South end in running as ‘nicest place to live’

Reader’s Digest Magazine has named South Whidbey a finalist in its Nicest Places to Live in America 2017 contest.

The reason? It’s a community that squabbles but doesn’t hold a grudge.

“The nation could use a lesson from this opinionated island community, where combatants leave even the most fiery political disputes still friends,” according to the magazine’s description of South Whidbey on its online voting page.

The area was nominated by Susan Knickerbocker, a longtime Freeland resident and freelance author of The Record’s Hometown Hero series. Knickerbocker was interviewed by magazine staff. They also reached out to the paper’s editor, “Josh” Burnett, and conducted their own independent research on the area.

At the end of the day, South Whidbey was selected from a list of hundreds of contestants to compete for the “nicest” place title; contest rules define “nicest” place as one “where the people believe in kindness, civility and each other, neighbors help each other out, and strangers are welcomed as friends.”

“The idea for ‘Nicest Places’ was simple: At a time when half the country seems to be unhappy with the other half, why not honor the best of who we are?” said Bruce Kelley, editor-in-chief and chief content officer of Reader’s Digest, in a Tuesday press release. “We all know places where neighbors help one another in good times and bad, strangers always feel welcome, and people work together to get inspiring things done. Reader’s Digest wanted to celebrate those places that embodied that community spirit and remind us that kindness and enthusiasm are still America’s lifeblood.”

Reader’s Digest is an international monthly magazine with 3 million print subscribers, and a readership estimated at 19.1 million, according to the magazine’s website.

The list of nominations was refined to 10 finalists: Gallatin, Tenn.; Oriole Park in Baltimore, Md.; Hayesville, N.C.; Providence, R.I.; The Doak’s House in Waterford, Ohio; Plugerville High School, Texas; KidsCycle: NS in Shorewood, Wis.; Franklin, Neb.; Rock Hall, Md.; and finally South Whidbey.

Online voting is ongoing until July 7.

The magazine seemed to focus on and accentuate the contentious aspects of island life, selecting relevant quotes from Knickerbocker and Burnett, but included Knickerbocker’s nomination as well where she heralded South Whidbey’s philanthropy, giving shouts out to the “best food bank, best senior center and child care” and citing specific examples of acts of charity.

“South Whidbey is a place of everyday kindnesses,” she said.

Langley Mayor Tim Callison said he wasn’t too keen on a claim to fame as a community of squabblers, saying the area’s passionate debates are just one aspect of island life. South Whidbey is special for a host of other reasons, from its gorgeous scenery and slower pace to it’s “astonishing” number of volunteers and non-profit groups, he said.

The maritime opportunities aren’t bad either, said Callison, noting South Whidbey offers residents access to a seafood bounty — crabbing, fishing and shrimping — that’s beyond compare.

“You can’t beat it,” he said. “I don’t think it exists anywhere else.”

He also noted that Langley was recently voted fifth happiest coastal city in Coastal Living magazine.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who described herself as South Whidbey’s greatest cheerleader, said she’s pleased her “hometown” is a finalist and that she’s, admittedly, already cast her vote. She believes this is, if not the nicest, the best place to live in America and tells people so whenever she’s out of state representing Island County.

“I get to be county commissioner in the best district in the whole United States, that’s what I tell them,” she said.

She doesn’t believe people here argue more or are more opinionated than people other areas of the country, but they do care about where they live.

“I’d say it’s because we’re passionate about our hometown,” she said.

As for Knickerbocker, she summed it up this way in an interview with The Record.

“I think we are a diverse community for our opinions and beliefs,” she said. “We show we are a caring community because we are not apathetic. So many helping groups, so many people with ideas to make this community and world better.”

“I really think this is a extraordinary community, of diverse thinking and caring people.”

The winner of the 2017 contest will appear on the cover of Reader’s Digest’s November issue.

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