Life on Whidbey: A good time for remembering Hal Ramaley

By Eileen Brown

If living 34 years in one spot makes one an “old timer,” as the late columnist and historian DOROTHY NEIL wrote in her glowing tribute to HAL RAMALEY on his death in November 1986, then that’s what I am.

Since coming here in 1974, my love of pioneer stories, Oak Harbor history and collections of vintage photographs and post cards has grown. A particular favorite item is a school textbook entitled “Trees” I discovered at a book sale several years ago. I knew it was a treasure when I saw “Hal Ramaley” scribbled in pencil on the inside cover. From childhood, his favorite things were trees, flowers and gardens.

Whenever I saw him, and he went everywhere on foot, his fingers hung loose from his side. He wouldn’t do well on a parade field, his walk so relaxed and he always had a pixie-like smile on his face.

MIKE MILAT knew Ramaley well. Mike taught fourth and sixth grade at Oak Harbor Elementary and was later their principal. He remembers when Ramaley taught in the World War II quonset huts and later became principal of Clover Valley Elementary School on the naval air station.

“He liked to make people laugh,” said Milat. “He was an affable man with a great sense of humor, but he was also very progressive. We teachers didn’t think all his ideas were good ones, but he was ahead of his time.”

When he retired from 30 years of teaching, Ramaley turned his talents into beautifying Oak Harbor. When the city planned a storage shed on City Beach, Ramaley saw a big Dutch windmill that would forever stamp the town.

Milat said, “Gardening was one of his great loves. He even enticed me to get into flowers and shrubs.”

For years, Ramaley supervised and carried out a Tulip Show in the old gym by Oak Harbor Elementary School, a show attended by hundreds. Neil, in her article in the Nov. 26, 1986, Whidbey News-Times, wrote, “He loved music and for a quarter of a century, called square dancing groups, among them the Whidbey Whirlers. But his happiest times were delivering armloads of flowers grown at Holland Gardens. To be in the same room with Hal Ramaley lifted one’s spirits!”

Neil was also grateful for an Indian Summer afternoon when a group gathered to tell Hal they appreciated him. They didn’t want to wait for eulogies.

You’ve probably seen Hal Ramaley Memorial Park on Bayshore Drive. Now you know who he was.

There are others working quietly in the background, doing great things, but it will take a few more decades until we realize how much they loved our town.

Living the sweet life

DOROTHY and GENE RICE were both serving in the U.S. Navy when they met. Over the past 45 years of marriage, they have raised two children, put on some miles moving from one duty station to another and now find themselves happily settled in Oak Harbor.

I visited them yesterday and heard again Gene’s story of Christmas open houses that were traditional for Dorothy’s family in McKeesport, Penn., where every surface was covered with trays of tempting food.

“That’s where I got the idea of doing an open house with cookies,” he said. “Lots and lots of cookies. The first one was 30 years ago and they seem to get bigger every year.” If you judge a man in terms of friends and cookies, then Gene has quite a following.

Fan favorites differ each year. A hit one year is this year’s also-ran. “I started baking Dec. 1 and have added a new one: chocolate caramel cheesecake bites.”

They traveled to Rhinelander, Wisc., to attend Gene’s 50th high school reunion last year. “Out of about 160 graduates, 68 classmates showed up,” he said. “You don’t recognize too many.”

Because most of her classmates turned 65 the year of their planned reunion in McKeesport, the class decided to throw a huge birthday party, complete with cards, balloons and cake with lots of candles.

Son Tim lives in close-by Marysville and daughter Carolyn lives in Meridian, Idaho. They each have two children. The Rices enjoy traveling, around the U.S. and overseas. Lucky for us, they always come home to Oak Harbor.

Who knows? One day perhaps an assortment of baking utensils resting on a well-worn cookie sheet all bathed in bronze will be dedicated in a corner of the Hal Ramaley Memorial Park on Bayshore. From what I hear, besides all things Dutch, Hal never could resist a plate of cookies.

Christmas is but a memory and behind the door on the right is a blank page. On it, you will write the names of people you love and who love you. Don’t be dismayed if you have more blank space than names. New friends are already on their way. Add them next year.

Call me at 675-6611 or write to

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