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Noel V. Bourasaw
Founder and Editor of Skagit River Journal
a new way to view
our local history in Skagit County
Noel V. Bourasaw|
How to explain Noel Bourasaw? Do you know how when you go to any memorial or
funeral and you, the visitors, are asked by the minister or whoever is in charge of the
service, "would anyone like to share a memory of the departed?" Maybe, just
maybe, if you are lucky a half a dozen people will stand. Let me tell you,
purt' near, every person in the room had something to share. And they were not shy at Noel’s gathering, sharing the good, the bad and the
worse. I have never seen anything like it.
The 'Celebration of Life' to remember Noel was held at the Sedro-Woolley Senior
Center, Sunday, November 15, 2015, with a full house in the dining area.
There was a table of people from grade school to high school to a table or
two from his college days at Western Washington University, a few fellows
who served in the Army with him with a couple of people who worked with him
in the wine business. A cousin and his wife from California, a niece from
Vancouver, B.C. Then finally those who have known him since his return to
Sedro-Woolley in the mid 1990's to take care of his mother.
It was this time with his mother that rekindled his interest in local
history and he put his experience as a writer and critic in the Wine
Industry, both in California and Washington to good use. He went to work at
Courier-Times selling ads and then creating magazine inserts of a Who's Who
of Sedro-Woolley, which were annually followed by stories about
His favorite subject from the beginning was the founder of early Sedro,
Mortimer Cook, who wanted to call the town BUG at its creation. His intent
seemed to always be the definitive book on the subject. He never finished it
before his cancer took his life on October 27, 2015, but we have all the
research and notes with some written chapters that we might be able to piece
something together someday.
By September 2000, Noel decided to go digital and make use of the fledgling
medium known as “the internet.” He used the name he had already copyrighted
on print media, Skagit River Journal. He would always say he would use the
for gathering more photos and research on Sedro-Woolley and Skagit County as
a whole. These items were intended to help him paint a bigger picture of
life at a time of founding by its pioneers and early settlers. As a legacy
project, he left behind the Skagit River Journal, to be continued by others,
he hoped. It has turned out to be a unique way to promote local history and
the people who make up that history. Done by very few on the internet, HistoryLink.org is the biggest
site of local history covering Seattle and surrounding Washington
The amount of work Noel put into the site the first 10 years of its
inception is staggering. It was only his cancer, which he started fighting
in 2009 that slowed him down. Several of us, Deanna Ammons, John Kamb Jr.,
Jesse Kennedy, PhD, Michael Aiken, Dan Royal and Cookson Beecher, were asked
by Noel the last few years of his life to help settle some issues concerning
Skagit River Journal, his book on Mortimer Cook and his estate. Not least of
which was how to keep Skagit River Journal an ongoing concern.
Looking at several options, the group offered the ownership of the website
and the files that belonged to it to the Board of Trustees of Skagit County
Historical Society and its Publication Committee. They accepted.
Some of the things mentioned in this introduction might have come across as
vague. Hopefully his obituary and other items written in the past will help
fill out a bigger picture of the person many regarded as an important and
valuable historian of the area.
As the writer of this introduction sits in front of his computer doing his
best to piece together Noel's system of files and folders for Skagit River
Journal, I can see that there are huge challenges awaiting if we are to keep
the site up and running. But don't get me wrong, there is already enough
here that any researcher looking for information on family and towns in
Skagit County can find.
The question to those who still come to the site would be, "What would you
like to see and how can we make it more accessible and easier to navigate?"
I thank you for your interest and your suggestions.
In fond memory of Noel,
Dan Royal, Heritage Researcher
Editor & Webmaster of Skagit River
"My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it." Mark Twain
In memory of Hazel Nadine Bourasaw
Camera and notebook in hand, local historian Noel Bourasaw, was a familiar sight
in Sedro-Woolley. He was either in pursuit of yet another story for his popular
online publication, the Skagit River Journal, or making his way to one of his
many presentations, complete with photos, about the history of the town, the
county, or the region.
71, died on Oct. 27, after living with cancer for more than 5 years. But he
always told people how grateful he was to have had those last 5 years.
