Head of special needs PTA down but not out

In May, we wrote about Zac Stephenson, the South Kitsap woman who started a PTA for parents of children with special needs.

Called SODA PTSA for “Support of Different Abilities,” the stand-alone, parent-teacher-student association, not affiliated with a single school, is chartered by the state PTA and is open to parents from all districts in Kitsap County. Stephenson wants to fills a niche for families like hers, whose special needs and interests aren’t always high on the radar of regular PTAs.
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Stephenson and her spouse Harmony have three children, Auri, 11, Toby, 4, and Sam 8, who has autism. Stephenson, a volunteer at Sam’s school Hidden Creek Elementary, wants to build a playground that children like Sam can enjoy. He prefers playing by himself, spinning and the feel of different textures.

In the midst of trying to get SODA off the ground, Zac and Harmony have had a rocky time that just got rockier.

Harmony since January has been receiving diagnosis and treatment of what turned out to be a chronic illness that affected her digestive tract. Harmony, the lone breadwinner of the family is not able to work at this time.

Zac, a stay-at-home-mom, has not been able to work for some time due to multiple health problems, including a work-related back and neck injury. Both women have had surgeries since January. There’s medication and therapy appointments for Sam. Toby, too, appears to have some form of disability, which his parents are sorting out.

On top of mounting medical bills, there was a fire last spring, started by the family’s Springer spaniel who knocked over a heat lamp trying to get at some baby chicks. And most recently, the couple has had car problems.

“It seems like we just keep circling the drain,” Harmony said.
Zac
On Aug. 20, Zac was trying to siphon gas out of one vehicle, which is not working, into another, which is. She used an electric pump that she didn’t know had a bare wire, and there was an explosion that set her on fire. Zac’s face was badly burned, and although she’s feeling better now, for some time she was crazed with pain.

In that state, she left the house of a friend on foot, and when the friend couldn’t immediately find her the alarm went out on Facebook that Zac was missing. “Apparently, I owe people in Port Orchard an apology,” Zac said. “It just kind of escalated. I wasn’t running away. It wasn’t anything that was planned. I was just in so much pain. Things had been really, really rough.”

Earlier this week, Zac said she is feeling better. Her face is healing, and the pain is manageable. The family is doing OK for food, between the food bank and public assistance. Harmony is applying for disability assistance, which will help right the ship. The family lives frugally — no cable for example — so they don’t need much to live on. But transportation remains a problem. The van is OK, but their truck needs work and the car is dead.

With everything going on SODA PTSA has been pushed to the back burner, but it’s not dead by a long shot, Zac said.

“The PTA is still in place,” she said. “I had talked to Harmony about stepping down because we have so much to deal with.”

On second thought, however, she will continue to head up the organization and still hopes to see its efforts toward fully accessible playgrounds spread to other schools and other districts.

If anyone wants to help with fundraising and seeking sponsorships, Zac would welcome it, but the best thing anyone could do is join SODA PTSA for $15 a year, she said.

For information on SODA PTSA or to join, contact Stephenson at 509-378-6263 or go to https://www.facebook.com/sodaptsa.

To learn about forming your own special needs PTSA, contact your Washington State PTA regional director at www.wastatepta.org. Region 1 covers Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties and includes North Mason School District.

SK’s turf field of dreams to open Friday

Football season kicks off tomorrow at South Kitsap High School with a new coach and a new turf field.

The Wolves play Central Kitsap, guided by coach Gavin Kralik, who is profiled in the Kitsap Sun’s football tab, Kickoff, 2015. The special section gives highlights on how this year’s season is shaping up throughout Kitsap and North Mason counties.
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Before the game, district officials will host a dedication of the new, high tech turf field and track that were built thanks to donations of more than $500,000 from Kitsap Bank and $150,000 from author Debbie Macomber and family.

Joe Knowles won’t lose his spot of honor at the school, where people will refer to “Joe Knowles Field at Kitsap Bank Stadium.” The track will be named in honor of the late Dale Macomber, son of Debbie and Wayne Macomber.

