History hard to come by in BI Scout’s project

Walter Keys probably didn’t want to go down in history, but thanks to Brad Staniewicz’ Eagle Scout project he will.

Keys was one of the movers and shakers on Bainbridge Island from 1918 to his death in 1957.

“Keys avoided the spotlight and almost seemed to not want to make history,” Brad’s father, Todd, says in an email to the Review. “The world needs more men and women like him. A selfless civil servant who was the go-to man for getting things done on the island.”

Brad and his dad had to do months of digging to find out information about Keys, but more on that later.

When Todd retired from the Air Force after 20 years and moved to BI in 2019 he was annoyed by the rusted flagpole at the ferry terminal.

When his son, a 14-year-old freshman at Bainbridge High School, needed something for his Eagle Scout project, they discussed fixing that up.

“We knew it would be very difficult to get approval to do anything on government land,” Todd says.

But Brad got in touch with Washington State Ferries anyway, and to their surprise received a positive response in just a few days. Later on, Tom Castor, WSF marine project engineer, was assigned to help Brad make it happen.

Castor first assigned Brad to find out about Keys. The flagpole is a memorial to the man born in 1882 who died in 1957.

”His story is largely a mystery because he was a discreet giver and never sought the spotlight, yet had a profound impact on the modernization of the island’s infrastructure and whose residents rallied to create a memorial for” him, Todd says.

Finding out about Keys wasn’t just about getting on the internet to google his name. They tried that. Nothing. Because he died in 1957 there was nothing there.

So, they went to the Bainbridge library where John Fossett was able to find a few archived articles.

They then went to the BI Historical Museum and found someone who vaguely remembered Keys, 94-year-old Reid Hansen. On a second visit, they met employee Lillian Xie. She was intrigued enough by Brad’s project that she decided to look through the old hard-copy newspaper archives.

It seems between staffing issues at the museum and the Bainbridge Review burning down in the early 2000s that no one has scanned the fragile, partial Review documents to make electronic versions.

It didn’t take long, however, for Xie to find the Review obituary for Keys. Using that information, and after another month of searching, they tracked down Ronald Keys, 76, of Orcas Island, one of the grandsons.

Their research discovered that Keys was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and World War I. He owned Bainbridge Motors Co. where they sold and repaired cars. He also owned Keys Lanes, the nearby bowling alley. He was heavily involved in the Mosquito Fleet and in building roads.

“The details are murky but Keys seems to have been a universally trusted island lynchpin who led the transformation of the island from a remote, mosquito-fleet accessible, lumber mill or farm outpost kind of town to the modern, integrated community it is today,” Todd says.

The Staniewiczes ended up contacting more members of Keys’ family, and they are supportive of Brad’s project, even renaming it “Servant’s Circle” if that’s what the community decides.

“Everybody has something to give to their community, no matter how small,” Todd said.

Brad’s Eagle Scout project focuses on replacing the flagpole, which by itself costs $17,000. They hope to make it 70 feet high so it’s as tall as a tree near it that can’t be removed. WSF says it can help with some funds, too. There will also be flagpole lighting, and WSF staff won’t have to lower the flag every night.

Brad said the hardest part of the project was all the paperwork and dealing with all the agencies and so many people. He said he must have sent out 50 or so emails. “It was new ground for me.”

His dad said, “Brad was persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

How to help

Brad’s project fundraising goal is $20,000. To donate go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/BI-Flagpole-Replacement. Donations of labor and materials also could help. “This is much larger than just Brad’s Eagle project to replace the flagpole and has morphed into more of a community effort to restore the entire space,” Todd says.

Brad Staniewicz has a team helping him with his Eagle Scout Project.

Brad Staniewicz has a team helping him with his Eagle Scout Project.