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Skagit River Journal

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Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, founder(bullet) Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Richard E. "Dick" Fallis, R.I.P.

Richard E. "Dick" Fallis Obituary
Published in Skagit Valley Herald on January 26, 2011
(Dick Fallis)
      Richard (Dick) E. Fallis, 84, of La Conner, WA died January 20, 2011 at La Conner Retirement Inn with family at his side. Richard was born January 31, 1926 in Indiana moving to Washington State at the age of two.
      He served with the Navy in the Pacific during World War II followed by a career teaching High School and College level History and English. He married Bernice Levitsky on December 30, 1956. His taught at Granite Falls High School in the 1960's igniting his passion for local history. He produced the Puget Sound Mail newspaper in La Conner from 1973 - 1979 serving as well as the Historia and Memorialist for the Skagit County Pioneer Association, a position he held until 2006.
      The next 30 years Dick was involved with: Skagit County Historical Society and Museum as Trustee & President; Coordinator of the year long Skagit County Centennial Celebration in 1983; charter member of Skagit Valley Friends Meeting as Clerk; officer of La Conner Rotary; La Conner American Legion Post; charter member of La Conner Landmarks from which he played a major role in the 1970's getting La Conner on the National Register of Historical Places and helped save the Gaches Mansion.
      He produced many books on local history including "Amid Fields of Alyssum: A Year at Northern State". Dick wrote countless historical columns for the Skagit Valley Herald in the 1980's and the Skagit Argus in the 1990's. He promoted and acquired funding for monuments which included the Samish Indian story pole, "Maiden of Deception Pass", the River Jam Memorial and the Jasper Gates Father of Mount Vernon statue. He was also known as the "Breadman of Mount Vernon" baking and selling bread at the Mount Vernon Condensery building and later local markets. Dick also had a wry sense of humor, sometimes self-deprecating, as I witnessed one day long ago when he was about to speak to a group and he noted in an aside before taking the microphone, "I've learned to be very careful about telling my name."
      He is survived by his children: Josh Fallis, Sarah Pate, Leah Ludtke and their families and his brother Jim Fallis. A memorial service will be held Saturday, January 29, 2011 at the Mount Vernon Senior Center at 1401 Cleveland St, from 4PM to 6PM with bread fresh baked made from his recipes by his children. His ashes will be spread at Deception Pass.
      Donations can be made in the name of Dick Fallis to: Skagit County Historical Society in La Conner to help underwrite an upcoming book from the society collecting his historical writings to be published in 2011.

 Note: The book was published by Skagit County Historical Society in 2012 and titled: Selected Stories of Dick Fallis, Skagit County Historian, compiled by Dick Fallis and Dan Royal. The book is always available for sale at the museum store or you can order it by mail by down loading the Publication Form at this link.