He had many friends — all sorts of friends. He found just about everyone
absolutely fascinating and loved hearing their stories. His enthusiasm for life
made him stand out in a crowd. It was never boring when Bourasaw was around.
“Eccentric, quirky, brilliant, irreplaceable, one of a kind,” is the way Clear
Lake resident Deanna Ammons, a fellow historian, described him.
“His interests in life were innumerable, and he thought of life as one long
exciting trip,” she said. “His desire to write was irrepressible, and he was
still writing about Mortimer Cook, the founder of Sedro, up until a few days
before passing away.
Ammons met Bourasaw when they started 8th grade together at the new Cascade
Junior High School in Sedro-Woolley. Both graduated from Sedro-Woolley in 1962,
and both became local historians, keeping in touch through sharing research
He had an uncanny ability to store vast amounts of information in his brain.
"He was our historian,” said Sedro-Woolley Mayor Mike Anderson. "He was an
asset. I always enjoyed seeing him. The things he’d post on his website were
valuable. I always read his posts. They told how the town grew and the feelings
of the people who lived here. They gave people a sense of history. I don’t know
who will carry the ball now. He had so many connections and knew so much.
“He was a walking encyclopedia,” said Mike Aiken, owner of Aiken Appraisal
Service, who shared Bourasaw’s love of history.
“He was a fountain of information,” said Kathy Boyd, former editor of the
Noel’s niece, Germaine Bourasaw, daughter of his brother Jerry, recalled times
with Bourasaw when she was a child.
Noel V. Bourasaw in
cartoon form. copyright to Klipsun Magazine and its cartoonist.|
“He was funny, crazy, loud, and always a lot of fun,” she said. “A wonderful
uncle.” She remembers the laughter they shared when they would sing a song about
going to Grandma’s house as they drove to Sedro-Woolley to see his mother,
Hazel, and his father, Victor.
Cookson Beecher, who worked with Bourasaw at The Skagit River Post (now The
Courier-Times), said that Noel shared his “joyful astonishment” of life with
everyone he met. “He was on an adventure, and he was happy to invite anyone who
cared to join in to come along with him,” she said.
Local history became his passion, and he had a way of sparking that same
excitement in others. Dan Royal, historian of the Skagit County Pioneer
Association, said that it was Bourasaw’s knowledge and enthusiasm about life in
the county’s pioneering times that got him excited about the history of the
Skagit Valley and led him to realize the importance of his own pioneer family,
who came to Birdsview in 1882. He said Bourasaw shared that same excitement
about history with the many people who read the Skagit River Journal.
Bourasaw founded the journal in 2000. It rapidly attracted readers, and by 2012,
had had more than 6 million visitors. In 2014, the Skagit County Historical
Society presented the journal with its prestigious Heritage Award. Local
historians plan to keep the journal up on the site, www.skagitriverjournal.com.
Born in Middletown, Missouri, in 1944, Noel moved with his family when he was 4
to a farm near Sedro-Woolley in the old Utopia area near the Skagit. He told
friends about being teased by the town kids for being a hick — a fate that all
of the country kids shared. That was when there were five grocery stores in the
main part of town — before the advent of the malls and the “big-box” stores.
He graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School and studied at Western Washington
State College. While at Western, he served as student body president and editor
of the university’s newspaper, Western Front.
After writing for several magazines, newspapers and wine publications, and
serving as the first executive director of the Washington Wine Institute, he
returned to Sedro-Woolley to care for his mother, Hazel.
For more than 20 years, he did research on Skagit County in libraries and
museums all over the country and interviewed descendants of county pioneers,
both in person and over the Internet. Up until his death, he was working on a
book: “Humbug,” the biography of Mortimer Cook, founder of Sedro.
Western Front at 40:
former AS President and editor gave the Front its name in 1967
Posted October 2007 Corinna Storch
In 1962, Noel Bourasaw paid his tuition by playing poker in the dorms. Less than
a year later, he dropped out of Western with a high school friend to look for
Jack Kerouac, a popular beat writer, in San Francisco.
In 1962, Noel Bourasaw paid his tuition by playing poker in the dorms. Less than
a year later, he dropped out of Western with a high school friend to look for
Jack Kerouac, a popular beat writer, in San Francisco.
