Bench honors homeless man

Rick Pratt would have liked this bench placed in his honor, and would no doubt have enjoyed relaxing on it as the busy workday world passed by on Highway 20.

The bench at Beeksma Gateway Park, complete with a small plaque embedded in the sidewalk, is a memorial to Richard Pratt, a homeless man who died in August 2004 from cancer.

Oak Harbor resident Andrea Groberg said the park is a place where Pratt spent a lot of time.

“I just really wanted a memory for him because he’s been a member of the community for 20 years,” Groberg said.

Pratt, a Navy veteran, ran a computer repair shop before it closed.

He then chose the homeless life, turning down many offers of assistance and shelter. He was frequently seen at Gateway Park and across the highway hanging around Albertson’s and Starbuck’s.

Groberg has raised money for the memorial since the 50-year-old Pratt died. She found the assistance she needed from the VAQ-137 Chief Petty Officers Association at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The 12-member group raised the $480 needed to produce and install the bench.

“When I found out he was a Navy veteran, I clued in on it and said we could help out,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Rick Gilman.

A plaque stating “Choose your own freedom” was embedded in the sidewalk beneath the bench.

Groberg said it pays homage to Pratt because he chose to live without a home. Now, his memory will live on in his favorite place in Oak Harbor.

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