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Retsil Veterans home celebrates 100 years

Veterans stand during a ceremony honoring the 100 birthday of the Retsil Veterans Home Monday. - Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo
Veterans stand during a ceremony honoring the 100 birthday of the Retsil Veterans Home Monday.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

Before the Retsil Veterans Home opened on Feb. 22, 1910, men anxious to move in were camped out on the beach along Sinclair Inlet in canvas tents.

Among them was C.D. Rowley, who woke up early and was the first in line, becoming the very first resident of the newly built home.

Unfortunately, two months later, Rowley died and also became the first resident to be buried in the home’s cemetery up Olney Avenue.

Those tidbits and many more facts were shared Tuesday afternoon as the home celebrated its 100th birthday with residents and visitors alike, including former Retsil superintendent Alfie Alvarado-Ramos.

“This place will always hold a special place in my heart,” said Alvarado-Ramos, who is now the deputy director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, and was Retsil’s superintendent from 1997 to 2000.

Another special guest was Mary Jo McDowell-Hicks, who was born at the home 90 years ago.

“I’m not as old at this (home) here, but darn near,” said McDowell-Hicks, whose father, J.E. McDowell, was chief engineer when construction of the home began.

After coming to Retsil from Orting, where the first veterans home was built in 1890, McDowell went on to marry the superintendent’s daughter and serve as chief engineer for 44 years.

Ed Dolle, the home’s director of nursing, said the home might never have been built in Port Orchard if it wasn’t for a determined group of businessmen, including Guy Wetzel of the Port Orchard Independent, J.M. Peterson, the county auditor, and Ed Howe, a businessman.

When Gov. Albert E. Mead signed the Enabling Act to establish the home in 1907, it stipulated that the home overlook the “waters of Puget Sound,” and both Anacortes and Port Orchard were being considered.

However, the Port Orchard trio decided to hold a picnic on the future home site, inviting 150 Grand Army veterans from Seattle and the surrounding area. Once the group saw the site’s view of the mountains and water, and its proximity to Seattle, it was recommended by the selection committee and chosen as Retsil’s home.

Dolle said the town was given its name, Retsil, from the backward spelling of Gov. Ernest Lister, and in the 1960s it received its own zip code.

Dolle said he has met many distinguished veterans during his 25 years at Retsil, including a Vietnam War POW and a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.

Also at the ceremony was Charles May, who said he is the home’s oldest resident at 96, and Chuck and Glenda Bowker, who were married there last July.

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