Once back at Western in the fall of 1966, Bourasaw became a driving force behind
many changes in the tumultuous late 1960s. He served as managing editor of The
Collegian in both 1962 and 1966, editor-in-chief of The Western Front in 1967
and as Associated Students (AS) president in the 1968-69 school year, he said.
As other campuses around the country succumbed to violent anti-war
demonstrations, Bourasaw facilitated an open dialogue between the student body
and administration throughout the Vietnam protests, helping ensure they remained
peaceful, said John Servais, Bourasaw’s classmate and the founder of Western’s
Despite the contributions Bourasaw made to Western, he remained casual about how
he got there, Bourasaw said.
“I put my name up as a joke,” Bourasaw said, grinning as he explained his AS
presidential campaign. “No one ever thought I would win. I made ridiculous
promises, like steak every Friday at the dining hall.”
Yet Bourasaw said he won the election, gaining support from a promise to start a
Free University. Serving as a tool to connect universities to the communities
they surround, a Free University would provide classes taught by volunteers to
The success of establishing a Free University at Western helped bridge campus
life to the Bellingham citizens for 35 years, Bourasaw said.
Bourasaw also created a unique bridge between The Western Front and the student
government while serving as the AS president.
There was incredible antagonism between the student government and the
newspaper, Bourasaw said about his time at Western. Yet when the editor of The
Western Front quit in 1968 and an inexperienced staff causing production
problems, they turned to the AS president.
“I told them if you’ll just get off my rear for a month or two, I’ll come down
to layout the paper,” Bourasaw said, laughing at the memory of the panicked
newsroom’s phone call.
Still, Bourasaw supported the paper and helped them out, even if it was a
serious conflict of interest and breach of regulation.
“Since it was against the rules, I pulled a little stunt,” Bourasaw said. “Just
to cover our tracks, I put in a scathing editorial about how the [AS] president
is a blazing idiot.”
Such behavior proved to be a consistent trait. During his presidency, Bourasaw
said he promoted what the students wanted. That year, two editors created a
program and a book called “Course Critique,” which allowed students to rate
their professors, Bourasaw said.
“I guess I functioned as a pretty good leader that year, but my real strength
when I looked back on it later was as a facilitator,” Bourasaw said. “I enjoyed
listening to what students were yearning for and then finding a way for them to
Yet Bourasaw’s AS presidency was not the only area in the school where he made
Bourasaw attended the 1967 U.S. Student Press Association convention in
Minneapolis as editor-in-chief of Western’s newspaper, then called The
Collegian, with his first wife and fellow classmate, Alice, and The Collegian’s
business manager, David Cunningham. While at the convention, Bourasaw met with
some other editors and brainstormed new names after deeming The Collegian
overused and outdated, Bourasaw said.
“I pushed hard for The Daily Planet,” Bourasaw said. “But David and my wife both
said The Western Front.”
The decision was put to a campus vote and The Western Front won, beating seven
other potential names, including The Daily Planet, Viking News and The Scoop.
“It was amazing how, with that name, people started having pride in their
paper,” Bourasaw said.
The change stuck, and this year marks the 40th anniversary to just one of
Bourasaw’s contributions to Western.
Former Western Front editor passes away
A former Associated Students president and editor of
The Western Front from Sedro-Woolley died in Mount Vernon on Tuesday, Oct. 27,
after a long fight with cancer.
Noel Bourasaw, 71, served as AS president of Western
Washington State College, the previous official name of Western, from 1968-69
during the Vietnam War era. Noel Bourasaw served as Associated Students
president and editor for The Western Front.
Bourasaw also worked as managing editor of The
Collegian, the past name for The Western Front, in 1962 and again in 1966. He
rose up the ranks in the newsroom to become editor-in-chief in 1967, the same
year he gave “The Western Front” its name.
When Bourasaw came to Western after serving in the army
as a brevet corporal, some students were intimidated by his age and stature,
said Bourasaw’s classmate John Servais.
Servais remembers a student during the AS presidential
election of 1968 asking him, “Is it okay to vote for someone with a beard?”
In this and many other ways, Bourasaw was unlike any of
his predecessors, Servais said.
