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Woman leaves $823,000 to PAWS, museum

Helen Bucey traveled too often to have animals of her own, so she kept them by proxy, pet-sitting for her friends.

“She’d be happy to watch your house,” recalled islander and longtime friend Bitsy Ostenson, “but not if you didn’t have pets.”

As to her keen interest in local history, that came of Bucey’s descendence from the Olsen family, island pioneers who settled at West Blakely before the turn of the last century.

And what she enjoyed in her life, she sought to preserve for others after her own time had passed. Bucey, who died last April at age 90, bequeathed to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society and the Bainbridge Island Historical Society the sum of $411,779.85.

Each.

The donations – giving each group 12.5 percent of Bucey’s recently probated $3.29 million estate – astounded members when they were notified by the executor last week. Perhaps more so because Bucey had not been a member of either organization.

“I just kept looking at all those digits and saying, ‘this doesn’t make sense – there must be a comma or a period in the wrong place,’” said Judy Hartstone, PAWS president.

Said George Bussell, BIHS board president: “It’s wonderful... What we need is (financial) security, and this certainly does it.”

Although Bucey and her brother Morten “Bud” Lauridsen, Jr., grew up in Seattle, they spent their summers and vacations on Bainbridge, where their maternal grandparents, Martin and Christine Olsen, had settled in the West Blakely area in 1890. The original Olsen house burned down, but the second, built in 1905, remains one of the island’s historic homes.

“She was very much interested in the history of the island, and she knew some of the old, old families on the island,” said Bucey’s brother Morten, age 93, now a resident of Portland, Ore. “We’ve been going over there since the time we were born. Our ties are pretty strong.”

Ostenson said, “She took me on a walking tour of Pleasant Beach once, and she knew the history of every house that was left, including the ones that weren’t there anymore.”

In her adult years, Bucey and her husband Boyd – who worked as Boeing’s director of manufacturing research and development – lived in the Pleasant Beach area from 1970-84, when they moved to Winslow. Boyd Bucey died a year later.

An outdoorswoman, Helen Bucey climbed the major peaks of the Northwest, was one of the first women to conquer the Grand Teton in Wyoming, and was proud of having REI membership number 32.

In her later years she was a volunteer at Bloedel Reserve. She was active in countless civic, educational and charitable organizations, and was honored for her volunteerism and philanthropy for 45 years.

“She wasn’t flamboyant or making a big splash in the community – she was quietly doing her good works,” said Kate Carruthers, another friend. “She was pretty cool. I liked her.”

After her husband’s death, Bucey established a University of Washington professorship of ophthalmology, and a Seattle Museum of Flight lectureship.

Ostenson recalled Bucey as a “very kindly (woman), who loved all animals... She would say she was going down to have tea at so-and-so’s, so she could visit their cat. That seemed to please her a great deal.”

Bucey once was perturbed to see an octopus on display at the Town and Country seafood counter, and took an employee to task for it.

“She said, ‘you really shouldn’t have that there – it’s more intelligent than you are,’” Ostenson recalled. “I think she felt a little badly for that animal.”

While both PAWS and BIHS expressed profound gratitude at the generosity of the bequests, officials say their various fund-raising efforts will go on as usual.

The historical society is part-way through a $350,000 capital campaign to move its museum downtown, but the Bucey gift may go largely to operating expenses.

“We want to keep the museum viable for years to come, and operations funds are certainly the hardest to come by,” Bussell said. “We certainly don’t want people to stop giving, thinking we have enough money.”

Hartstone noted that if the funds were invested at 4 percent, the annual return would be about $15,000 – “barely a hiccup” in PAWS’ $128,000 annual budget.

“It’s not a huge amount of money when you think about it,” she said. “It gives some solidity to the organization, so we can attract more money.”

But, Hartstone added, “It’s great what you can leave behind. People will keep talking about you, and saying good things.”

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