2004: The year in review

Here is a month-by-month account of the year 2004 on Whidbey Island, emphasizing North and Central Whidbey happenings. Like any other year, it included heatbreak, joy, successes, failures, tragedies, oddities and a great deal of caring for one another.


Hanna Elizabeth Sawyer, born at 10:19 a.m. Jan. 2 at Whidbey General Hospital, was Island County’s first baby of 2004.

Oak Harbor Rotary announced a campaign to raise $1 million toward a new high school stadium.

More than seven inches of snow fell in town Jan. 6, closing schools and causing widespread fun.

A search, ultimately futile, commenced to find the old San de Fuca schoolhouse bell.

Friends of Krueger Farm met its first goal of $280,000 to save old farm property in Coupeville.

Island County health authorities reported that one-third of residents are overweight.

VAQ-128, the “Fighting Phoenix,” returned to NAS Whidbey for the last time before being decommissioned.

Dick Devlin announced his retirement after 13 years as Oak Harbor High School principal, and Jeff Stone, athletic director, said he was leaving after 30 years.

A rezone approved for expansion of Camp Casey was appealed by the Whidbey Environmental Action Network.

A gust of wind nearly blew an 18-wheeler off the Deception Pass Bridge. It teetered against the railing before being pulled to safety. Traffic was stopped for 7 hour.


A downtown Oak Harbor site for a new library was selected by the library building committee at the urging of the city council.

A Gay-Straight Alliance Club formed at the high school, prompting both criticism and support in the community.

Central Whidbey residents protested a ferry system proposal to move the Keystone terminal to the south.

Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Davis saved an elderly woman in a burning building in Coupeville.

Barry Sehlin said he would not seek another term in the State House.

The Pentagon announced base closure criteria for 2005 would be the same as those used in previous rounds.

Island County passed an ordinance limiting junk cars on private property.

A city committee declared the post office giant oak would be cut down March 7.

Coupeville School Board set May 18 as the date for a $22.8 million bond election for a new high school and other projects.

Howard Thomas was named director of the Oak Harbor Senior Center.

VAQ-138, the “Rooks,” returned from the war on terror in Afghanistan.

Oak Harbor residents Kathleen Knecht and Peggy Fosso celebrated their 14th and 17th birthdays, respectively, thanks to leap year.

A fire destroyed the home of the Robert Blanchard family on Oldtimer Street.

A $1.4 million Aviation Survival Training Center opened at the base.


Wells Fargo completed the takeover of Pacific Northwest Bank, a move which cut 120 jobs in Oak Harbor.

Steve Powers, head of Oak Harbor’s planning department, unveiled the “downtown public realm plan,” hoping it would spur improvements.

Whidbey Island’s five farmers markets started working together through the Island Farmers Market Coalition.

Under public pressure, the city council gave a “stay of execution” to the post office oak tree.

The Legislature passed a bill exempting Coupeville from certain zoning densities, in order to protect the town’s historical character.

Major projects underway at NAS Whidbey totaled $32 million, causing many to doubt the Pentagon would ever close the base.

Oak Harbor Christian School said it would add a 7,500 square foot building to accommodate growth.

After long negotiations, the Greenbank Farm Management Group was about ready to sign a lease with the Port of Coupeville.

Kenmore Air suggested it would stop scheduled service to Oak Harbor.

Coupeville Peace and Reconciliation, an anti-war group, held a vigil in recognition of the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

Fitch, the lost Central Whidbey llama, returned to his pal Abercrombie.

City clerk Rosemary Morrison retired after 30 years of service to Oak Harbor.

Authorities identified 50 homeless students in Oak Harbor schools and 20 in Coupeville.


City council members expressed enthusiasm about their monthly economic development meetings.

The city proposed eliminating the adjustment board in favor of a hearing examiner, sparking some criticism.

State spraying for herbicides along the highway came under fire from environmentalists.

Construction began on Whidbey General North in Oak Harbor.

Dwight Lundstrom was named the new principal at Oak Harbor High School.

