Local farmer keeps 'ol' Satan' waiting

Lee Holt, an 83-year-old Oak Harbor native, still works on his scaled-down fardespite being diagnosed with a heart condition that is fatal in most people. - Gary Blevins
Lee Holt, an 83-year-old Oak Harbor native, still works on his scaled-down fardespite being diagnosed with a heart condition that is fatal in most people.
— image credit: Gary Blevins

Lee Holt has the calloused, gnarly hands and muscled forearms of a man familiar with hard labor. And the 83-year-old Oak Harbor native continues to amaze the medical community by living his active life with a severely damaged heart.

“Cardiomyopathy” is the frightening word Holt first heard in 1974 — though his cardiologist believes the condition attacked Holt’s body long before then, maybe even during his teens.

In fact, when Holt reported in Seattle for his World War II induction physical, he was told he had a heart murmur.

“They said I could best help with the war effort by staying on the farm,” Holt said, smiling. “And I’ve been farming and doing carpentry work ever since.”

Cardiomyopathy, Holt explained, causes the heart to become fibrous, which in turn depletes its pumping capacity. To compensate, the damaged heart enlarges. Seventy-five percent of people with hearts like Holt’s die within four years of being diagnosed.

Why the condition stabilizes with a very few victims can’t be explained medically.

“I’ve always done anything I wanted to do,” Holt said. “But when I get tired, I rest. Ol’ Satan hasn’t caught me yet, but he’s had me by the shirt-tail a time or two.

“He won’t get me ‘til my work is done,” he added.

Holt began his working life as a dairy farmer. He and his wife Cecilia, a Coupeville native, raised turkeys for 15 years. Holt also worked some 25 years for Everett Brothers Construction. (He helped build some of the Navy housing located across Crescent Harbor Rd. from his farm.)

These days, Holt stays active around his scaled-down farm by turning hay, chopping wood, mending fences, gardening and caring for his “cabins in the woods.”

These picturesque cabins, visible from the intersection of Taylor and Crescent Harbor roads, were originally acquired during the couple’s turkey-raising years — 1943 through 1957.

Holt used jacks to raise and mount each cabin on a pair of axles with iron wheels that he salvaged from an old threshing machine. He hauled the small houses individually along county roads with a tractor and cables.

Holt had an exciting moment during one move when a logging truck tried to pass him. Both drivers wound up briefly — and uninjured — in ditches on opposite sides of Taylor Road.

Four of these historic structures are more than 80 years old. Holt moved them to their present location from various sites on Island County, such as the Kennedy Lagoon near Coupeville and the James Farm off Taylor Road.

In addition to chores on the farm, Holt also serves as volunteer custodian for the Odd Fellows Temple building in Oak Harbor.

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