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Pete Beletski, The Stumphouse Man

Also see Original Courier-Times 1948 story and Journal introduction to Beletsky
Also see a follow-up 1948 report via Portland.

By Joanne Kirkpatrick Brawley, his neighbor and friend
(Pete Bielecki and his stump)
Pete Beletsky and his stump

      After reading the mistakes in the Courier Times newspaper article and Noel Bourasaw version of Peter Beletski story, I decided to write my own story of facts and memories. Peter's (Pete) name has been misspelled according to the pronunciation we have heard. (I have sent for his birth certificate that should indicate Dr. Bob Hunter's correct spelling.) [Journal ed. note: we determined from Pete's death certificate that the official spelling was Peter Beletsky.]
      My name is Joanne Kirkpatrick Brawley. My two brothers (Charles and Jack) and myself grew up using my stepfathers name of Bates until we became of legal age and were required to use our legal name of Kirkpatrick. We lived with Grant E. and Gladys Bates (Our mother and stepfather) on the property at Route #1 Sedro-Woolley, Washington U.S.A. They bought the 22 acre property in 1944 and later bought another 6 acres adjoining to the east, making the total 28 acres that adjoined the Northern State Mental Hospital grounds. Our property also adjoined the railroad that brought the train with supplies and coal into the hospital. It was located on the northeast side of the road now known as Fruitdale road, approximately one fourth mile north of the main gate entrance.
      When we moved to our home in Sedro-Woolley, my stepfather was hired as gate keeper at the main gate of the hospital, allowing visitors in and out. It had locked gates, in later years the gates were removed. We as children were allowed to visit him at the tiny gate house and later in the power house where he kept the furnaces going with coal brought in by train.
      Goat Hill (a small mountain) was on the hospital property, where we spent many hours playing on the rock top where small ponds of water collected from the rain. In the winter we played on the frozen ice. The backside of the hill was made up of a variety of size gravel and rocks that my brothers found very inviting to climb up and down and tumble larger rocks down the hillside. The beautifully landscaped grounds were also our play ground. Every Thursday evening we walked the road past the stump house to the railroad track then walked the railroad track to the building where we watched movies with the patients, (of course we were seated in a separate area).
      We innocently grew up with a positive attitude about the hospital, "NEVER" thinking of it as a "crazy house for bugs" (patients or referred to it as a "Bug House"). It was, and still is a very derogatory term, and used frequently in reference to the hospital or the patients, by uneducated people without compassion. We felt the Northern State Mental Hospital was no different from a city hospital where people with injuries, broken bones and illness went for care. The only difference in the patients, they had broken minds or spirits. In our belief they needed help, as well as the same care, understanding, and compassion as anyone else, if not more so. (I was always curious as to what had happened in their lives to break them mentally or emotionally.) We never had a fear of being around the patients on the grounds, people were always asking us those questions when they found out anything about our life there.
      My mother (Gladys Bates) also worked at the hospital as an attendant (similar to a nurses aid) on the wards. She later became a licensed practical nurse (LPN). All the attendants also wore white uniforms, stockings and shoes. In later years several of my relatives as well as my husband and myself also worked there as attendants.
      While working at the hospital my parents met Pete Beletski who was a patient at the hospital, he worked in the laundry, and later at the bakery. When he was released (sometime between 1944 -1946) he had no place to live. He asked my parents if he could make his home from a burned out hollow cedar stump that stood on the south edge of our property, now the Fruitdale Road. It was always his plan for the stump to be his home, "not" a storage shed as your story SAYS. The stump house was located approximately mile north of the hospital main gate entrance and approximately 150 feet north of the nurses gate entrance. Approximately 50 feet east from the road. It was approximately 100 feet north from the railroad track making his walking to work easy access until he could earn enough money to buy a bicycle. He then went to work in Sedro-Woolley Pete worked as a dishwasher at the Liberty Restraunt across the street from the Castle tavern, washing dishes, and earned enough money to buy a motor bike (whizzer).
      Pete was a kind hearted, gentle, soft spoken man and very generous with his time for us. He was grateful for having our family as his family and caring for him. We as children spent many hours watching and helping him with "our little helps" in his garden, flowers, cutting and clearing brush and trees, was all fun. Pete's house was a very unique house and we saw him as a unique person. He always had cookies and sweet bakery goodies for us. He shared with us a memorable "first" taste of "Cheeze-it" crackers with any kind of chocolate. The combination was very tasty. We loved the delicacies he often brought us. He would spend time at our house doing guy things with my dad and brothers, cutting wood, trees, brush, and building fences. He did land clearing with a hand ax while house sitting for us, for something to do and show his appreciation. He spent many holidays and dark winter evenings at our house. Pete also loved many varieties of colorful flowers, he experimented with them along the path referenced to in the editors story, but the path was only to the railroad track that led to his work.
      Peter "Pete" Beletski was born in Somazy, Poland. August 18, 1894. He came to America when he was 18 years old. He was a World War 1 veteran. He enlisted in the United States army May 14, 1918 with rank as a private in the Depot Brigade. Discharged December 11,1918. He spent time in Iowa and Pennsylvania (not sure if this was where he was trained or why he was there.) He died April 17,1957 with a kidney ailment (Urmice Chronic Nephritis) in Memorial Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, United States of America.
      My Stepfather, Grant Bates, made the funeral arrangements. Pete is buried in Union cemetery in Sedro-Woolley, Washington with graveside services by Clergyman Shafer.

