A couple of weeks ago, when I was requesting images for the newspaper, I got an email back from Bret Lunsford, who as commonly known, is the current director of the Anacortes museum. But, what many may not know, that I gathered from our interaction, is that he is also the former co-editor of the Seahawk. I asked him if we could do an interview, and to my surprise, he agreed.
I went to the museum on Friday, February 11th. The building was beautiful as ever in the waning sunlight, and daylight poured through the windows as I walked into the dusty nostalgic building dating back to 1909.
The floors were well worn and scratched from millennia of chairs and feet scraping them, digging slight gouges. The ornate interior surrounded us, with century-old columns gracing the sides and skylights painting all of Anacortes’s proud heritage in a rosy light.
We sat in the very center of the main room, with photos from the museum’s recent display of Anacortes’ history of photography, many of the town’s most significant people, including Anne Curtis herself, staring austerely down on us through a century of patina glowing on the corners.
How did you end up joining the Seahawk originally?
That is a good question. Our advisor at the time, Thelma Palmer, taught poetry class and English and was also the newspaper advisor. Some of my friends were in the newspaper before, and she recruited me in my junior year. Said she wanted me to be the editor of the Seahawk. Me, seeing the burden ahead, said, what if me and my buddy Eric Papritz split the role and acted as co-editors to split the ordeal. We thought it would be a fun way to do it, and after that, we got all of our friends involved, and we sort of started figuring it out from there.
How did you Print the newspaper back in the 80s?
So there was a tradition of laying out the newspaper and printing it, and I can show you some of the earlier editions; if you go far enough back in the history of Anacortes high journalism, you’ll find that there used to be a printing press in the school. And they would print it in-house. Also, they had a long-standing tradition of alternating between those independent productions and news pages appearing in the Anacortes American. Thelma, whose maiden name was Jorgenson; she had graduated from Anacortes HIghschool in the early 1940s, about the same time as Wallie Funk, who just happened to be here next to me, the patron saint of the Anacortes Museum. And he was editor of the Anacortes American before he sold it and moved to Oak Harbor and ran the Whidbey news time. Sometime before my time as editor, the newspaper staff would bring in their articles to the staff member who had access to a computer and type up the articles in column width and lay that out onto actual pages that were somewhat transparent and had blue lines. We had a glue machine that would actually glue the paper onto the layout sheet and put the photos on there that we’d halftoned because if you didn’t screen them for print, they’d end up blotchy. Then we would lay it out, sometimes at someone’s house or the school, take it to oak harbor, and it would be printed, a couple hundred copies at a time.
That’s quite a process- What do you remember it being like between friends in the Seahawk?
We followed stories and had good photographers on staff; it was a team effort, to say the least. It was not without controversy. There were many occasions where we needed to cross out something in the articles that would be offensive to somebody, hundreds of copies to avoid backlash, but we made it worthwhile. You were just testing boundaries, you know. You were young, and stakes weren’t high, so we made it a club of exploration. Just a team of kids.
At the conclusion of the year, our advisor recommended we send it into the state newspaper competition. And we actually won, surprising enough.
How did your time in the Seahawk-if it has at all-shaped your life after high school?
I think it shaped in many very profound ways. You know, think about what makes things newsworthy: the community, the school, covering that, and trying to have it be true rather than fictionalized. An example was when we documented marijuana use in a way that was taboo for the time, but we did it in a way that would open up a real on-campus problem of the day. There were new experiences that primed me to take a role in the museum and the community and prize objectivity and truth.
Have you lived in Anacortes your whole life?
Yes, other than college and traveling in my 20s, of course, I have lived and worked and loved this town for what was functionally my whole life.
What has been the largest change in Anacortes since you were my age?
I’d say that it’s definitely much less of a working-class town than it was, and not that there aren’t lots of blue color jobs, but the percentage has changed considerably. There wasn’t as much difference between the school’s janitor and the administrator-at least in the house they lived in and the car they drove, and their salary even. Those disparities are very different now.
Furthermore, Anacortes used to be a town where an average person could graduate from the high school, get a job at a cannery or on a fishing boat or in one of the mills, and you know, afford to rent a house or buy a house. The sense that there was a future for you in the community is diminished.
How do you think Newspapers like us can add value now?
Well, everybody has an authentic voice, and they live in a particular moment, and they believe in what they are building and the conversation they are having together. It’s about what they’re doing, their lives, and what they care about. When you can conjure that sense of “I’m interested in reading this person’s article on this, I’m interested in seeing what their take is on this sports team, or this issue or whatever the story is,” you bring value; maybe even when the conversation turns to the critical dialog, where maybe it’s challenging each other in a collective, collaborative process. I think that collaboration between actual people in close proximity is filled with an energy that humans naturally respond to. And sure, maybe people can pull out their phones and have a distant interaction with their own blurts and other people’s. Still, it’s not the same, and to build something you mutually care about and invest in it, that’s how newspapers-and communities like Anacortes, for that matter-start. So, in short, newspapers such as yours are crucial because it comes down to creating places for dialog that are special to here.
All in all, it was a magical afternoon. There was lots of laughter and great conversation. The Education and Media Curator, Adam Farnsworth, joined to take photos and notes on our conversation and only added to the level of insight. We went through old editions and artifacts of Anacortes’ past. My finger got to grace 60 years of Seahawk editions, as if we were alone in a time capsule, an Edwardian building that’s been here since the beginning, and can’t help but add to the feeling of permanence.
It was as if time had ceased, and all of the past was open wide like Commercial on a Sunday afternoon or perhaps one of the sleepy roads going through the many quiet, charming neighborhoods.
The afternoon felt storied, written into the fiber of Anacortes.
Among mine and Mr Lunsford’s connection across 40 years of Seahawk history, there were yet other connections to Anacortes’ past.
When Lunsford was in high school, he leaned on then Anacortes American owner Wallie Funk to run the Seahawk, the chief editor of his own high school newspaper 40 years before hkm, and iconic piece of anacorte’s history.
As many know, Anne Curtis, the very woman our town is named after, was a journalist.
The Anacortes American has been a permanent installation in our town, operating in the same building since the early 1890s
Journalism is in the very lifeblood of our town; it was mixed into the batch that fertilized the growth of it in the very beginning when we were a gilded-age battalion of seafarers and woodsmen and pioneers, and it’s in the bones now, in the undefinable community of people that are pioneers in a newer sense.
The kind of people that live in a town such as ours because we love it here.
My interview with Bret Lunsford only compounded this very fact. And I am grateful to the museum for all of the time and attention they payed me, as well as all of the advice and colorful stories I got during my visit. It only proved that even though we were one of the last towns founded in westward expansion, and our history is brief compared to the colonial reveries of the east or the golden grain past of the south and midwest, it is colorful and valuable, because it is the fundamental baseline of this place we call home.
The museum’s website is here, for anyone that wants to support our heritage and the continuation of our town’s traditions.