By Lila Cohen
For The Beachcomber
Only so much of Vashon’s history can be captured in official documents. To find the true heritage, history, and heart of our island’s story, you must seek out the individual narratives of those whose lives shaped this island.
On his fifth birthday, August 26, 1946, George Singer, along with his three siblings, moved from West Seattle to Vashon Island. His parents, Anetta Puddicombe and Karl E. Singer, were looking for more space to accommodate their growing family. In their search, they stumbled upon Vashon through the recommendation of their local milkman.
The Singers purchased 80 acres of rolling hills in the heart of Vashon and moved into the small house on the property shortly thereafter. Their new home had no electricity or running water and was temporary — they would begin the construction of their forever home, just years later in 1950.
In 1950, Vashon was a far cry from what it is today. What is now a bustling, scenic, art-centric extension of Seattle was then a sparsely populated community truly isolated from the mainland. Those who lived here were pioneers, living mostly down dirt roads and out of sight and mind of their neighbors.
“You came here primarily because you were kinda a private person, an explorer, a self-sustaining-type individual,” Singer said.
Many were drawn to Vashon’s idyllic landscapes and secluded community, but at the time, only some could handle the more rustic lifestyle.
Singer remembers a tale he was told growing up — that the driver of the small moving truck who had helped his family move to Vashon predicted, “I’ll be back in six months to move you back.”
And for many families, that was often the case.
“… That’s kind of how it went — people would move over here, they would last six months, a year, maybe a few years and leave the island, and about four of five years later, they’d come back,” Singer said.
However, the Singer family was different and young Singer’s father knew that from the start — and that he had told the driver of the moving van just that.
“And my dad says ‘No we’re here. We’ll be here.’ And you see, 77 years later, we’re still here,” Singer said, smiling with pride.
Just a year after moving to the island, six-year-old Singer started first grade at Burton Elementary. However, Singer’s attendance at Burton Elementary was not a given. Singer’s neighborhood was the “swing neighborhood.” Depending on the population of the two halves of Vashon (the divider being Cemetery Road), every year there was the possibility of having to switch schools to attend Vashon Elementary. This was nerve-wracking for young Singer.
“There was always that threat,” Singer said, laughing at the memory. “Vashon and Burton were kind of rival schools, I mean the seventh and eighth graders would play sports against each other.”
After leaving Burton Elementary, Singer graduated Vashon High School and continued his education at Washington State University. All four years of college he was enrolled in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps” (ROTC) — a military class that was required for all males in their freshman and sophomore years. Singer discovered that the style of learning in this class suited him much better than the typical classroom environment and with that, he decided to take Advanced ROTC as a junior and senior.
On a sunny August day in the year of 1963, Singer took his final college exam and was sworn into the military the same day.
“I took my last examination in college, walked down the hill to the ROTC department and was sworn in the military, that same day. When I walked in, I said ‘I don’t even know if I graduated!’ and he says ‘Oh yeah, you graduated. You graduated a few days ago.’ And I said, ‘You mean I didn’t have to take that final exam?’ said Singer.
Singer was in the military for three years before entering training to become a pilot; after getting his pilot’s license, he flew both airplanes and helicopters in the Army for another 13 years. He was shipped to Vietnam during the first tour, where he flew and repaired helicopters.
Singer said that his childhood, spent working on the ranch, taught him the value of hard work — a necessary cornerstone of success in the military. Even going in with a strong work ethic, Singer was able to learn a lot during his time in the Army.
“You learn a lot about life. Not just breathing, eating, [existing], but relationships, work ethic, things like that… It’s just another step in life I guess,” he said.
After leaving the military, Singer lived and worked in Texas where he also met his first wife; they had one child together.
In 1980, at 38, Singer found himself back on Vashon. The once dirt roads were now paved, new storefronts lined the main street and more mailboxes bordered the shoulders. In Singer’s first few years back on the island, he met his second wife and joined her family of six children.
During this time, Singer revamped his family’s farm and cattle business, quickly growing the herd from approximately 25 head to 38 head. Singer grew up milking cows alongside his siblings, and his father had expanded his enterprise to raise beef while Singer was overseas. The Singers would transport the meat to Marysville where it would be sold at auction. Today, Singer still maintains the roughly 40-acre farm as an active beef ranch, where his cattle share the vibrant green hillside with horses, which Singer boards.
Around the mid-1980s, King County began the process of renaming roads on Vashon. This process included assigning addresses and changing street names (often from names to numbers) with the intention of improving emergency response in the area. But when it came time to name the road which Singer’s farm was located along, naming it “Singer” seemed only natural. The road, which connects Cemetery Road and 204th Street, had casually been referred to as “Singer Road” for ages, especially throughout the high school community. The name stuck and was made official in the late 1980s.
Since the 1980s, the world has drastically changed and so has life on this little island. Amid the current turmoil of the world, the division embedded in our society and the pandemic impacting every aspect of everyday life, Singer believes that the quality of one’s community is the most important thing. He will tell you that a well-rounded community is built through hard work, respect and manners, shared experiences and effort. To know your neighbors, to help your neighbors, and to love and accept your neighbors is becoming more important by the day.
“I know most of my neighbors, I can tell you a lot about them. I think that’s important, I don’t know if you have that everywhere or not.” Singer said.
Singer remembers that when his barn burned down in 2013, it was his neighbors who pitched in to sort through the remains. People kept showing up to help.
“Everybody… the whole damn lacrosse team came down. And now, it’s not just me, I know that… That’s [just] the community I’m familiar with,” he said.
This community is one that everyone has the ability to create for themselves. Everyone is capable of surrounding themselves with generous, kind, hard-working people and it’s likely they live right next door to you. Sometimes all it takes is recognizing your differences and appreciating your common humanity.
“The better we know each other, the less prejudice we have. The more we can forgive our [indiscretions]. Now, I mean I don’t know if it’s just Vashon, but we’re getting so divided over race, sexual orientation, you name it,” Singer said. “There doesn’t seem to be any big middle ground. We get labeled. We didn’t label in my day. They were neighbors. People.”