When it comes to arts and humanities, and especially Bainbridge Performing Arts (BPA), Kathleen Thorne is a household name. In a 2008 BI Review article, Kathleen was quoted as saying she was a self-described “humanities junkie”; however, she notes that she doesn’t have an artistic bone in her body. “I was an English major, so that’s probably where my interest in the humanities began,” she told me. “Today, it might be more accurate to describe me as a ‘cultural busy-body’! But actual creative talent continues to elude me.” And busy, she is. Kathleen has been deeply involved in the arts and humanities community here on Bainbridge (and especially BPA) since she and her young family moved to the island.
She was born in Seattle, but grew up in Bellevue in the 1950s and ‘60s, which, she noted, was a relatively rural community in those days. After college, she became a legal assistant (a new profession at the time) at a large Seattle firm, and subsequently met her husband, Dave, who was an attorney for the same firm. “For a while, we managed to dodge the firm’s nepotism policy, but by the time I was eight months pregnant, the jig was up and I moved to a different firm.” They settled in the Ballard neighborhood, but by 1987, like so many other Seattle families at that time, they were looking for better schools for their two sons and wanted a more rural lifestyle to raise them in (Kathleen also had the vague notion of living on a farm).
As soon as they were settled on the island, both of Kathleen and Dave’s sons became involved in BPA, where they appeared in several children’s productions, Greasepaint Repertory Company, and later, adult productions. Kathleen began volunteering backstage at BPA for its children’s productions in 1990, and hasn’t left since. “My official job title is now Outreach Coordinator, which involves publicity assistance, grant writing, maintaining the BPA archives, and – my favorite – the occasional dramaturg gig. For me, live theatre is the perfect blend of the creative arts and the humanities.”
Over the years, Kathleen has been the education director for Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, Bainbridge Island Arts Walk coordinator, an Island Theatre board member, and Program Manager for the Bainbridge Island Arts & Humanities Council, where she launched the long-running Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival, and a co-coordinator for Library U, the adult program arm of the Bainbridge Public Library, which sponsors the annual Great Decisions foreign affairs discussion series and other humanities programs. She also spent 15 years working on the housekeeping/room service crew at West Sound Wildlife Shelter and created Poetry Corners in 1999, which is still running strong today. In addition to BPA, Kathleen is on the Bainbridge Island Poet Laureate steering committee, and is a grant writer for Island Volunteer Caregivers.
The list of Kathleen’s accomplishments benefiting the Bainbridge community far exceeds what’s listed above, and for that, she was deservedly awarded the 2009 Island Treasure Award. “In program after program Kathleen has stimulated us to challenge and reassess our opinions, to put our personal values and concerns into a more balanced perspective, and to examine our history and heritage so we can laugh at our parochialism while cherishing our unique shared biography. Because of her we are better able to address the challenges we face within our community and beyond,” the Island Treasure Award website says of Kathleen.
The Thorne family is extremely thankful for the countless opportunities for community engagement they’ve found on Bainbridge Island. Dave, who is now a retired real estate attorney, was one of the early board members of the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, a past president of the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, and is currently a volunteer for the Bainbridge Island Park & Recreation District Trails Committee. Both of their sons are talented actors, dancers, singers, writers, and musicians thanks to their exposure to those opportunities. John, their oldest, speaks five foreign languages (inspired by his French class at Bainbridge High School) and is now a human rights researcher in Tunisia, and their younger son, Ned, is a film editor in Los Angeles.
“At some point, I wondered if I might in fact have some recessive creativity genes after all. The answer was no,” Kathleen mused. “I tried a dance class, lip-synched in a church choir, took a photography course, and joined a writing group, all for naught. I even took a BPA improv class, but was not encouraged to return. However, I am making progress at learning Spanish through an online app and can now converse with babies and dogs.”
Its Kathleen’s project, Winslow Way Storefront History – Photos – Winslow Way from 1910 to Today! that recently caught my eye. It all started in 2011, when Dana Berg, the long-time owner of Dana’s Showhouse in Winslow (who passed away in 2015) and Kathleen were on the board of the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association. “We had both noticed how, when our respective offspring would come home from college or wherever, the first thing they would comment on, usually with outrage, was that one of their favorite downtown haunts, like Fortner Books or the Discoveries Downstairs comic shop, had vanished,” she explained. “It also seemed, as we ‘aged in place’ here on Bainbridge, that our conversations at social events often turned to reminiscences about now-departed Winslow Way stores and businesses. (‘Where was the Lemon Tree Restaurant?’) So, we got this idea of creating an archive of the stores and businesses along Winslow Way.”
They collected downtown walking guides going back to 1986 from the Downtown Association, hunted through the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum photographic archives, and pestered Winslow old timers. “My husband and I spent an entire day in the Washington State Assessor’s office in Bellevue scanning old photos from its files. We set up a rudimentary website, and the Winslow Way Storefront History project was up and running!”
Kathleen routinely photographs storefronts every year or so (often while on a BPA poster run) and tries to tie the new businesses to their historic addresses. “But there are still plenty of gaps, especially during the decades before we moved here, that I’m hoping others can help fill in.”
She also noted, “As downtowns across the United States become more homogenized with strip malls, big box stores, and franchises, an eclectic main street like Winslow Way is more and more important to those of us who grew up and live here. Those historic addresses have lots of stories to share.”
Kathleen encourages you to visit the website (click here), and help them “develop a family tree of the many storefronts that have graced Winslow Way throughout its history. With support from the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association, the Bainbridge Island Historical Society, and the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce, we’re hoping to create an archive of the restaurants, stores, and businesses that set up shop on Winslow Way from around 1910, when some of the earliest buildings were constructed, to the present.”
The project starts with the north and south sides of Winslow Way E. from Winslow Green to Highway 305. The website provides detailed instructions on how residents (past and present) can contribute photographs and information, and includes partially completed inventories and maps of the existing buildings. They also encourage you to supply as many details as you can recall, “business or store names, dates, addresses, owners and staff, anecdotes and memories.”
“I can’t imagine anywhere other than Bainbridge where I could have risen to the stature of an Island Treasure, and am grateful that, in my left-brained way, I can support our incredible arts and humanities community. As I confessed at my 2009 Island Treasure swearing-in ceremony, if we had stayed in Ballard, I’d probably still be trying to win the annual lutefisk eating contest,” Kathleen shared. When she’s not busy with BPA and her other volunteer projects, she continues to work part-time as a legal assistant for a local Winslow attorney, and belongs to three island book clubs, as well as participating in the Bainbridge Striders walking group.
In parting, Kathleen shared a bit of trivia, “Here’s a Winslow Way Storefront History trivia question: Which Winslow Way storefront has been at the same address the longest? Lots of long-time stores, like Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, EHBC, and Esthers, jumped around. Most people guess T&C or, until recently, Winslow Drugs. But the trophy goes to the Christian Science Reading Room, which has been at 295 Winslow Way E. since 1956! (The runner up, T&C, showed up in 1957.)”
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