PORT ANGELES — Chuck Lukey was larger than life, a man with a radio announcer’s voice and a big family. Irene Lukey was 4-foot-11, a tough woman who raised six children while managing the Thunderbird Boat House on Ediz Hook, the business she and Chuck bought in 1961.
The two first met in front of the Lincoln Theater in downtown Port Angeles. Irene drove a coral-pink 1954 Ford Skyliner with a glass roof; she caught the eye of this Coast Guard man on shore leave. They wed in 1955, when Irene was 22 and Chuck 20.
They divorced after 40 years of marriage; we “gave it a go,” Irene quipped.
Chuck moved away to Florida while Irene went to live in Oregon for a while, and then she returned to Port Angeles.
“She wanted to see the mountains, be with the mountains,” her son Michael said.
This September, all of the Lukeys’ children — Charles, Christina, Holly, twins Michael and Mark and the youngest, Becky — were back in town. They were about to hold a memorial service for their father, who had died some months earlier.
Then, on the first Monday of last month, a phone call from Sequim Health & Rehabilitation broke the news of their mother’s passing.
Both parents died after contracting COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. Irene was vaccinated, Michael said, but at age 88, she was unable to mount a strong immune response.
Chuck, who was 85, died two days before he was scheduled to receive his vaccine, said Becky, who shared video calls with her father until his condition worsened.
Michael, who moved back to Port Angeles several years ago to help care for his mother, wishes he could have been by her side during her last hours — but the COVID outbreak at Sequim Health & Rehab precluded that.
“We get down to the end of the road, and Mom dies by herself,” he said.
“It was a nightmare for our family. You think about holding their hand … it wasn’t like that.”
Michael, 56, said he and his siblings are all vaccinated. He railed against people who refuse immunization and spread misinformation about the vaccines.
Unvaccinated people are driving the spread of COVID and endangering vulnerable elders, Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, has said. In recent weeks, multiple deaths have occurred in long-term care centers across the North Olympic Peninsula.
People who aren’t immunized and who become infected with COVID — perhaps at indoor gatherings such as a party or wedding — may have no symptoms. They can transmit the virus, and have done so, in nursing homes across this region and across the country, health officials have said.
“People are saying ‘my body, my choice,’” Michael said.
“How much longer are they going to drag this out, just to prove a point?”
For him, the number of COVID deaths on the Peninsula — which reached 67 this week — is not about data points or politics.
“It has to do with people losing their families, and not in the right way,” Michael said.
He and his brother Mark are deeply saddened by the circumstances of their mother’s death. They received few updates about her condition after she’d contracted COVID — until the call came that she was gone.
“That was the hardest part. They wouldn’t tell us what was going on,” said Mark, who lives in Juneau, Alaska.
A call requesting comment from Sequim Health & Rehabilitation administrator Jerry Noviello on Friday was not returned.
Michael, for his part, said he wants to focus on honoring his parents and not on remaining angry. Irene and Chuck each had their passions in life, and both were versatile people who worked many jobs — and played, with gusto, when they had time.
Irene, whose maiden name was Hansen, was born in Port Townsend on April 21, 1933; her family later moved to Port Angeles, where she, in her bandanna, blouse and poodle skirt, would sit on the roof of her house on Washington Street, watching the high school football games at Civic Field.
Some 40 years later, Chuck, a native of Yonkers, N.Y., had become a radio announcer at KONP, working alongside his friend Scooter Chapman at the Roughriders’ games.
Becky, Mark and Michael emphasize how much — and how hard — Irene worked. She’d go to Mats Mats Bay at 3 a.m. to get bait for the Boathouse’s fishing boats back in Port Angeles.
One evening in 1965, Irene was scrubbing fishing boats, a job she often performed. That same night, she delivered her twin sons.
During the 1970s, Chuck served on the Port Angeles City Council. Since he was colorblind, Becky recalled, her sister Holly was tasked with laying out matching clothes before he went to meetings.
When the Lukeys sold the Boat House, they purchased a commercial fishing boat; while Chuck fished, Irene went to work at Northwestern National Bank in Port Angeles, first as a check proofer and later working her way up to operations manager at the Sequim location.
Both Irene and Chuck reveled in the music of their day. She loved anything with a good beat and kept a collection of 78 rpm records from her youth. He went for swing from the 1940s, and any song that felt festive.
While Chuck was an avid cook, Irene adored her gardens — wherever she lived.
When he taught his children, Chuck made sure they had impeccable manners and spoke “the queen’s English,” as Mark wrote in his father’s obituary.
He believed an individual should “have some class,” no matter what their station in life, he noted.
Irene, Michael recalled, “was a very open-minded gal.” She encouraged her children to pursue what they really wanted in life.
It wasn’t easy, Mark said, to distill his parents’ stories into obituaries.
“They were two people who led extraordinary lives.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]