He lives in a historic house, helps out at the history museum and is a walking library of island history.
So it’s fitting that 81-year-old Ron Van Dyk will be recognized by the Island County Historical Society at its Oct. 14 annual fundraiser.
“Ron is being honored because of his many years of service on the Historic Preservation Commission, his vast knowledge and love of local history and for preserving that history by rescuing, collecting and sharing artifacts that help interpret our history,” said Rick Castellano, executive director of Island County Historical Museum.
“On top of that, he’s just a great guy with lots of friends — and certainly an important historical figure in our community.”
Called the Autumn Auction and Dinner Banquet, the event at Oak Harbor Elks Lodge is the premiere fundraiser for the historical society, the nonprofit that runs the museum. Admission is $75 per person for dinner or tables can be reserved for groups.
Following silent and live auctions, a “Raise the Paddle” portion will take place. Residents Nancy Nordhoff, Bill and Joan Peters and others have pledged to match funds, Castellano said. If at least $10,000 is raised at the auction, it could translate to $30,000 with the matched donations.
Some funding goes toward the museums’s Janet Enzmann Archives and Research Center, which preserves written and photographic history of Island County.
At age 81, Van Dyk does have a few tales to tell about Whidbey’s old days and the old house where he lives.
“I ran the Bell Telephone exchange,” he recalled recently, sitting a spell outside his notable Victorian house perched on the corner of Front and Clapp streets. “We only had 1,000 customers.”
He made plenty of house calls to install telephone equipment. Van Dyk performed so much high wire work as a lineman he became known as “The Phone Guy.”
“I did a lot of pole climbing,” he said. “And now I have pretty bad arthritis I can blame on it.”
Van Dyk went on to become the foreman of the maintenance electricians crew at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, retiring in 1986.
He and his friend, Roger Sherman, mentored many youngsters in the local Sea Scouts program over the years. He sometimes runs into those “young sailors,” who are now in their 60s.
Van Dyk grew up in Oak Harbor after his parents moved from Holland, Michigan. But he said he always snuck over to Coupeville “because it was more interesting.”
Part of the charm for Van Dyk is its maritime history. In the mid to late 1800s, Coupeville was known as a “City of Sea Captains.”
The stately and stunning Victorian house where Van Dyk lives was built for Captain Joseph Clapp and his wife, Molly in 1886. They lived there 50 years.
Van Dyk and his mother bought the house some four decades ago.
“Been here 40, 45 years, I guess,” he said. “It kind of grows on you. You can’t beat the location.”
These days, Van Dyk shares the house with his five cats. It’s filled with photos, drawings and replicas of old schooners, touches of Dutch and antiquated iceboxes and stoves.
He still volunteers at the history museum and can often be found at the front desk, directing tourists and answering questions with a wide smile.
Preserving history costs money. Van Dyk knows that from the many restorations and repairs he and his friends have made on Clapp House over the years. Last year, the house received funding from Ebey’s Forever Grant Program to patch up its faltering roof.
Van Dyk says he’s honored but also humbled to be in the spotlight.
“I think there’s a lot more people deserving of the attention,” he said. “But they’ve all gone on to other plains.”
Castellano seems optimistic history of the fundraising kind will be made at this year’s banquet.
“If we can pack the house this year, surely we can hit our $30,000 goal and keep our Janet Enzmann Archives and Research Center alive and well.”
n Island County Historical Society Autumn Auction and Dinner Banquet is 4 p.m. Oct. 14 at Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. Reservations are $75 per person. Tables for 8 are $500; Tables for 10 are $600. Admission includes dinner banquet and two beverage tickets. Call 360-678-3310 for reservations. Or stop by the Island County Museum, 908 NW Alexander Street, Coupeville. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.