Whats keeping you on Bainbridge? -- Ritchie and LeMaster
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:15 PM
The Ritchie and LeMaster clan fancy themselves the islands rednecks.
Patti Ritchie and Jeanie LeMaster arent your typical Bainbridge couple, but few have deeper roots in the islands soil.
We always tell people were the ones in the double-wide on Garbage Dump Road, said Ritchie, sitting in the living room of a surprisingly spacious mobile home on Vincent Road.
Yee-haw, were rednecks! adds LeMaster. Both laugh at the joke theyve likely been telling each other for most of the 11 years theyve been together.
While their accommodations may be a bit more humble than the island norm, Ritchie says shes lucky to have found a little foothold on the Rock she was born on.
It took two years to find this place a place we could afford, Ritchie said of her 2.5 acre parcel. We were about to give up and call our real estate guy and tell him to broaden the search off-island. Now I refuse to leave.
Ritchie, an employee of the Bainbridge Police Department for some 30 years, was born on an island much different than the one she sees today. Her mother, Gena, was a Winslow clinic nurse long enough to witness the births of three generations of islanders. Her father, Ed, made his mark as an astronomer, helping to found the observatory at Battle Point Park.
The island was such a smaller place, Ritchie said. Mom worked at the clinic and her co-workers were all like mothers to me. I had 10 or 12 mothers. There was always someone watching, not letting me get away with anything. You knew what everybody was doing on the island.
Now, we still have small communities, but its not island-wide. Its more segmented.
Ritchie hasnt liked much of the changes shes seen the island undergo in her lifetime. Trees disappear as new homes and condos materialize in their place. More people has also meant the old familiar faces have become blurred in the crowd. But its more than just additional people its also the money they bring that Ritchie says is changing the character of her home.
Its becoming Mercer-ized, said LeMaster, referring to that other island many Bainbridge residents hold up as the example of where more development and money could lead this island.
While raised in Seattles Central District, LeMaster spent much of her youth picking berries on Bainbridge farms.
I grew up in the shuckin and jivin C.D., back when there were riots on Jackson Street and I missed classes in junior high because of bomb threats, she said. But I would wake up at odark thirty and all the kids would load up on the bus and come here. It was a great freedom on Bainbridge. At home, Id be stuck in my neighborhood, getting into trouble. Here Id have fun and there was no trouble, except when there was a berry fight.
LeMaster moved to Bainbridge with her ex-husband, a worker at the Bangor naval base, and had three children. Ritchie, who has a daughter from a previous union, met LeMaster shortly after both their marriages ended.
Theres maybe 12 lesbians on the island, joked LeMaster. Were like fruitcakes, we keep getting traded around.
For all the changes shes witnessed on the island over time, Ritchie said the general attitude toward same-sex couples is one change thats happened for the better.
Being a lesbian couple, its better now, said LeMaster, who no longer receives odd stares from islanders while walking close with Ritchie down Winslow Way. The new people are more accepting than the old group.
Ritchie said she started noticing the shift when island churches began welcoming gay and lesbian couples.
They opened their doors and said you are so welcome, she said. The churches didnt shove it down anyones throat, but they did go against some in their congregations, who then left.
Ritchie and LeMaster were married at St. Cecilia Catholic Church 11 years ago.
And Catholics are not known for that, said Ritchie.
But the Bainbridge Catholic church is, added LeMaster.
The couple has woven their two families together. LeMaster refers to Ritchies mother as mom and the pair always marks their anniversaries although Ritchie sometimes forgets.
I wont forget this anniversary, said Ritchie, especially after receiving a coveted printing calculator from LeMaster.
How I love you, said LeMaster, pretending to swoon at Ritchies shoulder. Let me calculate the ways.
While attitudes on the island have changed, Ritchie and LeMaster said islanders are generally less-inclined to cross paths enough to even know each others personal details.
I miss going into T&C and seeing everybody, said LeMaster.
Yeah, you used to have to set aside an hour when you went in there, added Ritchie. Now I dont know anybody and Im out of there in 10 minutes.
While the island still strives for a sense of community, the social connections that once spanned the entire island has crumbled into small groups and neighborhoods, said LeMaster.
People often run in the same packs but have few of the islands traditional ties, often forged by working together and having their kids play together, she said.
On the 4:40 boat, you see the same group of people but you dont know them, said LeMaster, who makes the daily cross-sound commute to work for the City of Seattle. I dont see them at the store. I dont know their names. When I do see them one day at the store, I cant say, oh, yeah, good morning ferry guy with the paper and the pink cup.
For Ritchie the islands changed so much that she doesnt know if anything but family binds her to Bainbridge.
Two of LeMasters children still live on the island, but she doesnt know how long theyll be able to afford to stay.
When they leave, and all the older people who also cant afford to live here also leave, there will be a great sense of loss, she said. There already is.
The same is true of Ritchies co-workers, who estimate that only seven of the police departments staff of more than 20 live on the island.
Its the same with teachers, firefighters and a lot of others, she said. They cant afford to live here. But it would be nice if they could live in their community.
It would establish a much better sense of continuity. People who live here and work here would actually get to know each other.
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These profiles are part of an ongoing series on Bainbridge families, coinciding with a new project called Islandwise thats looking for shared community values.