A gift certificate to Eleanor Roosevelt’s onetime personal assistant has helped finish a garden at the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center.
The $100 certificate to Bainbridge Gardens was given to the late Pat Baillargeon by real estate agent Colleen Keilbart as a thank you gesture way back in June of 1994.
Alice Mendoza, a longtime friend of Baillargeon’s, who worked for President FDR’s wife, said recently that she’s not surprised Baillargeon never used the certificate. “She lived very simply,” Mendoza said. “She was very private in that way.”
Mendoza was with her friend to the end. “I was with her in hospice,” she said.
After Baillargeon died June 13, 2020 at the age of 91, her family allowed Mendoza access to her cottage “to take something of hers.” But after the estate auction, there were still a lot of items left that were just going to be thrown away. The family allowed Mendoza to give things like dolls to the BI Museum of Arts and books to the Friends of the Library. It was around that time that Mendoza opened a desk drawyer and found an envelope. Inside was the gift certificate.
Mendoza, Keilbart and Ann Lovejoy, who had been working on the garden project at the senior center for some time, all went to Bainbridge Gardens. They asked the business if it would still honor the 27-year-old gift certificate.
Not only did owner Donna Harui say she would honor it, but the certificate obviously meant a lot to her as her late father had signed it. “She was very moved by that,” Lovejoy said.
The three women said it was ironic how it worked out as Harui’s father, Junkoh, was instrumental in the city obtaining the Waterfront Park area for the public in perpetuity. That area is where the senior center is located.
Lovejoy said they spent well over $100 on plants for the garden. On Earth Day, dozens of volunteers helped plant the garden next to the road in front of the center. She said everything is evergreen and easy to take care of.
In the center of the garden is a special plant. “Pat loved lavender,” Mendoza said.
She said while Baillargeon spent most of her time in her Seattle apartment, she was very active on BI when staying at her cottage. She was on the board of the Suquamish tribal museum, along with being active in the BI Foundation and Fair Housing Board.
Baillargeon used to come to Mendoza’s third-grade classes at both Wilkes and Ordway elementary schools and talk about her working relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt from 1953-60.
“I was already teaching my students about ER as part of my annual focus of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, tied into my focus on multicultural awareness, when the Bainbridge Review covered a lecture series on the changing nature of the United Nations. Pat was the first speaker. Long story short – we met and became lifelong friends.”
Mendoza, who taught for 40 years, said the local community was going to honor Baillargeon, but the event was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was to celebrate her birthday and life and love of lavender,” Mendoza said.