When the student body elected him into office, Bourasaw
set out to fulfill his campaign promise to make Western a “Free University.”
The fledgling experiment, called Northwest Free
University, offered tuition-free, alternative courses for community members. The
program was today’s equivalent of free select course offerings — except the
“faculty” were all unpaid volunteers, Servais said.
The program was controversial in the eyes of the
administration, but Bourasaw wasn’t one to care about opposition, Servais said.
“He just made it happen.”
Bourasaw appointed former political science professor
Bernard Weiner to administer Northwest Free University after the department
decided not to renew Weiner’s teaching contract, despite students voting him
“best teacher of the year,” Weiner said.
Because of Bourasaw’s idea, thousands of community
members were able to take advantage of the program’s many courses, from music
lessons to wilderness survival skills, he said.
“That was Noel [Bourasaw]’s baby, and it fed off his
sense of adventure and fun,” Weiner said.
Bourasaw and Weiner became friends before they started
Northwest Free University while active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and the
Campus Christian Fellowship, he said.
During his presidency, Servais said Bourasaw never
allowed a Vietnam War protest to get out of hand.
While there was turmoil on college campuses around the
nation, Western’s administration gave Bourasaw unprecedented freedom. He changed
the dynamic between the students and the administration to give the AS Board of
Directors more autonomy, Servais said.
They were afraid of jamming Bourasaw because they were
afraid of a big student takeover or something similar, he said.
In the eyes of his classmates, Bourasaw was a
revolutionary figure, Servais said. Boisterous and jolly, he exuded a presence
that couldn’t be ignored, he said.
“He almost looked like Fidel Castro,” he said. “But he
got along with everybody. He could walk into a room and even people who were mad
at him could still get along with him.”
Servais and Bourasaw first met when Servais was trying
to keep established what would later become the Outdoor Learning Center, at that
time simply called the Outdoor Program, he said.
Because starting a new program would mean diverting
funds from other clubs, many students protested, Servais said.
In the spring of 1969, Bourasaw protected the Outdoor
Program’s budget, and kept it from being torn down, he said.
“He didn’t care that much about hiking or going on
beach walks at La Push,” Servais said. “But he knew what I was doing was good
for the school, good for the students. Noel [Bourasaw] protected that.”
When Bourasaw graduated, he moved to California, where
he wrote for a number of wine magazines and eventually became the first
executive director of the Washington Wine Institute, according to Bourasaw’s
website, Skagit River Journal.
Servais thought Bourasaw could have been a U.S.
senator, but he chose to pursue wine instead, Servais said, laughing.
When he retired, Bourasaw moved back to his home town
of Sedro-Woolley, where he became steeped in the history of Skagit County. He
maintained the Skagit River Journal, a website exploring the history of the
Northwest with a particular focus on Sedro-Woolley and the Skagit Valley.
Any time someone had a question about Skagit County,
“Check with Noel,” was the immediate response, said Jo Wolfe, Skagit County
Historical Museum director of development.
History came naturally to him, Wolfe said. “It was in
his DNA, maybe.”
Bourasaw was very oriented around good things, Servais
“It was true to his character. He was real that way and
that’s the incredible thing about Noel .”
Stay tuned, more to come.
Links, background reading and sources
Founder and Editor, Noel V. Bourasaw of
the website you are currently enjoying, Skagit River Journal, succumbed to
his long fight with cancer on October 27, 2015. Look for Noel's obituary
from November 12, 2015 in the
Skagit Valley Herald and Bellingham Herald, click the
link to go straight there or search Legacy.com . A 'Celebration of Life' was be held Sunday, November 15 at Sedro-Woolley Senior Center at 2:00 PM.
Stay tuned for more info here on Noel and the future of Skagit River
Journal. Follow this link to the Skagit Valley Herald
for a recent article on his death titled, 'Sedro-Woolley's Historian.'
Friends of Noel and Skagit River Journal
left behind his former career as a wine writer, administrator and
jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none in the Sonoma Valley of
California when he returned to Sedro-Woolley in 1992. He attempted
to get an ongoing
Portal Introduction to Food and Wine, but there is not much on
the page. I have saved a couple of his writings from his time period
in Wine Country and will post in the near future. dr
Story posted on June
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