Journal of the San Juan Islands


Time to count (nurture) our blessings | Guest Column

December 20, 2012 · Updated 11:53 AM

Howard Schonberger / Journal file photo

By Howard Schonberger

It was about 35 years ago when I first bought a lot at Cape San Juan from the late Glenn Ranson, a former employee of the Palo Alto (California) Times.

I spent 30 years on that now-defunct newspaper cited as the most successful small-town daily in the country by Business Week magazine. Being in my mid-50s, I planned on retiring up here when I reached 75.

Things changed.

The Times, being an employee-owned newspaper during all of my years there, decided to sell out to the Chicago Tribune. I was one of a half-dozen who voted against it. More than a few hundred on the staffs of the dailies and weeklies and our employees on the San Francisco peninsula, from Burlingame to Sunnyvale, voted to sell for three-and-a-half times the value of our stock.

By 1979, I was ready to join the Ransons on San Juan Island. Being a member of the Cape San Juan Lot Admiration Society, I started cleaning up my lot so I could be ready to build. I also found a house for Tom Bogardus to rent while he finished building his house, as he beat me getting out of Palo Alto.

The Chicago Tribune killed the profit-sharing as soon as their six-month guarantee of “no changes” expired.

Ranson and Bogardus urged me to look at a house on Andrews Bay that they heard was for sale. Glenn was a realtor, and Tom an ex-Merill’s Marauder and classmate at Northwestern, and a Palo Alto Times alumni.

I drove out there to look at the west side house. The owner was widowed when her husband died while finishing the roof on the house. I went down to the beach while others looked at the house. The owner said that the prospective buyer was haggling over the price.

It was the best decision I ever made. There was no one on the beach.

As I descended the dozen steps to the beach I heard a strange wild noise and a “whoosh” noise... also some loud clapping sounds. The tide was out and I sat on a huge log to see what was making all the racket. Then I saw an orca... and another... breaching a couple hundred yards away near the county park.

There were at least a dozen there, males with six-foot tall dorsal fins, smaller females with younger family members. I had no camera, no sketch pad. I only stayed still as possible for over an hour so they wouldn’t go away. Then another group came in from the south and the two groups checked each other out.

I had never seen anything like it.

Seeing and hearing them spout and roll and breach was overwhelming. I’ve been told there were three pods there that day. I only know that when I came back up to see the owner, I asked her what she wanted for her house and took out my check book to make my “earnest money” down payment.

I had discovered reason No. 1 of why people visit our islands — to see the whales.

That’s the kind of people I like, people who appreciate nature. Even more, I like those who recognize that some treasures in this life are free for all, if we are careful in our husbandry and stewardship.

I have seen a few recessions since arriving here, but nothing that compares to the Great Depression; I found a frozen body on my paper route in 1935 Nebraska.

Here we have to contend with some inconveniences living on an island, but how can you beat having a hospital worth millions for this rural county, opening on time and under budget.

I remember seeing my brother Stan, in Platte Center, Nebraska, when he took over a doctor’s practice for the summer. He delivered five babies on farmhouse kitchen tables (for five chicken dinners) on that day. I was hitch-hiking out to California to get a defense job and tuition money.

Sure, times are tougher than a few years ago. But we’re still the favorite destination for people on this globe who come to the USA for a better chance. I sure can’t blame any of my predecessors who came to the colonies or Ellis Island, let alone the San Juans.



— Enjoy these holidays, friends. Love one another and go with the F.L.O.W. (Ferry Lovers of Washington)


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