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Beat never stops for Oak Harbor’s cheerleader
After downing a cup of beef and barley soup, a mixed-greens salad, a pair of bread sticks and two glasses of iced tea, Helen Chatfield-Weeks was in the mood to demonstrate an Irish jig.
She stood and danced on a recent afternoon at Angelo’s Caffe in downtown Oak Harbor, spinning, stopping to pose and belting out laughs while following only the sounds of her own “da, da, da” rendition.
Customers walked into the restaurant but Chatfield-Weeks didn’t miss a beat, locked in a smile, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings.
She was caught up in the moment and having way too much fun to stop.
“This is what everybody asks me: ‘Where do you get your energy?’” said Chatfield-Weeks, who turns 90 in January.
“I tell you what. It’s either in you or it isn’t.
“I am blessed I have energy within me. I thank God everyday for that. I think it’s influenced a lot of people in many ways.”
This is no boast from the sweet lady who is seated across the table.
It’s a fact.
When she arrived in Oak Harbor in 1969, Chatfield-Weeks brought with her a zest that’s been on public display for more than four decades.
Affectionately labeled Oak Harbor’s No. 1 cheerleader, Chatfield-Weeks will be at it again Monday as grand marshal in Oak Harbor’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
She’s been involved with the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade for so long as a founding member of the Irish Wildlife Society that she can’t remember if she was ever grand marshal before but is pretty sure she was.
The parade starts at 4 p.m. and will head west down Pioneer Way, culminating with a ceremony at Hal Ramaley Memorial Park on Bayshore Drive.
That ceremony wouldn’t be complete without Chatfield-Weeks’ leading a cheer of “Hip Hip Hooray,” something she’s done countless times at festivals, events, even City Council meetings over the decades.
“The whole point is to make people happy,” she said. “I’m happy to do something like that. It makes people smile. That’s basically why I do it. It’s always an occasion of some kind.”
In a way, she can’t help herself.
She believes her exuberance is in her blood, linked directly to a former well-known criminal defense attorney from her hometown of El Paso, Texas, named William Henry Fryer.
That was her father.
“He was quite a showman,” Chatfield-Weeks said.
“My mother was very shy and sweet and hardly ever left the house.”
Chatfield-Weeks, the youngest of six children, will never be mistaken for being shy.
She attended two years at the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (now the University of Texas at El Paso), where she learned the finer points of cheerleading.
“How you yell a cheer, you have to have cadence,” she said.
Chatfield-Weeks went on to Northwestern University Evanston, Ill., earned a degree in broadcasting then landed a radio job back home with KROD in El Paso, where she hosted a cooking show.
It was the “sweet” voice on that show that caught the attention of an Air Force colonel named James D. Chatfield.
“He thought I knew how to cook,” Chatfield-Weeks said. “I explained to him that I knew how to read.”
Nevertheless, 23 years of marriage ensued, a marriage that produced six children and led to a life overseas in Switzerland, France, Italy and ultimately back to the United States with stops on both coasts.
However, it was a time of great sadness that led Chatfield-Weeks on an accidental path to Whidbey Island.
She was living with family in Seattle when her husband died of lung cancer. One day, she put her six kids in a station wagon and set out for a new life.
Heading north, she noticed a sign that pointed to an island and a naval station, and she drove to a ferry terminal and got on the boat.
She was accustomed to military living and wanted to be near amenities and services.
Oak Harbor turned out to be an ideal fit.
“It was the best thing that happened to my kids,” she said. “As it turned out they were so happy with the schools. It was a happy place for them. That’s why I chose it. It wasn’t for me. It was for my kids.”
Once arriving in Oak Harbor, Chatfield-Weeks became a visible part of the landscape, working as a reporter and photographer for the Skagit Valley Herald.
For 18 years, she reported on Whidbey Island scene, including city and county government and the Navy.
On one feature assignment, she met a woodworker named Charlie Weeks, and in time would add a hyphen to her last name.
Chatfield-Weeks would survive the passing of a second husband and continue to make a difference in Oak Harbor.
In her retirement years, Chatfield-Weeks has rarely slowed down. She’s taken on causes, unafraid to speak out, yet also is quick to praise and cheer on others.
She teamed up with Jan Ellis, the late Dorothy Neil and others to save the Neil water tower. She remains active in the community and with her church.
The Island County Historical Association recently held a dinner in her honor.
She is grateful for the opportunity to be grand marshal in her favorite parade.
“I will do an Irish jig,” she said.