“What an opportunity we have — this team of incredible, generous and innovative individuals has come together and forged a partnership that will change this community and inspire its young people for generations to come. What we are doing is truly special,” said Superintendent Michelle Reid.

Central Kitsap High School also has a new turf field, or rather a resurfacing of its turf. North Mason will get a turf field next year, leaving Bremerton the last district waiting in the wings.

Congrats South on your new field. Go Wolves!

Port Orchard, hauntings and such

I learned a lot about Port Orchard when I was working on our coverage advancing the city’s 125th anniversary celebration on Saturday.

See a listing of anniversary events planned for Saturday, by clicking here.

Back to my story research, I thought I knew the closest mayoral race in the town’s history. See if you know by taking our trivia quiz. I’ll give you a hint, it was not the 2011 race between then-incumbent Lary Coppola and now-incumbent Tim Matthes.

I also was amazed to find how many buildings in the city, especially in the downtown core, date to the first half of the 20th Century. PO125_9According to a map of historic buildings on the city of Port Orchard’s website, quite a number are from the ’oughts, ’teens and ’20s, and there’s even a few from the late 1800s. You can find out more about Port Orchard’s historic buildings at the Sidney Museum and Arts Association, which hosted its annual historic homes tour in July.

SMMA’s own building at the corner of Prospect and Sidney is an old Masonic hall dating to 1908, listed on the Washington Heritage Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

Given the age of the architecture, it’s small wonder talk of ghosts bubbles up around the town. Rumor has it the Old Central Hotel building, now the Olde Central Antique Mall, is haunted.

Another restless spirit is reputed to live in the yard abutting Prospect Street that is part of the Olympic Bike & Skate property owned by Fred Karakas. According to local historian Bryan Petro, the property was homesteaded by a man named Campbell who married a Native American woman. When she and their two boys died of a fever, Campbell is said to have buried them on the homestead.

“That’s why nothing is built there,” Petro said. “We’ve been told that’s haunted. It’s probably by her.”

Karakas says the burial was on the property of the building next door, which he also owns. The building once housed a tarot card reader who got strong vibes from the place, Karakas said.

Well, isn’t that the way with history? There are sometimes multiple versions of a story. Karakas and Petro also disagree on the origin of the name “Fathoms ‘O Fun,” the organization that has hosted Port Orchard’s summer parade and Fourth of July fireworks show since the late 1960s.

According to Petro, 56, city leaders decided to ax the Days of ’49, a Wild West themed annual festival involving much boozing and debauchery. mockhangingThe festival was supposed the hearken back to the city’s rough and tumble logging days. Mock shoot-outs, stage scenery jails and pretend hangings on Bay Street were a few of the reasons the city curbed its enthusiasm in favor of a tamer summer celebration initially called Sunfest (or Sun Fest). Petro says that name was claimed by another community, and “Fathoms ‘O Fun” was the replacement.

Karakas, in his 70s, said he arrived in town shortly after the Days of ’49 ended. But the festival died an unwilling death, according to Karakas. The wild and crazy times lived on, if diminished, in the Dinghy Derby race, which involved fake cannon shots and again, considerable boozing, according to Karakas. The dinghy races were part of Sunfair (or Sun Fair) Karakas concedes, but as to the origin of Fathoms, it came from a Sunfair T-shirt, a motto of the year. The following year, there were leftover T-shirts, and the organizing committee, of which Karakas was part, just taped over the year and used them again. (This is very much Karakas’ modus operandi). Thus Fathoms ‘O Fun became ingrained in Port Orchard’s memory bank and history.

One other little piece of trivia from the odds and ends bin, do you know which downtown business operates in a building that used to house a brothel upstairs? Find the answer, and test your knowledge of Port Orchard’s legend and lore against the folks in this video.

See a timeline of Port Orchard’s history by clicking here.

Port Orchard’s longest-sitting public servant

If people taking our Port Orchard trivia quiz had trouble with the question on who was the longest-sitting public servant in city government, it’s understandable. The city’s had quite a few in recent years.

The trivia quiz, online now at www.kitsapsun.com, is part of our coverage of Port Orchard’s 125th anniversary. The city and community have a big celebration planned for Sept. 5. Check the Kitsap Sun on Sunday for a look back at Port Orchard’s history (it will help you on the trivia quiz) and a look forward at the celebration.

