The Place We Call Home // Many Paths Lead to Bainbridge

By Susan Brandzel

The Rock.

That’s how many Bainbridge residents fondly refer to the island. Bainbridge Island is, in fact, a rock, composed of slate, greywacke and greenstone. But it is also euphemistically a rock to those who have chosen to live here; a place that provides comfort, beauty and serenity to those residing among its forests, beaches, farms or its quaint “downtown,” Winslow. Ellen Fisher’s family first started spending their summers on Pleasant Beach in 1922. They purchased a piece of undeveloped property and erected platform tent cabins. She spent her childhood summers clamming, sitting around the bonfire and rowing across Rich Passage. In those days, there was a grocery store, gas station and lumber store in Lynwood Center—everything that allowed them to stay put on the south end of the island. Ellen cites the construction of the Agate Pass Bridge in the 1950s as a huge turning point in life on Bainbridge. Before that time, the island was a self-sufficient entity. But once cars could cross over to the mainland, people started seeking services in Poulsbo and beyond, a change which ultimately led Bainbridge to become more of a tourist destination.

In 1975 Fisher, her husband, Don, and their three kids, Sarah, Cam and Carrie, moved from Mercer Island to Bainbridge full time. The appeal was simple: status symbols didn’t matter here and nature was plentiful. Don worked in real estate assessment, commuting into Seattle until the building of the military base in Bangor brought a building boom to Kitsap County that allowed him to work locally.

These days, the Fishers are an integral part of the Bainbridge community. Ellen is a long-term and avid member of the League of Women Voters. She also regularly plays bridge with a group of island women, is part of a local book club and schedules regular time to read to her grandchildren. Don is the president of the Senior Center and also assists Kitsap County in adjudicating property tax matters.

Three generations of Fishers now live on Bainbridge: Ellen and Don, two of their three children, and 10 out of 12 of their grandchildren. Their young adult granddaughter Rachel, together with her new husband, moved back to Bainbridge recently after landing a full-time graphic design job on the island. To the Fishers, Bainbridge is a place that fosters warmth and intellectual depth, and where people of many ages can live an enriching and calmer existence.

Nicki McCraw still has the twang of the deep South in her voice, even though she moved to the Northwest from Mississippi 22 years ago. Her accent notwithstanding, she is deeply rooted on Bainbridge Island, having landed here over 14 years ago. She moved here to raise daughter Sarah, who was 18 months old and whom she and her partner at the time had adopted only a few months earlier from Russia. Sarah, now a sophmore at Eagle Harbor High School, is a passionate fan of Bainbridge, just like Nicki and her fiancée, a new island resident, Ruth Frobe.

Nicki thrives on the warm and caring community vibe on Bainbridge. She looks forward to going grocery shopping or strolling down Winslow Way, knowing that she will run into neighbors or friends. Ruth, who was slightly hesitant to move to the island because she was worried about being isolated, has easily established connections and activities in a short period of time. She is a member of the master’s swim team at the Aquatic Center and a massage therapist at Island Fitness. Nicki and Ruth will be married at the Manor House in Lynwood Center in August. They chose that spot for its beauty, but also because it is “quintessential Bainbridge,” something they want to share with friends and visitors who will come to Bainbridge to celebrate their union. They are using all local vendors for the event and hoping, as well, for some local sunshine.

Bainbridge Fire Chief and 29-year firefighting veteran Hank Teran was in line to become chief of the Long Beach, Calif., fire department when he saw a national call for applicants for the chief of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department. Hank’s wife, Emily, immediately took up researching this community in the Northwest that neither of them had heard of. And when Emily saw the pristine Bainbridge scenery and read about the stellar public school system, she urged Hank to apply for the job. Having raised an older daughter in L.A. and watched the fast-paced and pressured environment push her to grow up too quickly, Hank realized that he and Emily had a chance to raise their then-toddlers, Peyton and Madison, in a quieter, more wholesome environment. The Terans made the transition from Southern California to Bainbridge flawlessly in 2007, and they have not had a single regret since then. By moving here, Hank met one of his professional goals that he had never been able to achieve in California—to live in the community where he works. He enjoys providing service to neighbors, friends and the island’s population, who he said regularly express unsolicited gratitude for the help his department provides.

In the scant time that Hank Teran isn’t working, he attends his daughters’ gymnastics and school events. Hank is also an avid watercolor painter. When he can find the time for it, he enjoys photographing the breathtaking views that Bainbridge has to offer and then paints the images he brings home on his camera. The only thing Hank misses from his California life is surfing. He keeps a board at his parents’ house in his old California neighborhood just so he can get a fix when he visits them.

As a young child growing up in a crowded apartment building in Shanghai, China, Jue Pu heard a sound wafting in the window from another apartment. Unfamiliar but entranced with what he was hearing, Jue inquired about its origins from her father. Her father told her that the sound was music being played by an instrument called a violin. Jue immediately proclaimed that she wanted to learn to play. The next day her father bought her one, and she has played the violin ever since.

When she was sent to “re-education camp” by the Chinese government just after graduating from high school, Jue struggled to keep up with the physical demands of the manual labor that she was required to do. Eventually, she landed a new and much more desirable placement in a top-tier band that was formed to play music for the laborers in the camps. In this band, Jue happily played her violin once again. When her two-year stint in the band ended, she went to nursing school.

Jue came to Bainbridge in 1990, having only been in the U.S. for a year after leaving China during the uprisings in Tiananmen Square. She worked as a nanny for a family in Wing Point for almost 10 years before deciding that she wanted to become a dental assistant. She commuted to a condensed three-month training program at the University of Washington and in 2000 landed a job at Ihland Garden Dental working for Dr. Sally Hewett. Once her new career took off, Jue joined the Bainbridge Symphony Orchestra and started a chamber music group on the island. She also started the Bainbridge Mandarin Learning Center and taught Chinese to adults for three years. Jue is a traditional Chinese calligrapher and loves to cook, a skill she learned back in China from her grandmother.

Jue is another resident who relishes living on Bainbridge Island. She finds it an interesting, friendly and sophisticated community. Although she faced some discrimination when she first arrived, being scoffed at for her limited English skills, Jue overcame these biases and made many friendships in the different circles in which she operates. She is endearingly known by pediatric dental patients at Ihland Dental as “Jujubean.”

All of these island residents agree that Bainbridge offers unprecedented balance. They can easily take advantage of the amenities that the big city of Seattle—just 35 minutes away—has to offer, be it for the arts, specialty medical care, shopping or the periodic getaway starting at SeaTac airport. But they also relish in the island’s unique and deeply satisfying way of life, surrounded by friends and community who care about each other and about The Rock.