of Life for
From fish to the food bank
Every morning at 6:30, Bert Isackson arrives at the Blaine food bank on C Street just to put the coffee pot on for the volunteers.
The 92-year-old Blaine resident said he finds satisfaction in giving back to the community where he spent most of his life.
“It gets me up in the morning,” he said. “I mean, if I sat around all day in front of the boob tube I might just go nuts. Plus, I’ve made some very dear friends here. They’re all so wonderful.”
Isackson was born in Vancouver, B.C. in 1914 to Mabel and John Isackson, of Blaine. His father had lived in Blaine since 1901, when he moved here with his Norwegian parents from Pulcifer, a small town northwest of Green Bay, Wisconsin so they could begin fishing.
“They were always fisherman back in the old country,” he said. “I guess they caught a smell of salt water and it was in their blood from then on. So, they gathered up their clan and headed for Blaine, my grandfather built a boat and they went fishing.”
Isackson said his first memory of Blaine is at the end of the first world war in 1918 when the siren from the town fire whistle sounded from behind city hall
“I was only four years old at the time and wandering around a bunch of big, tall people, and all the whistles in the harbor started blowing,” he said. “There were ships in the harbor, the saw mills, the shingle mills, the fish canneries – the bay was full of them – and the fire whistle blew downtown from behind where the city hall was. I asked about the noise and my mother said ‘The war’s over, honey.’ It kind of scared me I suppose but you used to hear whistles blowing every morning about 6 a.m. to wake people up to go to work.”
Isackson carried on the family tradition, fishing for more than 41 years from Cape Flattery at the opening of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Admiralty Inlet near south Puget Sound 40 to 50 miles off shore, with five boats – the smallest one 29 feet long. Isackson fished for sockeye, humpback, cohoe and king salmon, and what he called “dog salmon,” a type of chum salmon with “fangs as big as a dog’s” on the top and bottom.
1937, Isackson met a young Thelma Hawley at one of the
regular ballroom dances in Birch Bay. Hawley had been
working for the Farmer’s Mutual Telephone Company
as a night telephone operator, working 12-hour
days and getting paid for only eight, he said.
“There were no unions back then,” he said. “She didn’t get much of a wage, either. Of course, a nickel was worth a lot of money back then. You could get an ice cream scoop for a nickel – probably a double decker if you knew the guy behind the counter!”
Two years later, on August 20, 1939, Hawley and Isackson were married. The couple had two children, Gary, who was born in 1940, and Sharon, in 1943. Several times Isackson was asked by friends to fish with them in Alaska but he refused, opting to spend more time with his family instead.
“They tried to talk me into it but if you went to Alaska, you would leave around the first part of May and you wouldn’t return until darn near the end of September,” he said. “Fishing near Blaine, at least I was able to be home on the weekends, and if I couldn’t bring the boat home, sometimes I would come home in a fish tender. I would have made more money, probably, but I wanted to watch my kids grow up, and I did.”
In 1982, just after Washington district judge George Boldt made a landmark decision granting American Indians the entitlement to half the harvestable salmon in their traditional waters, Isackson sold his boat partly because of an increase in competition from local Indian fishers but mostly because he figured he was getting old.
“The Boldt decision was part of it,” he said. “But I was also 67 years old and I figured it was time to hang it up.”
older, however, did not stop Isackson from living life.
In 1979, Isackson began volunteering at the food bank
with Thelma working in the front, handing
bags of groceries to individuals in need
and Isackson working in the back and delivering
food donations from local businesses.
The neighboring Stafholt Good Samaritan Center and Northwood Alliance church donated the land and Blaine resident Ken Kellar, who owns the Banner Bank building, bought the materials and organized the volunteer labor to construct the building.
“I started dabbling and getting a little worse and worse,” he said. “It got to the point where I was volunteering six days a week, three hours a day.”
1989, he bought a new Plymouth with a folding back seat
so he could transport boxes of food donated by
local grocery stores more easily.
“I could carry 12 banana boxes full of produce – some of which had leaking vegetables like tomatoes or smashed bananas that got all over the seat,” he said. “It ruined the upholstery but I used that car to haul groceries to the food bank just about every day – sometimes several times a day.”
Today, an energetic Isackson sits in the back office of the food bank and he knows how the entire food bank is organized. He knows where the ice cream is stored, where the fresh produce is, where to put the canned foods, the loaves of bread donated by local stores such as Cost Cutter, and how to fill out forms to receive government commodities. Others have also noticed his dedication
“He’s one of the cornerstones of the food bank,” said
Sheila Connors, president
of the board of directors. “He
has such a big heart.”
