Late-blooming romance unites Rhody royalty couple

PORT TOWNSEND — When Dick Stickney called his sister from the Honolulu airport in July of 1975, he didn’t dream that the phone call would change the course of his life.

The call, letting her know he was back in the United States, led to an invitation to visit her in Port Townsend. And that led to an invitation to a picnic in Port Hadlock where he met Eleanor.

“I remember what she was wearing, a T-shirt with a “10” on it,” Dick said.

“We played horse shoes and she beat me.”

Dick and Eleanor Stickney still celebrate July 13, the day they met at a picnic.

The couple — selected as the 2009 Rhododendron Festival Senior Royalty for the festival set May 11-17 in Port Townsend — married four years later, in a late-blooming romance that has many roots in Jefferson County.

“We got married in Judge Grady’s office on New Year’s Eve,” Eleanor said. “Then we went down to the Hadlock House and had a big dinner.”

Hometowns

Born in Forks, Eleanor has lived in Port Townsend since 1941, when her father, Floyd Imislund, took a job at the Crown Zellerbach Mill.

Before that, the family moved wherever her father, a logger, found work. Eleanor attended six schools in first grade, she said.

She was in sixth grade when the family settled in Port Townsend and her father became involved in the Rhododendron Festival.

“He was the float man,” Eleanor said. “He built the floats the mill put in the Rhody parade. We have pictures of all of them.”

Dick was born in Yakima and grew up in the small town of Gleed, where his mother owned Jo’s Café and his father was an auto mechanic.

He attended first through fifth grade all in the same classroom in Gleed. After his father died and his mother remarried, he attended five different schools in five years.

“By 11th grade, we were up in Tacoma,” he said. “I never had any friends.”

Dick joined the Navy and was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, then took a job at an Army missile test site in the Marshall Islands.

He was traveling back to the States on the Fourth of July weekend in 1975, headed for Los Angeles, when he called his sister, Roberta Davidson.

Where is it?

When she asked him to visit her and her husband, Bob, in Port Townsend, he responded, “Where the heck is that?”

“She told me to fly into Sea-Tac [Seattle-Tacoma International Airport], rent a car and get a map,” Dick said.

While here, he attended the picnic at the home of Sheila and Larry Williamson, who had also invited Eleanor because they had “someone we want you to meet.”

Despite misgivings, she went. When the Davidsons and the Williamsons left them alone to go get more refreshments, Dick and Eleanor waited for a while, then decided to go out for a drink.

When plans for living in married housing on the Army site fell through, the couple got married and settled in Port Townsend, where Dick got a job at the mill.

Eleanor had worked for Judge John Doubeck Grady, who performed the wedding, and also at the Port Townsend Police Department.

She also was a bookkeeper for the Jefferson County Public Works department, putting in 13 years before retiring in 1993.

She is now co-manager of the Port Townsend Senior Center, and a past officer in the Senior Association.

Longtime volunteers

Dick and Eleanor also are long-time volunteers for the Rhody Run, going back to the 1980s when there was a marathon as well as the 7K run. Eleanor also served on the board and handled registration, and they both ran the pre-race for volunteers.

“We’ve got all the T-shirts,” Eleanor said.

A 1949 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Eleanor helped Joan Buhler revive the school’s alumni association, creating a newsletter to keep everyone in touch and holding the annual all-class reunion.

Although the alumni association was once down to $1 and change in its bank account, it now awards six to eight scholarships a year to graduates who are descendants of alumni.

All of Eleanor’s five children graduated from Port Townsend High School, including the youngest — twins Jeanie and Jeanie, in 1977 — and two of her nine grandchildren, Josh Orr and Seth Orr, are graduates.

In addition to Eleanor’s family, Dick has coached hundreds of athletes in the Youth Football program and Little League.

Now the commissioner of the Youth Football program, he also helps coach the younger squads, which have brought home league trophies the past two years.

“I tell the kids the first three rules are have fun, have fun and have fun,” he said. “You’ve got to have fun.”

Eleanor didn’t run for Rhododendron Festival queen when she was in high school. She was too busy being the drum majorette in the school band.

But she is following a family tradition. Her mother, Frieda Imislund, a former City Council member who died last spring at the age of 96, was Senior Rhody queen in 1988.

Senior royalty, who ride in the Rhododendron Festival Grand Parade and other community parades in Jefferson County, are chosen by past seniors who have worn the crowns.

_______

Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter/columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at [email protected]

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