Celebrating 20 Years in Kirkland

Plaza on State Condominium, Kirkland, Washington

Earlier this week the Kirkland City Council issued a formal statement Proclaiming Kirkland as a Safe, Inclusive and Welcoming City for All People.  This wasn't a new policy, but rather an affirmation of the values that have been included in Kirkland decision-making for many years.  It reflected the need many of us have felt to state openly things that are important to life in our communities and it was a reminder to city staff and elected officials to actively seek ways to make these values reflected in the day-to-day lives of our residents and visitors. This proclamation was issued just a few weeks short of the 20th anniversary of the day I became a city resident.  Kirkland felt like home from the day I moved here in February, 1997.  Thinking about the resolution and being present at the council at which it was adopted made me think of the various places I have lived over the years and the journey I took to find this community that I love.

Advocating for Proclamation at City Council meeting

In 1958, when I was ten years old, my parents chose to follow a job opportunity of my father’s and move from Portland, Oregon, where we had all been born and lived all our lives, to Seattle, Washington.  They researched schools in the area and decided that Mercer Island would provide the best education for my brother and me.  We lived temporarily in a Seattle rental house on Capitol Hill while our new home was built.  I arrived at Mercer Crest Elementary School for the last two weeks of 6th Grade.  Unfortunately, I struggled to fit in as the “new kid.”  Getting ready for 7th grade, we found the junior high did not want to put me in their honors classes because they were sure that my all-A grades from Seattle were not comparable to grades from Mercer Island Schools.  My shy mother got up the courage to go to the school and argue my case so I was enrolled in the classes she thought I should be in.  While I always did well academically on Mercer Island and graduated as one of five valedictorians, I never felt like I fit in.  It didn’t help that my one close friend tried to help me by explaining that the other students thought I was an “intellectual snob.”  I never was sure what that meant, but if it meant asking a lot of questions and being interested in math, philosophy and religion more than sports, clothes and parties, then that was probably true then and maybe even now.

As my high school graduation neared I wanted to go far away from Mercer Island and my high school classmates.  I was ready to recreate my life in an environment that I felt was more appreciative of my values and interests.  In particular, I wanted to get away from luxury homes, high income families, private beach clubs and a social scene I could not relate to.  I was very happy with my experiences at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.  It might have been the perfect college for me.  Graduate school at the University of Chicago Law School was a different story.  With its emphasis on corporate business law, private enterprise and capitalism as the answer to every problem of the world, and overwhelmingly white male faculty and classmates, I once again felt out of place.  Anxiety about living on the South Side of Chicago did not help my comfort level.

Having promised my parents I would return to the Seattle area after finishing school, I moved to an apartment on Mercer Island following my graduation.  I took an interest in local politics and ran for city council, despite having little idea how to run a successful political campaign.  There were five candidates initially and I was one of the two finalists, but I lost by a very small number of votes.  Many people congratulated me on doing so well and suggested I try again.  I put my name in for appointment to a city board or commission.  I was turned down for the Planning Commission position I wanted but did get to serve on a garbage task force.

I still didn’t feel I fit in on Mercer Island and was happy to move to the unincorporated South King County community of Federal Way when my husband took a job in Olympia.  This unusual community, which was named for the federal highway that ran through it, embraced me.  I made many friends through a variety of activities and served the community for 13 years as one of two District Court Judges.  Over time, however, I found I needed to move again.  The stress of my job affected my health and I became restless for a change of environment.  Conflicts had also developed regarding issues in the public schools, raising a concern about where my daughter should attend school. 

Street-end mini-park on Kirkland's Lake Washington waterfront.  Seattle in background.

One day I happened to drive through the City of Kirkland, on the shore of Lake Washington, just across the water from Seattle.  I noticed how attractive everything was – the water views, the many waterfront parks, the upkeep of homes and commercial buildings, the flowers and shrubs planted along the roads and the pedestrian-friendly residential and commercial areas.  I thought to myself how lucky the people were who got to live in such a beautiful place.  I also noticed the downtown location of the Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church and a new condominium building two blocks away which still had For Sale signs posted.  As I drove back to Federal Way I continued to think about how lucky those Kirkland residents were to not only live in a beautiful place but to also be so close to Seattle and all the activities that occur there.  I also thought about how wonderful it would be to live so close to a church we would want to attend.  Living in Federal Way we had a long commute to the many activities we participated in at our local UU Church.  Slowly, I began to realize that I could control my own destiny.  Rather than live where my parents wanted me to be or on the commuting route to my husband’s job, I could pick where I wanted to live and make it happen.  The decision was made easier by the fact that my parents had moved from Mercer Island to Redmond and my husband was then working in Seattle.  A few months later, we were the proud owners of one of the last condominium units to sell in our building.  Even twenty years later, it still feels like the perfect place for me to live.  We have had wonderful experiences with the public schools and we have been very pleased with the friends our family members have made in this community.

I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of activities in Kirkland, including eight years of service on the Kirkland Planning Commission, which did a lot to make up for the disappointment I’d experienced on Mercer Island.  Living in Kirkland improved my husband’s commute to work and made it easier for me to be of help to my parents in Redmond. I had finally found the place where I felt I belonged.  I sometimes wondered why  my parents enjoyed living on Mercer Island, at the same time that I was so uncomfortable there.  Then I remembered what my mom had once told me.  Living near her parents and sister in Portland made her  feel like the youngest child and not really her own person.  She said that selecting her own place to live, helping to design her own house and creating her garden from scratch gave her a feeling of independence that she had never had before.  For both my mom and me, selecting our own place to live because it appealed to some inner values we weren’t totally able to articulate was what made all the difference.  I am so glad I finally found my Home.  The recent City Council Proclamation reaffirmed those values and the welcome I have continued to feel in Kirkland.