In addition, Isackson was elected vice president of the board of directors and in 1999, he was awarded a plaque for his almost 25 years of service.
Isackson, however, said he doesn’t know what all the fuss is about.
“I’m just an ordinary guy like anyone else,” he said. “I just got old too quick.”
Blaine food bank is open
from 9 a.m. to noon on
Tuesday and Friday, and
from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
For more information, call 332-6350.
Local doctors share tips for good health and long life
Reporter for The Northern Light Tara Nelson asked Blaine
doctors Marta Kazymyra and David Allan of Bay Medical Center
what they thought were the key ingredients to a long and
Although there is no magical fountain of youth, there are plenty of simple steps individuals can take to enhance their quality of life while they are still here.
are the ingredients to a long and healthy life? Kazymyra
and Allan said their healthiest patients are those who
pay attention to their bodies, keep physically active and
seek medical attention when necessary.
“The healthiest people who care about their health and do what they possibly can to maintain their health by eating property, by getting enough rest, by not smoking, by having appropriate tests done, and by listening to what their doctors tell them and coming in when their doctors ask them to,” Kazymyra said.
Kazymyra, often referred to by patients as “Doctor K,” and Allan, “Doctor A,” moved to Whatcom County in 1980 from Vanderhoof, a small logging community in northern British Columbia, where they had been practicing medicine.
“We did all the things we said we weren’t going to do,” she said. “But we absolutely loved the people and the challenges that came along with working in a small clinic in a rural environment.”
In 1980, when the couple moved to Whatcom County, Allan went to work for Bay Medical Center while Kazymyra worked at a separate practice in Bellingham. Two years later, the couple bought the clinic and Kazymyra moved her practice to Blaine.
“It’s been very interesting,” she said. “It’s also been rewarding and challenging. One of the interesting things about working in Blaine is that people tend to walk in here rather than go to an emergency room because the ER is 20 or 25 miles away. People also sometimes don’t call; they just show up. So, in many ways, it’s a very nice relationship that we’ve built with the community.”
Both Kazymyra and Allan said one of the most important things a person can do for their health is to stay active – physically, mentally and socially.
“Having a reason to get up every day is crucial to feeling good about yourself,” she said. “Doing things like shopping for yourself, going to the hairdresser, and making yourself look nice can feel good. Exercise is also important and it doesn’t have to be punishment – it could even be something as simple as walking. But it has to be something you enjoy otherwise, you might not stick to it.”
Many people find it difficult to stick to a regular exercise routine but Kazymyra recommends combating this inertia with finding an exercise companion or adopting a pet.
“Having an exercise partner or pets can provide you with the companionship and improve your outlook,” she said. “It also gives people a reason to exercise since it requires having to take dogs out for a walk.”
When asked if she saw a mental component to well being, Kazymyra said, “Absolutely.”
as simple as card games or crossword
puzzles keep your brain active and working
and I think that kind of completes the
From lunches at the Blaine senior center to reading to children at Blaine elementary school, Blaine is full of volunteer opportunities.
Kazymyra said, can help people – especially
senior citizens – feel like they have something to
offer and feel valued in the community.
“Volunteering can be a great thing and there are a ton of places in Blaine where individuals can volunteer and be made to feel welcome and accepted,” she said. “So, for individuals who have some time and don’t really know where they can be plugged in, they maybe can go to the senior center or the primary school because those places are always looking for volunteers. Often times, they don’t require them to do anything more than just listen to a child read or read to a child. It’s not anything that’s very difficult or time consuming and it can be extremely gratifying.”
Kazymyra said her youngest son, for example, who is now a sophomore in college, still corresponds to a senior citizen pen pal who he was connected with through his second grade teacher.
“There are lots of programs available,” she said. “It involves a little bit of commitment, but it’s kind of nice because often times, they stay in touch over the years.”
In addition to keeping active, exercising and keeping healthy, Kazymyra recommends regular check ups and routine preventative measures such as mammograms and colonoscopies, so that if health problems occur, they can be spotted and treated as soon as possible.
“If we pick things up at an early stage, we might be able to allow them to live longer,” she said. “We’re not miracle workers, we can’t predict who will develop a problem, but we can do the best we can if they will allow us to.”