Now, to the question at hand.

Q: Who was Port Orchard’s longest sitting public official?
A. Carolyn Powers, city councilwoman
B. Leslie J. Weatherill, mayor
C. John Clauson, councilman
D. Bob Geiger, councilman

If you said, Bob Geiger, you’re correct.
PO125_geiger
Geiger, who served 45 years on the city council, was not only Port Orchard’s longest serving public official but the State of Washington’s when, in December, 2007, the mayor and council honored him for his service. Geiger had announced he would not seek another term.

Carolyn Powers, was appointed to the city council in 1987 to fill an unexpired term and served 26 years on the council before retiring at the end of 2013. She also served a term in the State House of Representatives.

Leslie J. Weatherill was Port Orchard’s longest serving mayor, holding the office from December 1983 through December 2003.

John Clauson, running for re-election this year, has served on the council since 1983, 32 years.

Happy birthday, Port Orchard!

In fire country “the drill” getting familiar but old

Over the weekend, I called to check on my cousin Diana Hottell and her husband Bill, who live in Twisp.

Diana and Bill, longtime Twisp residents, knew one of the three firefighters killed last week while battling the Twisp River Fire. Tom Zbyszewski (pronounced be-SHEF-ski), 20, of nearby Carlton, loved drama, had been a lifeguard at the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp and was about to head back for his junior year at Whitman College in Walla Walla.

The Hottells, who we’ve visited on a number of occasions, live in a charming older home on the Twisp River. We’ve enjoyed their hospitality, Diana’s cooking and sleeping in the cabin on the river that they built for the purpose of having some peace when guests descend, as they do when you live in a place like Twisp. We’ve attended their performances at the Antlers Saloon, where in the past Bill has played ragtime piano and Diana, the banjo, self-taught. Bill is a former Jesuit priest and also was with the Marine Corps for what that’s worth.

Bordered by a large field, their home was spared. They know three people who lost their homes in the fire, however. And when they went up the canyon to check on a friend’s vacation cabin, they found it burned to the ground. Strangely, the fire didn’t jump the river, Diana said.

In the decades the Hottells have lived in Twisp, the last two fire seasons have been the worst they’ve seen.

“It’s apocalyptic,” Diana said. “Last summer was unprecedented … until this summer.”

A firefighting helicopter flies past a dark red sun and through a deep haze that blanketed the Okanogan Valley Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Tonasket, Wash. Out-of-control blazes in north-central Washington have destroyed buildings, but the situation is so chaotic that authorities have "no idea" how many homes may have been lost. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The U.S. is in the midst of one of its worst fire seasons on record, according to an article Monday in the Associated Press. About 11,600 square miles have burned so far.
Brandon Gardner, a firefighter with Snohomish County Fire District 7, pulls a water hose into position while helping prevent a wildfire from spreading to a nearby homeowner's property near Okanogan, Wash., on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (Ian Terry /The Herald via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT (Ian Terry /The Herald via AP)

In case you didn’t notice, over the weekend, Kitsap County was blanketed by a haze of rank smelling smoke from fires around the state. Although this is only the sixth-worst fire season going back to 1960, according to the AP, it’s the most acreage burned by this date in a decade, so fire officials expect the ranking to rise.

Adapting to fire season has become second nature to the residents of Twisp and other Eastern Washington communities.

When the town was evacuated last week, the Hottells knew the drill. Last summer, they piled two cars full, mostly with photo slides and maps from their youthful trips around the world and Bill’s more recent travels as a historical tour guide in the Mediterranean, Europe and the Middle East.

The threat of fire puts into focus the things that really matter Diana said. This year, the list got smaller. Once again, Bill’s slides and their family documents came along, but this time they only filled one car when they went to Spokane to stay with friends.

As other fires burn, the Twisp River Fire is largely contained, according to Diana, and life is returning back to normal, but the haze lingers in the Methow Valley and so does the feeling of being constantly on guard. Bill attended a meeting this weekend at the fire hall hosted by the mayor and other local officials. The meeting was packed. Residents are ready to help each other with proactive clearing of trees and brush around homes or, at a moment’s notice, to put up someone else’s livestock if a fire threatens a property.

