He looks a bit like Santa Clause with his white fluffy beard and can often be found doing notary work for complete strangers outside Coquette Bake Shop at the Winslow Green or having a beer at the Islander. However, it’s the quote on his Facebook page that hints at the man behind the beard, “I like to take long walks on the beach and rob gas stations”, the former being true and the latter, well…who knows.
I first encountered Gerald Simonsen’s name while volunteering at the Chamber of Commerce, where people frequently call in asking about notary services, but I also helped him promote live music this past summer. However, it was a more recent encounter, when I needed his notary services, that I realized he is one of the many “characters” that give our little island character.
Gerald grew up in Yucaipa, a small town in Southern California. With seven brothers and two sisters, he was frequently involved in a variety of shenanigans, ranging from the “great gumball caper” to getting chased by the police. “There was the great gumball caper where we went in the bowling alley and noticed the rack of gumball machines was not tied down so we picked it up and walked the whole length of the bowling alley and took it home. Later we got chased around by a helicopter but I’m thinkin’ we don’t need to get to far into details here…” Gerald shared. “A fun thing to do to liven things up was when we saw a police car driving by, we would take off running. Getting chased by the cops for not doing anything was always great to talk about at school the next day.”
Putting his mischievous youth aside, Gerald, like many others, got on the Information Technology (IT) bandwagon in the early 1980s, creating a lifetime career. He spent several years travelling all over the US, from Air Force base to Air Force base installing software for Unisys Corp, then switched to working for airlines, which took him to Yugoslavia in the late ‘80s, and then Germany, France, Japan and “all over the damn place installing software for airlines.”
He finally found himself in Seattle, working for the University of Washington as a Sr. Computer Specialist. “I worked at UW for 15 years (just long enough to retire),” he explained. “My entire professional career was spent writing and installing software. I mostly wrote COBOL which is an ancient computer language no longer taught in schools. I guess they were premature thinking it was obsolete and going away as I normally get at least one email a week offering me a job maintaining COBOL programs.”
Although it wasn’t planned, Gerald also became a bar owner. “I was in a bar down the street from my house in Seattle having a beer with the bar owner. He said there was a bar in Wallingford for sale and asked me if I wanted to buy it. I said sure.” After that, they bought another bar in the University District called The Irish Emigrant which they renamed the Rat and Raven. He even owned a laundromat on Capitol Hill that had a liquor license. “Wash your duds and have a beer… None of it was planned… just sort of happened.”
It was Gerald’s friend, Laura Blair-Gano, that eventually spurred him to make the move to Bainbridge. She had been attending law school at Seattle University, and soon after graduation, her husband passed away. Gerald started coming out on the weekends to visit her and her three wonderful children. When he retired from UW, he started visiting the island more often, and realized he really liked it here. “About six years ago I sold all my stuff in Seattle and came to Bainbridge. I thought I could live in this safe pleasant small town and still be able to just hop on the ferry and be downtown in half an hour,” he said. “As it turns out I never hop on the ferry for a visit to Seattle unless I absolutely have to.” He purchased a townhouse off of Erickson as a rental property, and eventually Laura, now a practicing family law attorney*, moved in with her kids as his tenants, while he took up residence in a condo on Winslow Green. When the children got older and moved away, they realized they were empty nesters with two homes, so Laura moved in, bringing along two cats and a couple of birds. Living on Winslow Green was great, the location was ideal and walking distance to just about everything…except a late-night beer in a bar.
“I’m not so much of a planning guy. Stuff just kinda happens to me,” Gerald says. “I was at the little bar named Timber (in the Pavilion) where the wine bar (Luna Cellars) is now. The owner showed me the space that is now the Islander and asked if I wanted to invest in a bar. At the time it was just used for storage. I said sure and there ya go. All I really wanted was a place that was open late…” Gerald sold the Islander prior to the pandemic because he realized retirement was just more fun. “I got tired of dealing with the day-to-day stuff with owning a bar so I sold it to Cheston Overman who has taken what was a very good bar and turned it into a GREAT bar and I still have a place to go at night when I want a beer.”
But what about free notary, promoting live music and bubbles? They’re all products of the pandemic. Gerald had been a notary for many years, mostly for family related documents. When the pandemic hit, many of the obvious locations, where you could get documents notarized, stopped offering the service, “I just kinda started doing it for people. So again, there was no plan. Just sorta happened. I don’t charge anyone for notary stuff cus I don’t wanna. Also, I retired much, much younger than most folks, so I have a lot of free time.”
