Verda Averill, former publisher of the Bainbridge Island Review and North Kitsap Herald, dies

First woman to serve as president of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association; among the first journalists to travel to China when that country was opened to American visitors in the 1970s

Verda Averill, whose journalism career included nearly 30 years as publisher of the Bainbridge Island Review and the North Kitsap Herald, died May 8 at her home at Madrona House on Bainbridge Island.

She was 88.

A celebration of her life and her photography will be scheduled later this summer, the family stated in an announcement of her passing. The family suggests memorials to the Bainbridge Public Library or to another literacy cause.

She was born Verda Mae Griesinger in 1928 in Portland, Oregon, the granddaughter of German and Swiss immigrants who settled in eastern Washington. She was an accomplished young musician, becoming harp soloist with the Portland Junior Symphony (now the Portland Youth Philharmonic).

After graduating from Stanford University, she married classmate Dave Averill. They settled in Eugene, Oregon, where she taught music while he began a career as a daily newspaper reporter. She was proud to have been a founder of a local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

In 1959, the couple moved to Poulsbo, buying the Kitsap County Herald and beginning a joint career in community journalism. Three years later, they bought the Bainbridge Review from Walt and Milly Woodward. Through the 1960s and 1970s, they operated the two newspapers as a family business, while raising four children in their home overlooking Manzanita Bay.

When they divorced in 1979, Dave moved on, and Verda assumed sole management of the newspapers. She was the first woman to serve as president of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, and among the first journalists to travel to China when that country was opened to American visitors in the 1970s. She participated in journalism education programs at the UW and Western Washington University.

“She really had a passion for community journalism,” her son, Charlie Averill, said. “That’s what brought her to this community and kept her tied to this community.

“When she came home, a lot of times she would talk about somebody and say, ‘I could write a story about that,’ and a lot of times she did. She wanted to share people’s stories.”

After retiring in 1988, she spent 10 years pursuing photography, travel, and music, and enjoying her new role as a grandmother. But at age 70 she returned to journalism, establishing the quarterly Bainbridge Island Library News, which she edited for the next 15 years, publicizing library events and particularly promoting local authors.

Fourth owners of the North Kitsap Herald

Poulsbo historian Judy Driscoll said the Averills were the fourth owners of the Herald, which was founded in 1901 by Peter Iverson, a future mayor amd state legislator.

“Verda and David bought the newspaper in September of 1959,” Driscoll said. “Under their ownership, the Herald first moved from downtown Poulsbo from its original home in [what is now] the Maritime Museum building on Front Street up to Highway 305 in several different places.”

Donna Etchey, a former Herald publisher and current general manager of Sound Publishing’s Kitsap News Group, said Averill was “a pioneer for women in the publishing business.”

Etchey said Averill was an inspiration. “Verda was someone who I really looked up to,” she said. “Even after she sold the business in 1988, she always had ink on her hands. She kept involved. She was really an amazing person.”

Becky Fox Marshall, later editor of the Bainbridge Island Review, wrote on the guestbook of the Cook Family Funeral Home website, “…Verda gave me my first job out of journalism school — hired me on the phone in the midst of my last quarter at Western [Washington University]. I moved right to Port Orchard where I wrote news stories, took the photos, sold the ads, laid out the pages and ran the office. I learned every aspect of the business. I worked for her off and on until she got out of the newspaper business.

“She was one of the many women who blazed a path for my generation, and taught us to continue blazing for the next …”

Averill is survived by four children, Charlie, of Bainbridge Island; John, of Madrid, Spain; Sue, of San Diego, California; and Bob, of Enumclaw. She also survived by her grandchildren, Elise and Nino; great-grandson, Cash; and many nieces and nephews.

— Sophie Bonomi of Kitsap News Group contributed to this story.