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Skagit River Journal

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Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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Harold J. Renfro, R.I.P. Jan. 30, 2003

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2003
(Harold Renfro)
Harold Renfro as a young man, photographed at Hermsmeyer Studio in his costume for a Fourth of July celebration

      Every time I interviewed Harold Renfro, he expressed amazement that he had lived so long. But up until last year, he used to walk from his home on Warner street to visit old friends like Greer Drummond at Greer's hardware store on Metcalf street and many of us thought he was likely to make it to his goal of being a centenarian. His body finally gave out just two years short on Jan. 30, 2003. The last time I visited him early in 2002, he told me that trying to think back to his early days just plain wore him out. He apologized, but I thanked him for sharing so much that helped us understand what Sedro-Woolley was like in the early years after the merger of the towns.
      His obituary from the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times that you will read below gives many details of his long full life, but we wanted to add some context. Harold descended from an extended clan that moved here from the area of Calhoun, Missouri in the years just before and after the turn of the century. The migration started with his uncle Robert Renfro in the early 1890s. Harold's father James soon followed. In a May 1899 issue of the Skagit County Times, we found Mrs. Augusta Pigg Renfro, visited James's family in the newly merged town of Sedro-Woolley. Her husband was James's brother, William, who joined her here later that year. The contingent from Henry county, Missouri, soon grew when William Wallace Wall and his wife, Sarah Pigg — Augusta's sister, moved here about the same time. Sarah was then followed by her younger brother, Wallace Butler Pigg. Although he was not related, Paul Rhodius added to the Missouri group when he moved here from St. Louis in 1900.

(Renfros and bear)
Harold Renfro kept this photo of his family members and a bear hunt in the early century. His father is at the third man from the left, uncle William Renfro is pointing to the bear, truant officer and early Sedro marshal Chan Ingham is standing at the right in suspenders and uncle Robert Renfro is kneeling at the right.

      James Renfro started a confectionery business in the old Gazebo Bandstand that was tucked into the narrow end of a triangle of land formed by Metcalf street and the diagonal tracks of the Fairhaven & Southern Railway. That area is now fenced in and used for boat storage but in 1900 it was heart of Woolley's business district. Northern avenue, which stretched west for a block, was the first business block of P.A. Woolley's company town in 1890. Just a couple of buildings to the south of the Bandstand was the Osterman House, the hotel for traveling businessmen that burned in 1909 and was replaced by the present Gateway Hotel a year later. At first, W.B. Pigg worked for James Renfro at the Bandstand, but he soon built a confectionery building of his own in between the Bandstand and the hotel. Harold recalled that, after he sold the bandstand to Homer Shrewsbury, father James as a clerk for the Fritsch Brothers Hardware Co. at the northwest corner of Woodworth and Metcalf streets. That store was the busiest in town up until the great fire of July 1911 and dispensed thousands of dollars of hardware, stoves and paint every month. James later went to work for his brother, William Renfro, in a masonry company that built and finished many of the first business buildings and homes in town over the next two decades. James also ran a ranch on the F&S Grade road.
      The Renfro home in those days was located at the corner of their lots a few steps west of the present Renfro house on Warner. Harold was born in that house in 1904, and a year later, James began building the present house right across the street from pioneer grocer F.A. Hegg. Harold recalled that the entire house cost just $3,000 and that his father was very proud of the gingerbread scrollwork on the upper story. That decoration was largely copied from the gingerbread on the original house, part of which now adorns the storage shed just behind the main house. James's wife, Flora Wall, was the daughter of William W. and Sarah Pigg Wall. They soon had a family of three children including Harold's sisters, Sarah — named for Sarah Pigg Wall, and Gussie, named for Augusta "Gussie" Pigg Renfro.
      The Renfro kitchen was the meeting place for the boisterous family members who loved hunting, hiking and exploring the wilderness around them. When Harold was born, a dense forest still surrounded the town from Moore street (now Highway 20) north and Township road east. Harold said that while in grade school, he used to peddle advertising bills for E.G. "Dad" Abbott's auto business and the Dream Theatre, which were located across the street from each other on Woodworth. After he was done for the day, he could expect a treat from uncle Pigg's confectionery and he was often very popular when he received free passes to the silent movies at the Dream. He especially remembered the hot roasted peanuts from his uncle's shop, one of six confectioneries in town that featured everything from penny candy to nuts, ice cream in season, fresh fruit, taffy and caramels.
      James Renfro was very active in the Odd Fellows, one of the first lodges in town. Originally built in the early 1890s about where the Whidbey Island Bank stands in 2003, it was moved a half block away to Murdock street where the American Legion club and lounge is today. That building served as the main lodge hall until the Odd Fellows constructed their building in 1923 at the southeast corner of Woodworth and Metcalf where the video store now stands. We know that James and Flora Renfro were here by April 1895 because they were at the lodge's inaugural meeting on April 26, 1895, that was reported in the Skagit County Times . They remained very active in the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs the rest of their lives and Harold joined the lodge in 1922.
      Flora was an active Christian Scientist, along with the wife of Paul Rhodius, who owned Paul's Corner Drugs on Metcalf. That led to Harold working for Rhodius while in high school, who was a good man to work for as Harold recalled: "he didn't bawl you out in front of customers." The Christian Science group met in the back room of the cigar store that was then located at the northeast corner of Warner and Third street, where the Shaw Garage was later built in the early 1920s. Harold remembered meeting one of the cigar factory partners, Del Hayes, who later built the service station that stood across State street from the present Hal's Drive-In. Harold remembered that Hayes's cigars "were really something." There were three cigar factories here at one time. His cousin, Charles Renfro, went to work for Hayes.
      Harold was the last living person who could personally remember the famous 1914 robbery at the First National bank. He was at home when it happened but he soon heard about it from F.A. Hegg, who made a deposit just before the robbers approached. He recalled that everyone teased Hi Hammer for running home and hiding under his bed, and he said that boys his age spent weeks collecting spent cartridges from the gunfight and finding paper money that the robbers threw away while fleeing the bank. Before Harold graduated from high school, he worked briefly as a brick mason in Seattle. He returned to graduate and then worked on the ranch his father managed on the F&S Grade road, weeding the garden and raising vegetables for the Valley Cannery near the Northern Pacific tracks, but he did not like the work and decided to take the civil service exam. He thought he might have to move away but then Lunde Perry quit the post office and Harold took his place in 1927. For the next 23 years, he walked over most of the original town of Sedro, one of only two postal carriers at the time.
      On July 16, 1929, he married Dorothy Bradford in Snohomish. Harold recalled that she was from a family of eight kids. His father-in-law, Tom Bradford, was an engineer on the Northern Pacific. While hiking and fishing all over the Cascades, he took up the hobby of photography along with his friend and fellow postman, Bill Rivord. Their color photographs are among the oldest taken here. They were also the nucleus of the Wildcat Steelhead club, and with their fellow club members, they put in hundreds of hours stocking two dozen lakes and streams in the North Cascades. Since his wife passed away in 1985, Harold has been cared for by his daughter Dolores, who has always been devoted to her father's well being. She was the reason that he was able to live in his house up until near the end when he finally moved to the Life Care Center of Skagit Valley near town. Dolores is well known from her days of working for the Danceland Cafe — the original Opera House and Moose Hall, the Dairy Bar on Third street, and the American Legion club lounge. Harold's mother died in 1925 and his father died in 1932. His sister Gussie died in 1915 and Sara died in 1951
      The last time I interviewed him, Harold remembered that Paul Rhodius traveled back to Missouri one time after he became postmaster in the 1930s and promised Harold that he would go to Henry county and try to look up Harold's kin.
      "The only one he found was an old man with thick whiskers riding on a wagon near Calhoun," Harold said. "The man said most of the relatives had gone to a place called Sedro-Woolley. 'If you go there, you'll never come back.' "