Music on the Green predated the pandemic, and Gerald could enjoy it from his deck overlooking the Green, or go down and boogie-woogie with the crowds. However, like everything else, it came to a screeching halt. When things started getting back to normal, Gerald went to his monthly condo association meeting and proposed they start it up again. “The board told me that was a fine idea and I should do it so I did.” By that time Laura’s youngest son, Rowan, had returned to the nest to pursue a “life of a rock and roll star playing guitar for a most excellent band named Civil Rebellion,” and Gerald admits that he might have had an ulterior motive, as he could give “my young friend Rowan and his band Civil Rebellion a couple of gigs.” This past summer, Music on the Green featured ten musical performances from local well-known bands. For upcoming performances at the Green, follow them on Facebook: Winslow Green Facebook page here. You can also follow Civil Rebellion at: Instagram @civil_rebellion
And then there’s the bubbles…If you’ve ever wondered where all those fun bubbles floating through the air on Winslow Green come from…that would be Gerald. During the pandemic he bought a bubble machine and put it on his deck. “I thought it might kinda cheer a few people up and it seems to work. And the nice lady that works at the drug store tells me it brightens up her day.” Gerald keeps a sharp eye out for kids coming into the Green, “It is a lot of fun when the wind is just right and there is a group of kids on the lawn chasing the bubbles around.” And as he told me, “I think its my biggest contribution to Bainbridge Island.” Although, I think free notary and live music is a pretty big contribution too, but that’s just me…
Of course, there’s more, as Laura told me, “Gerald has stories. Lots of stories. He has led a storied life. Sometimes I wonder if he’s led more than one lifetime to have fit in all the hijinks and shenanigans he’s participated in, but apparently, he has crammed them all into one. When I first knew Gerald, I suspected some of these stories were made up or at least highly exaggerated. But when we became closer and I met more and more of his 9 siblings, I independently verified these adventures and found that they were true. Just true. Not even embellished. When Gerald met my children and entertained them with his stories, they became part of the children’s family lore. Having lost their father, I had learned through regret the importance of preserving oral history – stories.”
Laura, with the help of Rowan, took one of those stories to the next level, using what Gerald described as “trickery”. Rowan approached Gerald, asking him to write down one of his stories so that he could correctly tell it to his girlfriend. In truth, Laura wanted to memorialize it in a comic book. Once they had the written story, she used the app Fiverr and engaged Vanessa Nunez, a writer specializing in transcribing stories into comic book scripts (@nissbit on Fiverr) and Kokin Kokambar (pen name), an artist who specializes in hand-drawn watercolors (@kokinkokambar on Fiverr or @kokambar on Instagram). “Once it was finalized, Jorge sent it to me in digital form. The kids (Bagi, Paul, and Rowan) and I presented it to him as a late birthday gift, and he was, I think, very pleased,” Laura said. “Gerald sent the digital comic to a printer, paper comics were made, and a little part of his legacy was preserved.”
When you see Gerald, ask him to share some of those stories, like the one about His nephews and the Spiderman tattoo (circa 1990s), or Deep thoughts and maniac skateboarders screeching down the middle of Winslow Way (during the pandemic of course), and my favorite, A third grader’s first time in a bar; shooting pool, throwing darts, and learning to pour the perfect Guiness!
In parting, Gerald left me with these tidbits:
- Do you need a place with a good steak and loads of whisky try the Islander in the Pavilion.
- Need a good family law lawyer? Let me know and I’ll tell you about one.
- Need a fabulous band? I got one of those too.
- Need something notarized? I’d be happy to help you out.
- Someone on Facebook was looking for a way to unlock a chest they had lost a key to… I can also pick locks (a result of a bit of a misspent childhood).
- I have my Universal Life Church Clergy card so I can also preform weddings if someone needs one.
- I can (and do) make balloon animals…
For free notary service, you can call or text Gerald at 206-790-7866 or via email at email@example.com.
*After more than a decade working for other law firms, Laura has recently opened her own here on Bainbridge, to learn more visit her website: Family Law Attorney – Evolution Law Offices PLLC – Serving King, Kitsap, and Jefferson County
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