The Hottells and others will keep an eye on the wind, tune into local advisories and hone their list of must haves, ready to pack up the car on any given day. In the meantime, they’ll carry on with their daily routines, which include playing ragtime for dances at the local senior center. According to a recent article in the Methow Valley News, the Hottells typically end their performances with the song “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”

Foster homes for puppies needed

We’ve written before about Summit Assistance Dogs, the Anacortes organization, that trains and places assistance dogs with people who have a range of disabilities. Donna Vaquer, a Port Orchard resident, is a volunteer trainer with Summit and an advocate locally for the organization. She and others with the group often take their dogs to local schools.
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We recently heard from Donna that Summit has an urgent need for new foster homes for puppies.

“We will train you and support you as you learn the training techniques,” she said.
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There are both short-term and long-term opportunities available. Long-term placements are usually 7 months, more or less, with breaks for vacations or whatever needs the foster families might have. Short-term placements are respite care for the long-term care givers, such as a weekend, or a week long stint.

How can you say no to these eyes?

mimi
mimi

The only hitch is, after you’ve fallen in love with them, you’ve got to let them go do their job. But there’s training for that, too, and there are multiple benefits.

“Volunteering for Summit is a most rewarding activity and really does change the life of a person with disabilities,” Donna said.

Find out more about the organization at www.summitdogs.org, where you can also find a volunteer application.

Tell us your kindergarten send-off traditions

The first day of kindergarten is an exciting milestone that some families note in creative ways.
One Kitsap family of German descent gives a paper cone filled with gifts to the children when they head off to school for the first time.
Parents of this year’s crop of kindergartners, how will you mark this rite of passage? The Kitsap Sun wants to hear from you and families of past kindergartners for an upcoming story.
Email your tradition, with contact information, to christina.henry@kitsapsun.com or call (360) 792-9219.

With school starting, what do you want to know?

If you’re like Brian Lewis, the Kitsap Sun’s coding guru, you may have left school supply shopping to the last minute. Well, we’re not exactly to the last minute yet, but getting close.

School starts Sept. 2 for most local districts, except South Kitsap and North Mason, which start on Sept. 9 (after our late Labor Day, Sept. 7).

Brian, a devoted uncle, had the bright idea to make his and your lives easier by compiling all school supply lists on one webpage, along with other relevant links.

As the Kitsap Sun’s education reporter, my theme for the upcoming school year is “here to serve you.” I’d like to focus on providing families with useful, relevant information about local schools, as well as state and national trends in education that affect your kids.

I compile the Kitsap Sun’s education stories (and other education news) on my Facebook page. You can always reach me with your questions or comments on stories by Facebook message (friend me please so messages don’t go in the dreaded “other” folder), by calling (360) 792-9219 or emailing christina.henry@kitsapsun.com.

Some of the topics we covered last year were bullying, state funding for schools, teachers’ pay and the rolling-one day walkouts in which teachers’ protested for higher pay and smaller class sizes.

We also tried something new this year, offering live chats on trending topics, like the one we did on South Kitsap’s plan to bring ninth graders up to the high school.

In the upcoming year, I hope to dig into Common Core and find out how it’s playing out in the classroom, and how (if?) it’s impacting students’ lives and education. We hope to follow up on our series on discipline and equity by looking at the role of paraeducators, who work with students with disabilities. Statistics show these students are disciplined at higher rates that their peers. What’s with that? And I’d like to write about preparing students for college, not just the academics, but equipping them to navigate in this new environment (and — considering how much has been written about helicopter parents these days — being able to let them go).

Anyway, these are just a few of the ideas I have. I hope you’ll contact me with ideas for education stories that would be useful and interesting to you. I can’t promise we’ll get to all of them, but we’ll do our best.

P.S. Yes, I still cover South Kitsap, so stay in touch as well if you live or work in that part of the county.

Chris Henry, Kitsap Sun reporter
chenry@kitsapsun.com
https://www.facebook.com/chrishenryreporter
(360) 792-9219

Local World War II nurse writes about her service

Vida Shapanus watched U.S. planes fly through the night to Normandy, France, for the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944.

