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Wilbur Fitch, a helpful Valley soul passes away
SNOQUALMIE - Friends and family of Wilbur Fitch may have a hard time remembering a crazy story or amusing anecdote about the quiet man.
But they all remember a strong, silent presence that lent a powerful hand in the lives of Valley residents. Whether it was his role as a volunteer fireman or as family man, Wilbur was one not necessarily pointed out in a crowd, but who's presence was recalled when help was needed.
Those who knew Wilbur have often thought of that presence since he passed away at his home in Snoqualmie on Feb. 2. He was 88.
"He was a great guy," said his wife Evalyn.
Memories of Wilbur Fitch could be bookended by two incidents on the streets of Snoqualmie.
The first was on Silva Avenue, where Wilbur and his wife Evalyn lived since 1949. A young Lee Briggs and his wife moved across the street in 1952 and shortly after their house caught fire. Briggs came home to find the fire out and his wife comforted by Wilbur, who was a volunteer fireman.
"He helped put out the fire and consoled my wife," Briggs said. "He was good man."
The event spurred Briggs to become a fireman as well, and he later become chief of the volunteer department, which was the nexus of civic involvement in Snoqualmie. The department decorated trees at Christmas, ran the town's summer celebration and raised money to build the present fire station on River Street. Since the whole town was involved in the department, getting things done was easy. Briggs said one of the firemen was always a plumber or an electrician, so keeping the department afloat was a community effort.
Wilbur's role in the department was that of medic, a position Briggs and others were glad Wilbur took on. Fitch's knowledge of first aid was a passion that he kept his whole life, and passed on to others.
"I had no trouble putting out a fire, but I couldn't take the blood," Briggs said. "That didn't bother Wilbur, though. It's because of people like Wilbur that we are where we are now."
Both Briggs and Wilbur served more than 30 years in the fire department and spent more than 50 years as neighbors. Briggs watched Wilbur raise his four children, who played with his own four children at the old high school (now the Snoqualmie Valley Public School District's administrative offices) down the street. Wilbur was a supporter of youth athletics and helped organize Little League baseball in the Valley. He took his children to University of Washington football games, where he also served as a medic.
When Wilbur wasn't teaching first aid or volunteering, he held a variety of jobs. He started working at age 14 at the Bookter Bakery in Snoqualmie. He lived with the Bookters and gave the money he earned to his parents, who had moved to the Valley from Eastern Washington. Wilbur would try his hand at auto repair and was even a barber for a time.
Wilbur went on to work for Weyerhaeuser, where he was in charge of safety and worked with the city during inspections.
"He was just fantastic all the way around," said Frank Myers, who served on the City Council and was later appointed mayor of Snoqualmie. "He always had a smile on his face."
Always looking for ways to make the Valley a safer place, Wilbur, who was a commissioner for the hospital district, helped engineer the deal that got Ethan Wade to sell the land needed to build the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital.
"Wilbur was the only person he [Ethan Wade] would deal with," said Evalyn.
Wilbur retired in 1980 at the age of 65, but he remained active as an employee for the Red Cross, teaching first aid classes. He liked to go camping, got interested in opera, bought season tickets for the Village Theater in Issaquah and took his family fishing on a boat that made all of them seasick except for him.
Evalyn said her husband was his happiest at home. During Christmas and during an annual summer celebration, the whole family would come to the house on Silva Avenue. His four children, and eventually their own families, gave Wilbur joy that was expressed in the little things he did as a father.
"He would always have time for the kids," said Wilbur's daughter, LeAnn Myer. "He would leave meetings early so we could watch Red Skelton."
Myer said her father taught her and her siblings a sense of responsibility that stuck with all of them. Wilbur's demeanor not only earned him the respect of his children, but that of other children as well who came to hang out at the Wilbur household.
"He was a good talker and a good listener," Myer said.
Evalyn said her husband's peace of mind is what helped their marriage flourish. While she felt the need to take on the burdens of those around her, Wilbur was a calming presence.
"We never went to bed mad," she said.
Wilbur's ability to keep cool under pressure helped one man just over a year ago. That second event that demonstrated Wilbur's character happened in 2002 at the ceremony Snoqualmie held to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Wilbur and his wife, while walking to the ceremony, were by Railroad Park when they saw a man get out of his car and fall face flat on the ground. Evalyn said the man didn't even put up his hands to break his fall and was out cold.
Wilbur went over to the man and propped his head up. The man started to vomit and Wilbur kept the man stable until paramedics arrived. After that, Wilbur handed the situation over to emergency crews and was on his way. The man lived and his family eventually contacted Wilbur. The man's doctor said he may have died if not for Wilbur helping to stabilize him.
There was no fuss from Wilbur and no jockeying for recognition.
There was just a man looking out for others.
It was a perfect Wilbur Fitch moment.
Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.