Glenn Lane, Pearl Harbor survivor, received a Purple Heart for wounds he sustained in the battle more than 60 years before.

Rumors proved true that Home Depot would build a store in Oak Harbor, including a 102,000 square foot retail store and 25,000 square foot garden center.

Elementary students protested a new Oak Harbor School District policy that banned ferrets and other animals from the classroom.

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station volunteers collected 1,740 pounds of trash in a Lake Hancock cleanup on Earth Day.


“Yes, Yes” formed to promote a bond issue to build a downtown Oak Harbor library.

Regular unleaded topped $2 a gallon for the first time on Whidbey Island.

Legendary Wildcat football coach Duck Daughtery donated $1,000, kicking off the Rotary Club’s $1 million stadium fund-raiser.

Whidbey Island’s beloved Dorothy Neil, newspaper columnist, historian, humorist and civic leader, died at the age of 94.

A brouhaha erupted when a car dealer tried to expand downtown, but was told he couldn’t due to a zoning change.

Ground was broken for “Marjie’s House,” a shelter for women and children in Oak Harbor.

Coupeville voters passed the high school bond issue with a 66.5 percent majority.

Island County commissioners refused to put any conservation money in the effort to save Krueger Farm in Coupeville.

Oak Harbor resident Bill Massey paid over $2 million at auction for historic Manresa Castle in Port Townsend.

Dick Whittick canceled plans to bring a fiber mill to the Greenbank Farm, and later sold off his popular herd of alpacas at the farm.

An unusually warm, sunny spring caused strawberries to ripen before the pickers got out of school.

Coupeville business owners reacted with delight when a project to rebuild North Main Street was put on hold for a year.


Tides bottomed out at minus 4.1 feet, the lowest in 20 years.

Oak Harbor threatened to pull out of the countywide tourism effort that resulted in the “Do Nothing Here” campaign.

Lionel Peoples announced a run for county commissioner, then learned the boundary line had been moved and he lived in the wrong district.

Oak Harbor police arrested a man who had committed 15 church burglaries.

Seabolt’s opened its fish market and restaurant in Oak Harbor after years of serving the public from Deception Pass.

Boeing won a $3.9 billion bid to build the successor airplane to the P-3, three squadrons of which are based at NAS Whidbey. The new patrol plane will be a jet derived from the Boeing 737.

The Oak Harbor School District hired its first communications director, paying Joe Hunt a salary of $50,000 plus benefits.

Whidbey Island Bank said it will buy the Bayshore Center building and make it its new headquarters. It became vacant after Wells Fargo purchased Pacific Northwest Bank.

Island County Deputy Mike Birchfield was arrest on domestic violence charges. He later resigned from the force.

Whidbey Camano Land Trust purchased the 33-acre Bocker Reserve from Seattle Pacific University. The land is home to the rare golden paintbrush.

Island Thrift donated $100,000 toward the new stadium.


Major improvements to Highway 20 north of Oak Harbor slowed summer traffic.

Auto dealers convinced the city council to change zoning to allow them to expand downtown.

Northrop Grumman began work on the EA-18G, the airplane that will replace NAS Whidbey’s Prowler.

The Navy League with widespread community support held its second annual picnic to honor Navy families, drawing some 2,000 people to the event.

A milk truck crashed near at 3 p.m. Deception Pass bridge, blocking both lanes and backing up traffic for miles.

Peoples Bank opened a full service branch in Coupeville.

Police Chief Steve Almon reported commercial burglaries and assaults on officers increased in 2003.

VAQ-133, an EA-6B Prowler squadron, shipped out to Afghanistan.

Central Whidbey Search & Rescue’s board decided to ask voters for a 10 cent per thousand property tax increase.

A 94-year-old building at Dock Street and Pioneer Way that once housed Oak Harbor State Bank, was torn down as it was too dilapidated to save.

The traveling Vietnam Memorial stopped in Oak Harbor for a week.


Controversy was sparked when the Oak Harbor City Council agreed to pay consultant Roger Brooks over $48,000 for “another” tourism study.