Memories of a fine historian
By Noel V. Bourasaw
      We met Dick Fallis in 1982 when we attempted to purchase the Puget Sound Mail newspaper. It had ceased publication under a subsequent publisher after Dick. He had tried valiantly to keep the paper afloat, hoping to revive the longest-surviving weekly newspaper in the state. It launched as the Bellingham Bay Mail in 1873 and the original publisher, James A. Power, moved it in 1879 to LaConner, where he renamed it. Dick began publishing the Mail exactly a century after its birth and continued through 1879. During the meetings where Dick advised us, he explained that he especially hoped that the Mail could be revived once again because he was preparing historical columns about the upcoming centennial that would celebrate the 1883 split-off of Skagit County from its mother, Whatcom County.
      Those discussions were the first step towards our historical project that we began nine years later. His spirit was infectious and his efforts were unique because few regional writers were publishing historical research. Therefore Dick is the writer who inspired so many of us who have followed, including Dan Royal, who publishes and replaced Dick as memorialist of the Skagit County Pioneer Association. His book that he published for the centennial, Skagit Centennial Almanac, was a collection of important nineteenth-century articles that may not have been saved without his attention. He followed that up by sharing his research about the state's centennial in 1989 and the 150th anniversary of the Territory of Washington in 2003.
      Back then, before the World Wide Web launched and way before genealogical research programs proliferated, Dick researched by the old primitive methods: snail mail, telephone and data recorded on 3x5 cards, hundreds of them. With my father's experience as a gardener for the Northern State Hospital for 25 years, I admired Dick's publication of a book about the hospital, which was unfortunately 20 years before its time. We met when he and late wife Bernice lived in a condo in the Greenwood area of Seattle and they were eager to move back to Skagit County. Because they were running out of room, Dick reluctantly agreed to dispose of several hundred copies of the book after disappointing sales. Now, two decades later the Journal section we feature on Northern State attracts 10,000 readers per year, more than the next six stories combined, and the hospital is famous nationally for both good and bad reasons. Dick lost Bernice to cancer a few years ago.
      Dick also had future researchers in mind when he and his family transferred his voluminous notes a few years ago to Dan Royal and Dan is preparing a special collection of Dick's columns in the Skagit Valley Herald over two decades. We also plan to share some excerpts here of his writing about subjects that we researched together and compared. His curiosity, especially about historical subjects that had fallen through the cracks, was a special quality. I can remember well a decade or so ago when we interviewed the descendant of one of the valley's first families. He called me several times, asking if I too had been told the amazing story of a father either killing his son or covering up such. It was a fascinating story and we were both tempted to publish it but we decided not to because we could never find corroboration and since the man was having physical problems that may have disturbed his rational processes. Sometimes that is the mark of a historian — knowing when not to share stories and when to keep a family's secrets when he promises to do.
      We suspect that we are like many who called Dick a friend in that it is difficult to remember him with remembering those artisan breads. Especially when he was selling them at the condensery in Mount Vernon, he could quickly get engaged in discussing the nutritional as well as the spiritual aspects of making your own bread and consuming homemade versions. He joked once many years ago that it is awfully hard to feel sour about life when you are eating a sourdough with butter and jam. Another day he called me and we drove up to view Sourdough Mountain in the North Cascades because it is very historical, named for when of the 1870s gold-seekers accidentally spilled the sourdough starter the group cherished when bundled up on cold mornings in the mountains.
      We welcome again anyone who has memories of Dick and his many accomplishments and gifts he made to those who follow him. Please email your memories or mail copies of documents and photos of his life and work. We do not need your originals. We share below the introduction to his Skagit County Centennial Almanac.

Welcome to Skagit's Centennial Celebration
Skagit County Centennial Almanac 1883-1983, self-published, LaConner, 1983
      Skagit County's actual date of birth was November 28, 1883, with an act of the Territorial Legislature and the signature of Territorial Governor Gordon Newell. The region that had been known as "Lower Whatcom" was then given its independence and allowed to follow its own destiny as Skagit County. Skagit actually is the youngest of all the counties of Western Washington, and by far the youngest of those counties bordering on the Inland Sea of Puget Sound.
      The reason for this late coming into bloom was that the river — now recognized as one of the important rivers of the Western Slope — was then badly jammed with snags, floating logs and other debris, pounded together over hundreds of years of flooding, making it more of a hazard than a help in getting to the inland reaches. Also, much of the flat land was the result of soil carried down by the river and deposited along the estuary, where it was pounded back by the incoming tides and was always subject to flooding with salt water at highest tides, or by downwash from the wild river, in its rampant seasons.
      While ample, less forbidding land could be taken up and claimed by the earliest pioneers for little more than the effort of filing and homesteading, such saltmarsh reaches were left to the bears, the eagles and mosquitos. It was only when useable land became scarce and settlers became more demanding that assaults were made against the river jams, and against the overflow of the river and tides, claiming back lands for cultivation that were otherwise awash.
      The task was Herculean, and both required and attracted heroes to perform it. Also heroines who would stand with their men against the oppressive wilderness and the hard work of turning it from a wasteland into such a garden that Eden might envy, with a river opened to navigation, recreation and power supply.
      Though wealth would be generated here, in the beginning there were no great discrepancies, as between investors and workers, for all who were willing to come and invest their labor in what had to be the most demanding and exhausting of labor could earn their own productive land by the sweat of their brows, along with the right and means of self-determination.
      Such self-reliant, independent-minded persons demanded their own county government, close at hand and responsive to their immediate needs. There was not a lot of cash money, but the people were willing to put in their own time and labor and equipment at building roads and bridges, as long as these improvements would be a help in opening up the county, of connecting the budding settlements and towns, and of bringing in new settlers who were willing to come and help with the work.
      So Skagit County was developed, then, by people who were willing to work hard at it, to turn a wasteland into a fabulous garden and pleasure ground, and to expend their own labors in building roads, bridges, churches, schools and true communities, with a coming together of people from many vastly different backgrounds, but a willingness to work together to achieve common goals.
      With the county thus started and established, it grew in its own directions, and its colorful story is the story of a special people, interacting within a unique environment that IS Skagit County.

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Story posted on Feb. 1, 2011 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them...this page updated Feb. 2017

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