GIHS minutes - July 8, 2019



July 8, 2019


Present: Tom Deach (chair), Janice Veal (treas), Bob Anderson, Al & Nancy Bush, Barb & Mark Ohms, Michele & Al Lesmeister, Morna McEachern, Bill VanVlack & Stephanie Kavanaugh, Jackie O’Neil, Randy & Barbara Schnabel, Holiday Matchett, Sally Stapp, Karen Bain, Gina Myers, Ralph & Ann Mendershausen, Kathy Whitman, Ann Magnano, Sheri Boddy, Ian Woofenden, Don & Anne Passarelli, Mary Hale, Barbara Wagner, Carol Steffy, Julie Pingree, Bridget Thompson, Jacquie Prescott, Sue O’Donnell (sec)

Show & Tell:  Tom found a July 23, 1961 Seattle Times Pictorial Magazine with picture of the Max & Thresa Benjamin family on the cover.  This story is of their lives on Guemes Island.  Finding the story prompted Tom to ask Michele if she could talk about growing up on Guemes Island.  Michele said YES and proceeded to donate $500 to the Historical Society!!!

Program: Michele Benjamin Lesmeister, A Child of Guemes - In 1959 Max & Thresa Benjamin moved to Guemes with their 3 children.  They bought land with an old log cabin, no electricity or running water.  Max had been a Boeing drafter and Thresa a nurse at Swedish hospital.  Max could have moved up at Boeing but, rather, chose to be a painter and Thresa, (having started nursing school at age 14, graduating 5 years later), wanted to be a Mom and get out of Seattle.  Michele began her presentation by intimating the family’s arrival on Guemes was open to raised eyebrows and some hurtful comments which Michele was to overcome and go on to be one of only 2 in her high school class at Anacortes High School to graduate (1974) and then go on to and graduate (1979) from college.

Max and Thresa provided a rich and varied learning environment for their children. They had a vegetable garden and Michele’s Mom (Thresa Jane Smart-Benjamin,1930-2011) was an expert in the raising of flowers and shrubbery.  During the remodel of the log cabin (which had been built in 1871), Michele and her sister were sent to Fremont in Seattle to live with grandparents while brother Murray “Buster” lived in a tent and helped with the building project.  He also attended the Guemes school but harsh discipline and the belief of the parents that the school was sub-par put an end to that.  The Guemes school did not deliver what Max thought his children should have in the way of education.  Michele remembers her Dad riding the ferry with her and walking her to Kindergarten every day in Anacortes.  Her K teacher (Fern Johnson) was wonderful and inspiring.  She even allowed the Benjamins to bring sheep and hay to class for Michele’s birthday!

Without electricity, there was no tv in their house.  School in some ways was difficult for Michele because she didn’t understand the references and expectations of a television culture. When she had issues with a particular 1st grade teacher, her Dad got her moved to a different class.  They made use of the Anacortes library where Max made sure the children could take home as many books as they could carry every Saturday.  Max’s parents sent them National Geographic and the children were exposed to other cultures. 

When she was 10 years old, Michele got to go to Sweden!  A wonderful opportunity, but some acquaintances in the Anacortes/Guemes community didn’t believe her stories and Michele became contrary in the 70s – she wanted to wear pants to high school; she wanted to protest the war rather than sit in class; she didn’t like direction from the school bus driver; she had a mind of her own!  She and her siblings picked and sold blueberries, picked strawberries, kept busy.

In 1977 she was an exchange student to Taiwan.  Had to leave once the revolution started, but later went back to Taiwan to start a school and met her first husband there.  They came back to the states and had a daughter while living in Georgia.  But racial tensions there drove them back to the northwest in the 1980s. 

Michele has been an instructor at Renton Technical College for 30 years.  She is passionate about reading skills and helping students transition into career training.  The Benjamin family has funded a scholarship in honor of Michele’s Mom, The Thresa Jane Smart-Benjamin Scholarship for Women.


Donations:  We have had some recent, generous donations, totaling ~$2000 

$534.96 - Edith Walden has given the remainder of the Guemes Tide bank account to GIHS

$    5.00 - flowers sold at Father’s Day ice cream social

$100.00 – donation from Mark Johnson

$100.00 – Micro-soft match for Johnson donation (pending)

$500.00 – donation from Michele Benjamin Lesmeister

$770.00 – 22 Burlingame book requests @ $35 each (pending)


Old Business:  very successful work party at Deach GIHS site, May 29.  Ian built a shelf in new shipping container storage room.  He has also built 2 dollies for moving the heavy things around.  Nancy moved to buy casters for the dollies for ~$145.  Sec. by Bob, Passed.

We will have another work party once haying season is over.

We now have 3 “fire safes” and will buy one more for guarding sensitive items.  Jack Smith’s move from Guemes left society with 2 file cabinets.


Nancy has some historical documents, now stored at her house to donate.


June Father’s Day Ice Cream Social – GIHS mounted a display of invasive and noxious weeds.  Bob pronounced the presentation a success.  Joseph Shea of Skagit County Weed Control Board was very generous to provide us with brochures and posters.


New Business: Dog Show – August 24   We need the usual equipment (chairs tables hauled to park from Community Center; tents; BBQs; supplies & food).  Nancy has volunteered to make a coffee basket for the auction and shop for supplies if she has help transporting the items.  We have had a generous donation toward our auction from Michelle Morrison of “Clean and Clip Grooming”.


Judges this year will be Bill Testerman, Allen Bush, John Strathman and possibly, Marie Padovan.


Fund Raiser – “Rising Tide Charters” owned by Monte & Cindy Hughes will transport folks to and from Vendovi Island from Young’s Park on North Beach.  We will supply sack lunches and ticket prices will be $90 per person.  The Hughes’ landing craft will transport 6 folks at a time (48 total) between 11am and 4pm.  Monte will speak about the history of Vendovi and Eliza Islands during the trip.  On Vendovi, owned now by the San Juan Preservation Trust, there are beaches and hiking trails.  The Saturday of the charter is not Labor Day weekend.  The plan will be posted on the GICCA website.


Fund Raiser – Tom brought a very handsome map of Guemes which had been etched onto a piece of plywood by Ron Flint of MiterCraft.  This is a mock-up of an idea Tom had.  Mitercraft would very generously produce these at no charge to GIHS on suitable wood.  If we wanted them to be metal, Ron has a contact person who could do that (for a fee).  Tom suggests we position these signs at all the historical sites on the island.


Interesting Opportunity – John Mun, representative of Sally Warner, has contacted the Society about possible rental/use of the Big Red barn in the valley.   We have determined the Society would have no use for, nor could afford to move items there and back out again.  Nor could we fulfill the requirement that the use of the barn must be agriculturally related and/or ADA equipped.


Possible programs through 2019:  walking tour of North Beach, “Alverson Camping Tracts” – September; Gilkey family – October; history of the San Juan Islands by Monte Hughes – November


Recent Guemes Losses:

Luke Lumina (1930-2019)

Dave Shannon (1932-2019)

Marshall Bugge (1941-2019)


Respectfully submitted,

Sue O’Donnell (secretary) 7/8/2019