Life on Whidbey: Set another place at the table for Boeing

By Eileen Brown

Think of Boeing and what comes to mind? You probably get a mental picture of a huge airplane company down in Seattle, right?

To KEN and HELEN BATES of Oak Harbor, however, Boeing has been like a member of their large family for many years.

Since August, they have played host to daughter, PAULA TROWBRIDGE, on loan to Boeing Everett from her home plant in Wichita, Kans. She is currently working on the new 787, better known as “the Dreamliner.” She could remain on the job here from a month to a year.

Paula’s husband, MARK, and son, JEFF, are both employed by the Spirit Company, a Boeing subcontractor in Wichita. They, too, are working on components for the new plane.

Last year, the Bates’ son, GREG BENHAM, an engineer, was transferred to Everett from the Long Beach plant, formerly known as McDonnell-Douglas. Transferring from the military to the commercial side of the company, he was also assigned to the new plane, working on aerodynamics or flight performance.

It should be no surprise that father, KEN, was a Boeing structural engineering manager who retired after 33 years with the company. After serving in the RAF and moving to the United States in 1956, he had the privilege of working on the structural design of all of Boeing airplanes up to the latest one, not to mention the V-22 Osprey helicopter. During his career he worked for Boeing in Wichita, Seattle, Philadelphia and Arlington, Texas.

What about Helen, the mom? Well, before teaching school for 20 years, she also worked for Boeing for five years as an engineering aide/flight test data transcriber. That was 50 years ago and she is still in close touch with some of her co-workers.

Here’s one family never at a loss for dinnertime conversation and Boeing has certainly earned a place at their table.

Timing is everything

Area veterans received a special gift in December, one designed to make their lives much easier, said retired Navy Master Chief DAVE MICHEL, a dedicated volunteer at the local Disabled American Veterans chapter.

“The Island County Veterans had a roundtable meeting on Dec. 11 at the American Legion with state representatives and two Island County commissioners. I mentioned the need for a resource center for veterans,” Michel said. “I told them that so far we hadn’t had much luck.”

He was pleased to get a call a day after the meeting indicating the commissioners were interested. “A meeting on Dec. 21 with the commissioners resulted in authorization to move into an office at the North Whidbey Resource Center, 1791 NE First Ave. in Oak Harbor, the Opportunity Council building,” he continued.

The Island County Veterans Advisory Board is composed of several service organizations, such as VFW Posts 7392 and 7482, American Legion Posts 129 and 141, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 47, Marine Corps League, Retired Chiefs Association, Seabees Association and Fleet Reserve.

The new walk-in resource center will be manned by a different agency each day and Michel has prepared a pamphlet outlining necessary steps for a veteran to get help in a variety of situations.

They moved in last Monday, Jan. 7. Michel, grateful for their swift action, hopes the commissioners will drop by to see what their decision has brought about. Call Michel in the DAV office at 257-4801.

Now I’d like to float an idea by the commissioners. Since the idea of a car ferry from Whidbey to Camano seems to have fizzled, how about building a second, back-up bridge to take vehicles from Cornet Bay to Dewey Beach? No harm in asking.

Native films enlighten

A rainy Saturday seems perfect for an all-day film festival, especially one that showcases the under-appreciated yet fertile genre of Native filmmaking in our own backyard.

Native Experience in Film is a day-long event Jan. 19 at the Swinomish Youth Center, 17275 Reservation Road, La Conner. A welcome song opens the festival at 10 a.m., along with greetings by Swinomish tribal members.

Native Lens short films will be viewed, followed by panel discussions with such nationally and locally known directors, producers and actors, as ROBERT GUTHRIE, SWIL KANIM, FREDDIE LANE, ELAINE MILES, RICK STEVENSON, GENE TAGABAN, BRIAN YOUNG and TRACY RECTOR.

Lunch of salmon chowder, salad and roll is provided in the ticket price of $10 ($15 at the door.) Seating is limited.

The comedy “Expiration Date” will be shown at 2 p.m. At 4 p.m., director Stevenson and actor Guthrie will discuss the theme and content.

Drive through La Conner and over the Rainbow Bridge or take a shortcut by turning right on Reservation Road off Highway 20.

Call the Skagit County Historical Museum at 360-466-3365 or download a ticket form at


Do you have special plans for 2008? Call me at 675-6611 or email to share.