the youngest of 131 Japanese American residents of Vashon to be forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated in internment camps during WWII. Relocated to the Heart Mountain, Wyoming camp, the family returned to the island after the war. After Taro graduated from Vashon High School, he married islander Carole Neddleman, with whom he had three children. He worked at Boeing for many years. He died on Feb. 10, at the age of 81.

Stas Kudla moved to Vashon in the early 1980s and became the first naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist on the island, pioneering the way for many other natural health practitioners, died on Feb. 27, at the age of 76.

Christine “Chris” Jovanovich, a devoted mother of seven and longtime practitioner of home healthcare, was one of the driving forces behind the Vashon Care Network — a thriving nonprofit that notably includes a lending library of medical supplies and equipment. She died on March 5, at the age of 60.

John Simonds, elected in 2021 as a commissioner of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR), died on March 13. During his tenure as commissioner, he passionately advocated increasing firefighter staffing for the fire district. He was 69 years old.

Ronald R. Thomas, a prolific and insightful writer, inspiring educator, and the visionary college president of the University of Puget Sound from 2003-16, died on April 17, at the age of 74.

Sean Ogawa Hillman, a star student at Vashon High School who played on the school’s golf team, worked as a lifeguard at the Vashon Pool, joined the Vashon Island Fire Explorers program, and earned an associate’s degree through the Running Start program while working at three different after-school jobs, died on April 24, at the age of 20.

James “Jimmy” Frederick Harper, a dedicated coach and fan of youth sports teams, and social butterfly who held court at Thriftway while working there for a decade, died on April 13, at the age of 74.

Connie DuFresne, who made news for home births in a time when they were not common, had a notable career as a relator on Vashon, and in her retirement, delighted the residents of Vashon’s nursing home with her work as a volunteer cook, died on April 10, at the age 89.

Gene Edward Peretti began his adult life as a minister and then returned to the ministry after he retired from Boeing’s Aerospace Division in 1983. He then worked as a business consultant for churches and served as an executive pastor in large churches in Washington and California until 2007. He died on May 9, at the age of 96.

Andrew Walker, a talented, ambitious, and athletically gifted son of Vashon who demonstrated remarkable leadership skills in a multitude of ways throughout his high school and college years, died on May 23, at the age of 23.

Carol Ann Schwennesen, a member of Vashon’s visual arts community, created vibrant paintings that found homes in collections around the world. As an arts educator, she also inspired her art students. On Vashon, she contributed her talents to Vashon Artists in Schools, the DOVE Project, art tours, mentoring programs, and exhibitions. She died on May 27, at age 78.

Joan White moved to Vashon in 1970. She was a longtime player in Drama Dock, worked at Bob’s Bakery, and was a chemical dependency counselor. Along the way, she and her partner Joe Petta tended a garden that was featured many times in Vashon’s Garden Tour. She died on May 30, at the age of 75.

Dora Mendoza Lavariega de Sohl, a native of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, embraced life on Vashon with her husband Marshall Sohl. A lifelong daily walker and worker who was employed by K2 for more than 16 years, she raised eight children, supported AIDS and other health causes, and graduated from a community college in her 60s. She died on June 2, at the age of 93.

Stuart Chapman Jones, who quietly built a national following of audiophiles for his Chapman Sound speakers and the services of his audio engineering company, and lived a life of gusto centered on family and friends, died on June 14, at the age of 74.

John Victor Hamilton served 12 years with the Navy and worked 40 years for Boeing. In his career, he was instrumental in designing, installing, testing and repairing the Airborne Early Warning System for the Air Force that is still used by the military today. A father of nine, he also served with distinction as a volunteer firefighter on Vashon. He died on June 22, at the age of 93.

Tom Wallace’s 1985 purchase of a farm on Vashon changed his life as he transitioned from being a worker at Boeing to a highly skilled and sought-after farrier in Vashon’s equestrian community and beyond. He also trained as a massage artist to work on both horses and humans, volunteered for Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, and served as a trusted school bus driver on Vashon. He died on July 13, at the age of 67.

Willoughby Greenwood, as the trustee of the Royal Little Family Foundation, gave generous support to community organizations on Vashon, where she lived the last 40 years of her life. She died on Aug. 12, at the age of 90.

Bill Bryon Knox, a multi-talented artist, musician, architect, and designer who devised color schemes for K2 skis, built the prototype for the K2 ski boot and later re-created human bones at Sawbones, died on Aug. 21, at the age of 91.

John Anderson, acclaimed on Vashon and beyond as a landscape photographer, capturing the majesty of wind-swept coastlines, high deserts, jagged mountaintops, and primal forests, died on Sept. 4. He was 64 years old.

Stephen Sears taught generations of students at Vashon High School during his 44-year tenure with the district. For 38 years, he was also the pastor of the Calvary Full Gospel Church, in Lisabuela. He died on Sept. 22, at age 69.

Scott Durkee, who embraced his life on Vashon as a deep thinker, musician, winemaker, organic gardener, and beloved community member, died on Oct. 8, at age 65. For years, Durkee contributed commentaries to The Beachcomber, writing on the subjects of island life, the environment, and in the past year, his insights on his serious illness, life and death.

Bob Long, the owner of Bob’s Bakery for more than 20 years, made it almost impossible to choose from his storybook array of sweet and savory creations. His masterpiece, the Bob’s Burger — a sturdy croissant topped with pumpkin seeds and filled with sun-dried tomatoes and olives — is still offered at Vashon Island Baking Company. He died on Oct. 13, at age 79.

Mark Protzeller, a US Navy veteran and the owner of Smokey Top chimney clearing service, a company that kept countless home fires safely burning on Vashon, died on Nov. 28, at the age of 62.

Words to Live By:

“I have lived a wonderful life full of adventures and music and relationships and experiences that are unique to me and to my own life. I feel nothing but gratitude for the life I’ve led, and who could ask for anything more?”

— Scott Durkee, concluding “Living out the days that are left, in peace and equanimity,” his last commentary for The Beachcomber, published on Sept. 21.