Letter to the editor:
      I read the article on your website about Pete tonight. I am not sure you even have his last name spelled correctly, but I can certainly find out. I am sorry to tell you that you have 2 different stump houses in your article. Pete did "not" work 6 months on hollowing out HIS stump it was already hollow. He did "not" even have garden tools when he started, His home "was never" to have been a storage shed and "was on" the Fruitdale road, "not" west of Fruitdale road (it was on the east side of the road going north, just across the old railroad track to the hospital... before the power lines. "Not "the Northern State Hospital road. Your whole story is all mixed up and parts are not EVEN true. I would advise you to get more facts correctly before claiming to be a historian.
      It is very disturbing story to us who personally knew him. Pete was "not a squatter" though part was true...he was exceptionally energetic and "he did not" haul all of his water from the hospital... he carried much of it from our house, his wash and bath water came from the creek. The strip of land that he improved "was" owned by my mother and step father who were the ones who gave him permission to occupy the stump. NOT Mrs Christofferson, (I do not know how Mrs Cristofferson name came into the story unless she bought the land latter after Pete and my parents were dead.) and yes the owners were very good to him, they were my parents as well as my brothers and myself. He was a very kind hearted gentle man. He spent many holidays with us as well as many week-ends and dinners. Shared time with my dad and brothers. And yes my brother remembers why he migrated here and that he did come from Seattle as a Patient at the Northern State Mental Hospital with no place to go when he was RELEASED.... IS WHY the STUMPHOUSE....I am so sorry you have the story so screwed up.....Maybe if you had grown up in the circumstances that he did in Poland you might have been in his shoes too. —Joanne Brawley

Answer from the Editor:
      Dear Joanne: Thank you again for clarifying and correcting the story. I certainly made a mistake about the location of Pete's stumphouse, relying on memory from my childhood, decades ago. I will make that correction when I update the story later this month. And I appreciate your details and will also make those changes. I think you may not realize that the story posted on the site, including the quotes from Mrs. Christofferson, was from the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times of 1948 and it is not a story that I wrote, myself.
      In our own defense, I draw attention to our request in the introduction to the story for corrections from any friend or relative of Mr. Bielecki. That is why I responded eagerly to your emailed letter of 2004 in which you explained that you knew him well and would update the story for me. Your letter that I posted above is the first time you have supplied those details that we requested. Regardless, it is our responsibility to post corrections and criticism and I welcome you to the forum. You have added much to the story of a man who was much admired by the community, as you have kindly offered historical information before that we appreciated. As we indicated in our introduction, we certainly did not mean to belittle Pete or his achievements. Finally, regarding the spelling of his name, we were unable to find burial records for him, so we took the spelling from various stories written about him at the time. We will make that correction, if necessary, once we receive the information.

Our 2005 statement on letters to the editor and corrections:
            We have inaugurated this section because we have received a two-part letter that seriously criticizes our features on the site. We repeat the statement we make on every one of our 425 story-sites and have made since the first day we posted our stories in 2000: "Remember, we welcome correction and criticism." We feel that it is important that an author back up his stories and take criticism where criticism is due. Up until now, we have made corrections as family members or other researchers have alerted us about them.
      We also want to restate the original goal we had for this site. In our original research, starting in 1992, we noted how many discrepancies there were in historical accounts specifically about Sedro-Woolley and Skagit county. Even contemporary accounts written by people who observed or were involved in events got things wrong. Another problem was that some of the writers of articles in newspapers and magazines long ago did not do their homework and repeated legends or mistakes. In other instances, writers or editors seemed to favor one family or businessman over another one unfairly, or carried a grudge against someone that colored the writing. That is why we have always warned writers in any medium about merely re-posting a story from any era without asking for corrections if they are necessary.
      We decided to launch this site so that descendants of pioneers and researchers could correct the record before we actually publish a book. We are very pleased that descendants of nearly 200 families have written us so far in five years, after reading our posted stories. Several have helped by sharing copies of original newspapers, which is very helpful. Others have supplied information from census reports; family bibles, diaries and letters; and official documents. Whenever someone has told a family secret and asked us to keep their statement confidential, we have kept our promise. In other cases, we have pointed out when the secret has already been included in a prior article or when it appeared in public records. As we stated from the beginning, our website is not the final word. It and our stories evolve as we find more information.
      Whenever we receive a letter that takes us to task for our writing or research, we will print it. And we will use the corrections we receive when we update the story. We will also answer for why we made the mistake and explain the source if we quoted an incorrect item. We only ask that you do not use profanity or defame anyone. Whichever one of us wrote the story on the site and the source of the article are completely open to criticism. And do keep in mind that other letter writers may also criticize or clarify your information or point of view.
      I take personal responsibility for anything I write, myself, and my point of view. —Noel V. Bourasaw, editor

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Story posted as part of another story on Jan. 1, 2005, published separately without update on this domain May 27, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 55 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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