In her 60s, Dorothy Hall-Bauer moved to Vashon Island and began reinventing herself. She became an author, who at 92 is busy turning out books that introduce island residents to each other.
She likes telling other people’s stories, and early on, she told me, “I began to realize we’re all interesting people. You don’t have to be a president.”
I heard about Hall-Bauer from a reader, Kathy Garner, who sent me four of the books (“Islanders, Meet Your Neighbors”) and a note saying proceeds from the books go to helping people who are homeless or potentially homeless.
The project made me want to know more about Hall-Bauer, to interview the interviewer. That almost didn’t happen.
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We were supposed to talk in May, but while I waited for her, she was lying in a bed at Harborview. When I reached her cellphone, she explained she’d been hit by a car while crossing a street, and would I mind putting off the interview a bit.
When we sat down this week at The Hardware Store restaurant on Vashon, Hall-Bauer said she was fine, there was just a little blood, and they had insisted she spend a night in the hospital. No big deal.
I’m glad we got a second chance.
Hall-Bauer said she started writing the profiles as a way to meet people after she sold her Eastside home and moved to the island in 1983.
“I realized I didn’t know anybody,” she said. “I was a shy person,” who needed a way to get acquainted.
She knew Vashon, though. She grew up the youngest of four sisters, first in Tacoma, then in Seattle, where the family moved when she was about 9.
Her mother was ill, and a doctor suggested the island would be good for her health. So when Hall-Bauer was 3, the family began camping there, then spending summers on the west side of Quartermaster Harbor.
Her father worked and would come on weekends. The girls were left to amuse themselves and once rowed two small boats completely around the island. “What I remember is that we were free,” she said.
The Vashon summers ended when she was about 13. Hall-Bauer wanted to live on Vashon when she grew up, but she married an avid skier who insisted they live closer to Snoqualmie.
After their four children were out of the house, the couple divorced, and she made the move.
Along the way she’d been working on her writing skills, but not as a career.
Hall-Bauer is a University of Washington graduate with degrees in social welfare (she thought she wanted to help unhappy people be happier) and later in landscape architecture.
She worked on King County’s shoreline-management program, in a job that involved writing. “I always liked writing when I was in school and when I worked for the county.”
She’d been part of a writers group and took all the writing courses from the UW continuing-education program.
She started asking people she met on the island if she could write about them. Some said no, but then, “Sometimes they say, ‘I have absolutely nothing to talk about,’ then they talk for an hour and a half,” she said.
Hall-Bauer has written about islanders who are teenagers and islanders who are her peers, from a wide range of walks of life. What they have in common is being drawn to island life — some grew up there or nearby, some came from other states, some from other countries.
What island life offers may vary a bit, but that sense of freedom she mentioned, and the natural beauty — especially beaches and Puget Sound — are common factors.
She wrote about former Gov. Booth Gardner, who had a house on Vashon. She said he was down to earth.
“Sometimes when a person is a high achiever and they rattle off their accomplishments, it can be boring,” she said, but he wasn’t like that.
The first book came out in 2007, and all profits went to the Vashon Island Interfaith Council on Homelessness. It still works that way.
The books are available on the island at Thriftway, Vashon Pharmacy and Vashon Bookshop, for $15. Hall-Bauer’s address is P.O. Box 13292, Burton, WA 98013.
Spencer Caldwell, then a student on the high-school yearbook staff, took photographs for that first book. Then doctor/photographer Kim Farrell took over photography.
All the books are printed by Vashon Print & Design, whose owner, David Hinchman, praised Hall-Bauer’s spirit and drive when I dropped by his shop. He said she pays for materials and does most of the binding. He helps with layout and any work she can’t do herself.
He’s been featured in one of the books and said the books have made it easier for him to approach people and introduce himself.
Hall-Bauer just started another enterprise, trying to make some money.
She recently began renting out a beachfront house to island visitors. “I’m getting older, so I thought I’d put some money aside,” she said with a playful twinkle in her eye. Have to prepare for the future, you know.
Hall-Bauer said she’s working on books eight and nine, which is a lot of neighbors. She profiles about 14 people in each volume.
“There are so many wonderful people in the world,” she said. “You never run out of interesting people because we’re all interesting.” Write on, Dorothy.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org