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What’s keeping you on Bainbridge? -- Ritchie and LeMaster

Patti Ritchie, an island native, and her partner  Jeanie LeMaster stand outside their Vincent Road home.  - JULIE BUSCH photo
Patti Ritchie, an island native, and her partner Jeanie LeMaster stand outside their Vincent Road home.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

The Ritchie and LeMaster clan fancy themselves the island’s rednecks.

Patti Ritchie and Jeanie LeMaster aren’t your typical Bainbridge couple, but few have deeper roots in the island’s soil.

“We always tell people we’re 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, we’re rednecks!” adds LeMaster. Both laugh at the joke they’ve likely been telling each other for most of the 11 years they’ve been together.

While their accommodations may be a bit more humble than the island norm, Ritchie says she’s 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 it’s not island-wide. It’s more segmented.”

Ritchie hasn’t liked much of the changes she’s 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 it’s more than just additional people – it’s also the money they bring that Ritchie says is changing the character of her home.

“It’s 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 Seattle’s 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 o’dark thirty and all the kids would load up on the bus and come here. It was a great freedom on Bainbridge. At home, I’d be stuck in my neighborhood, getting into trouble. Here I’d 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.

“There’s maybe 12 lesbians on the island,” joked LeMaster. “We’re like fruitcakes, we keep getting traded around.”

For all the changes she’s witnessed on the island over time, Ritchie said the general attitude toward same-sex couples is one change that’s happened for the better.

“Being a lesbian couple, it’s 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 didn’t shove it down anyone’s 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 Ritchie’s mother as “mom” and the pair always marks their anniversaries – although Ritchie sometimes forgets.

“I won’t forget this anniversary,” said Ritchie, especially after receiving a coveted printing calculator from LeMaster.

“How I love you,” said LeMaster, pretending to swoon at Ritchie’s 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 other’s 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 don’t know anybody and I’m 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 island’s 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 don’t know them,” said LeMaster, who makes the daily cross-sound commute to work for the City of Seattle. “I don’t see them at the store. I don’t know their names. When I do see them one day at the store, I can’t say, ‘oh, yeah, good morning ferry guy with the paper and the pink cup.’”

For Ritchie the island’s changed so much that she doesn’t know if anything but family binds her to Bainbridge.

Two of LeMaster’s children still live on the island, but she doesn’t know how long they’ll be able to afford to stay.

“When they leave, and all the older people who also can’t afford to live here also leave, there will be a great sense of loss,” she said. “There already is.”

The same is true of Ritchie’s co-workers, who estimate that only seven of the police department’s staff of more than 20 live on the island.

“It’s the same with teachers, firefighters and a lot of others,” she said. “They can’t 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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Islandwise

These profiles are part of an ongoing series on Bainbridge families, coinciding with a new project called Islandwise that’s looking for shared community values.

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