Rick Pitt, Oak Harbor’s gentle homeless man and former business owner, died after being taken to Whidbey General Hospital.

Sally Hayton-Keeva, a Central Whidbey leader who spark-plugged Friends of Krueger Farm and restored the San de Fuca school house, died at 55 of cancer.

Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue cleared land near the hospital for a new fire station.

The Port of Coupeville turned down a request to send a Krueger Farm bond issue to voters.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 returned from Iraq with many hair-raising stories to tell.

A burn ban delayed tearing down historic H Barn at the Greenbank Farm, but the deed was later accomplished to make room for a new barn-like building.

A unannounced Navy coastal defense exercise called Seahawk 2004 involved 800 Navy and Canadian forces, and scared some residents of Central Whidbey.


The Navy announced 12 firefighter positions would be eliminated at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Several voters upset by the new closed primary election ballots scrawled protest messages to the Auditor’s Office.

Kaitie Richmond, the little Greenbank girl who has been battling cancer for several years, attended her first day of kindergarten.

Whidbey P2V Neptune veterans received city council approval to erect a memorial at VFW Park.

John Coyne, Port of Coupeville consultant since 1976, retired at 85.

The proposal to build a downtown library in Oak Harbor failed at the polls with less than 40 percent support.

A ceremony at Deception Pass State Park unveiled a new bronze statue to commemorate the Civilian Conservation Corp boys who worked so hard in the area during the Great Depression.

Greg Saar announced he had purchased Ennen’s grocery and would move his store from Midway to the Ennen’s site.

Senior Services of Island County announced it could not afford to keep serving meals to seniors at its Oak Harbor site in 2005. Seniors vowed to fight the decision, which was later rescinded.


A nationwide flu vaccine shortage forced island health service providers to cancel and postpone flu shot clinics.

Authorities increases security at ferry docks, including the use of bomb-sniffing dogs.

Capt. Syd Abernethy took over from Capt. Stephen Black as commanding officer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Black had held the position for three years.

Oak Harbor resident Roger Christensen was injured when the Piper Cub he was flying crashed at Oak Harbor Air Park.

The Navy League named the year’s top sailors and marine: Petty Officer 1st Class Stacey Allen, Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Russell, and Sgt. jason Crispin.

An Oak Harbor High School boy came down with bacterial meningitis but the outbreak was limited to just him, and he recovered quickly.


Election results for major races showed commissioners Mike Shelton and Mac McDowell returned to office; Chris Strow beat Nancy Conard for State House; and State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen withstood a challenge from April Axthelm.

Elaine Sepulveda, 15, left her Oak Harbor home the night of Nov. 6 and hasn’t been seen since despite a massive search effort and suspicions of foul play.

Tree expert Darlene Southworth advised the city that the post office oak tree “is not acting sick,” and “the biggest threats to it are chainsaws and bulldozers.”

North Whidbey Lions Club started a new program in which families adopted sailors for Thanksgiving.

Island County recounted its votes in the governor’s race, and Republican Dino Rossi gained four votes.

Keith Bartlett, deli owner and originator of Oak Harbor’s popular Community

Thanksgiving Dinner, died of a heart attack Thanksgiving morning as he was preparing for the dinner. Friends carried on, knowing that is what he would want.


The search for Elaine continued in various wooded areas around Oak Harbor, but with no success.

Bids for the Island County juvenile jail came in at $724,000 over the $4.5 million estimate.

Island County’s popular ropes course had to close due to funding shortages.

Rescue personnel saved a Great Dane at Deception Pass State Park that fell part way down a cliff. Having just posed for a Christmas card, he was wearing bells and reindeer antlers.

The FBI searched an Oak Harbor house for evidence related to Elaine’s disappearance.

A committee proposed expanding Keystone Harbor, rather than moving the ferry landing.

Private donations and extra help from the city and county preserved the senior meals program in Oak Harbor.

The second governor’s recount, this one by hand, produced 4 extra votes for Christine Gregoire.

VAQ 132, the Scorpions, returned home from the war on terror just in time for Christmas.

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