She was serving as an American military nurse in the British Isles during World War II. Although there were rumors around the base of a U.S. invasion coming, she didn’t know where the planes had been going at the time.

Vida Shapanus, far right, and friends during their World War II deployment in Wales.
Vida Shapanus, far right, and friends during their World War II deployment in Wales.

Two days after D-Day, Vida started treating soldiers from the invasion who had been stabilized in field hospitals and sent to her base in Wales.

Now, the 93-year-old Poulsbo resident is looking to print a book about her military service experience, including the night of D-Day planes.

Vida is searching for a professional editor, graphic artist and publisher to help finish the book, said her oldest daughter, Joanna Shapanus.

Vida grew up in Fresno, California, where she graduated from nursing school in 1943 before joining the Air Force as a nurse. She has lived in Kitsap County since 1990.

She met her husband Tony Shapanus, who died Oct. 20, 1998, during basic training. They kept in contact through letters as friends during the war and started dating once she returned to the states. They have four children, six grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

She was stationed at a rural base made of portable buildings surrounded by farmland in Wales.

“We had livestock wandering through the hospital grounds,” she said.

Once she ran straight into a cow during a night duty.

“I bumped into something big and solid,” she said. “One end mooed at me.”

No lights were allowed on the base at night and only a small flashlight pointed at your feet could be used to move around, she said.

Vida Shapanus, 93
Vida Shapanus, 93

She spent less than two years in the British Isles before coming back to the states to be discharged in January 1946.

While overseas she saw the wreckage of London from Nazi bombing, and rode a French cruise ship refurbished as a military vessel since it had been left behind when Germany invaded France.

Although she kept in contact with several nursing friends she made during the war, all of them have died.

“There aren’t many of us left anymore,” she said.

So many stories of where we’ve been

Since October I’ve been fortunate to host storytelling events here in Bremerton. Over five months we did three at the Manette Saloon and since March, thanks to a partnership with the Friends of the Kitsap Regional Library Sylvan Way Branch, we’ve been going monthly at the Cloverleaf Sports Bar and Grill. At the bottom of this post I’ve left a few samples of what we’ve heard at the most recent two.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 6.48.21 PMOn Thursday, in addition to hearing great stories around the theme, “The Great Outdoors,” the library will hand out something to prepare you for a special Story Night in October.

Each year the library hosts a monthlong event in October called “One Community, One Book.” The library’s program is designed to get the entire community reading a single book together.

This year’s book is “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” by Bainbridge Island author Jonathan Evison.  In October Story Night will center on the themes found in the book. Over the next couple of months I’ll get a discussion going on those themes over at the Story Night main page under the Events tab, and on the Story Night Facebook page, which you should go “like” right away.

To prepare you for the One Community One Book event, on Thursday the library will hand out one copy of Evison’s book per household at Story Night. The idea is once you read it, pass it along to someone else. It’s a chance for members of the community to bond over a single story. I’m glad we can do our part.

I’m a believer in our stories. I wanted to start Story Night in some part because I wanted to get better at live storytelling. I’m not sure that has happened for me personally, but what has happened is I have managed to get connected to a part of our community I might not have otherwise known. We understand each other better through our stories. We find ourselves more willing to shed our judgment through our stories. We empathize. We don’t always agree, but we see someone we might have discounted as an enemy as a teacher. We relate in ways we didn’t know we could.

And we have fun.

Thursday’s event begins at 7 p.m. Most Story Nights are on the first Thursday of the month, but September’s will be on Sept. 2, the first Wednesday. Even our best storytellers have to cede the room to the Seahawks for a preseason game. The theme that night will be “Offended.”

Want a taste? The first story below was told at our June event by Alison Loris. The theme that night was “Advice,” and Alison told us a story about the advice she received from her former husband Jesse Bernstein, a Seattle poet and performer.

The second recording features two stories on the “Summer or temp jobs” theme from July. Scott Park explains the story behind why he wears long sleeves at work even on the hottest of days. Rosi Farley details the grueling work of laughing for pay.