Opinion

Lime company town or resort town, Roche Harbor has always been a community of people | Editor's Notebook

Their heads were grayer, their steps more careful, these men who once made history here in this seaside village.

Some of them cut wood, fired kilns and bagged lime here years ago; they were the reason Roche Harbor was the largest limeworks west of the Mississippi. Some of them worked here in 1956, when the village began its conversion into a premier Northwest boating destination.

But this place was more than a lime company town or a boating resort town to them. Some of them fell in love, married, and raised their children here, where, an early writer wrote, “A rock-bound coast hems in a wealth of verdant pastures sweet / Deep forests cover vale and hill where fresh and salt waters meet.”

And no matter their age or how long they’d been away, each came back and found the Roche Harbor they knew and remembered experiences that continue to be shared by subsequent generations.

Twenty-five people attended a luncheon and book-signing for the book “Roche Harbor” July 18 at the village. Among the attendees:

-- Wolf Bauer, Roche Harbor’s chief engineer from 1936-39.

-- Jim Capron, grandson of Dr. Victor J. Capron, who moved to Roche Harbor to be the company’s doctor in 1898.

-- Anne Guthrie, great-grandniece of John S. McMillin, founder of Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Co.

-- Dick Nagaoka, grandson of Jim Nagaoka, Roche Harbor’s chief steward in the early 1900s.

-- Wilma Rimer, whose father, Norman Mills, was born here in 1914, worked for the lime company, and met her mother, Caroline "Toots" Chevalier, here. Five generations of her family have worked at Roche Harbor.

-- Al Sundstrom, who cut wood for the lime company and worked for the resort.

-- Neil Tarte, whose family purchased Roche Harbor from the McMillins in 1956 and converted it into a boating destination.

-- Ed Tuck, who crushed rock, fired the kilns, worked in the power plant, and married a Roche Harbor girl. Two of their five children were born here.

-- John Wade, who worked for the lime company and, after the Tartes purchased Roche Harbor, drove pilings for the boat docks.

-- Kendo Yasuda, whose parents, Heisaku and Ichi, worked as cooks and gardeners here during the McMillin era. Kendo was born here; his father was the midwife.

Mary McMillin Cooper, last surviving granddaughter of John and Louella McMillin, couldn’t attend because of a great-grandson’s birthday. Her childhood friend, Dorothy Eckhart Smith, was also unable to attend. “What a wonderful place and so full of happy memories!” Smith's daughter, Peggy Smith, wrote.

The lunch, in the Madrona Grill, was hosted by Roche Harbor Village and prepared by Chef Bill Shaw’s expert staff. Sam Jacobson, Roche Harbor’s lodging and events director, welcomed the group.

That the lunch was held in the Madrona Grill was significant: In the grill's gazebo, which Tarte built on the site of an open-air gazebo built by John McMillin. Next to the old McMillin house, where Guthrie’s favorite aunt, Sue McMillin, played piano at Mary McMillin's wedding in 1943. Next to the gardens that Guthrie’s great-grand-aunt first planted, Yasuda’s parents tended and Tarte’s mother restored. Overlooking the harbor, where Rimer’s family fished for generations, and where the Tucks paid 25 cents for chum salmon to supplement their table during the Depression. Near the beach that has known the joy of children at play for generations.

For most of the people in attendance, the day was a reunion. Yasuda, now in his mid-90s, was a close friend of Rimer’s parents, and she took the opportunity to tell him how much her parents loved him.

Yasuda fondly remembered Louella McMillin, John S.’s wife. He went to Sunday school in her home, and she shared recipes with his family. After the Yasuda family moved to Wapato, they regularly sent the McMillins cantaloupes.

While Mrs. McMillin was kind and warm, Yasuda said of John S., “He could be cranky.”

Nagaoka remembered visiting Paul and Adda McMillin here in the 1950s, and being allowed to pick a souvenir from the company store. He picked a wooden fishing plug, which he still has.

Bauer and Tuck knew each other during a historic event in the lime company’s history. Tuck was an assistant foreman who helped unionize the workforce; during the ensuing strike, Bauer and other managers had to work in the quarries.

Roche Harbor has always had a strong hold on Bauer. In his long career, he was a prominent engineer who helped protect and restore shorelines, co-founded the Mountain Rescue Council and popularized kayaking in the Northwest. But his first engineering job out of college was at Roche Harbor, and his White Point home was an outpost for his Washington Kayak Club.

After the luncheon, they joined the book’s author for a book-signing in front of the company store. Visitors who bought books had their copies signed not only by the author, but by people whose lives are chronicled in the book.

Since 1886, Roche Harbor has been a lime company town and a resort town. But the common thread – a thread dating back earlier than the settlement era – is that it’s always been a community of people.

To all those who participated in the luncheon and book signing, thank you. And welcome home.

-- Richard Walker, author of the book “Roche Harbor,” is editor of The Journal and SanJuanJournal.com. Contact him at 378-5696 or rwalker@sanjuanjournal.com

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