(Renfro house)
      Harold Renfro's father, James, built this house in 1905 for $3,000. Flora Renfro is at the left, Harold's sisters Sarah and Gussie are next, then Harold, then his father. The house still stands in the 300 block of Warner and is the home of Delores Renfro.

Obituary Harold J. Renfro
Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, Jan. 30, 2003
      Harold J. Renfro, 98, a lifelong resident of Sedro-Woolley, passed away Jan. 30, 2003, at the Life Care Center of Skagit Valley in Sedro-Woolley.
      Harold was born in Sedro-Woolley Dec. 14, 1904, the son of James H. and Flora V. Wall Renfro. He was raised and attended school in Sedro-Woolley, graduating from Sedro-Woolley High School in 1926, after returning from Seattle where he was a brickmason.
      Harold had already passed his civil service exam and finally began working in the U.S. Postal Service in 1927 when a job became available in Sedro-Woolley. On July 16, 1929, he was united in marriage to Dorothy Bradford in Snohomish, Wash., and they made their home together in Sedro-Woolley until her death in 1985. Harold was a postal carrier in town for 23 years and then took a driving rural route for 12 years. He had recalled being one of the first out after heavy snow storms and delivering mail to wives and family of servicemen overseas during the wars. He retired in 1962.
      Harold enjoyed photography and was one of the first in Sedro-Woolley to take color photos. He also liked hiking and fishing and was one of the organizing founders of the Wildcat Steelhead Club. He and several of his fishing friends over the years hiked into and stocked more than 22 lakes and streams with fish in the North Cascades.
      He was a member of the I.O.O.F. since 1922, the alpine Club, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the Wildcat Steelhead Club and the Sedro-Woolley museum.
      Harold is survived by his daughter, Dolores Renfro of Sedro-Woolley, numerous nieces and nephews and many friends. He was also preceded in death by this sisters, Sarah and Gussie Renfro.
      Funeral services are scheduled for Feb. 5 at 3 p.m. at Lemley Chapel in Sedro-Woolley. Inurnment will be in the I.O.O.F. section of Sedro-Woolley Union Cemetery. Visitation is available through services Feb. 5, followed by cremation under direction of Lemley chapel. Sedro-Woolley. Memorials are suggested to the Humane Society of Skagit County or the Arthritis Foundation. Share thoughts and memories of Harold by signing the online guest register at

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