by Jason Dorsey
My roots are in Redmond. My dad, legendary northwest artist Jack Dorsey, grew up on a fifty-acre farm three miles from downtown Redmond. If you drive south from Redmond on Bel-Red Road, take a right on 40th Street, – which was a gravel road back then – heading west, and drive half a mile up the hill you will be at Microsoft’s East Campus. You will also be at Bert and Emma Dorsey’s fifty-acre farm.
The Fifty Acre Farm
A driveway up a gentle hill led to the rambler on pier blocks that Bert built using salvaged lumber. It didn’t have a proper foundation or indoor plumbing. Near the rambler was a barn. Tall trees surrounded the five cleared acres. Bert, a self-styled “blue collar”, who had logged with his brother Henry in Oregon, slowly cleared the land. He built a ramp to roll logs unto his 1.5 ton flatbed truck. When he was barely tall enough to see out the passenger window, Dad remembers driving with his dad through the backroads with a chained load of logs to a mill in Snohomish, north of the Everett Trestle. During the war years, Bert made enough to buy the farm but not enough to finish the rambler. He worked at welding at the Kirkland shipyard. His eyes damaged by looking at the blue flame of the welders, his next job was with Maury Johnson, a contractor in Bellevue during the housing boom after World War II; this helped as he rummaged lumber from building sites that he worked on, using shiplap and tar paper with partial cedar siding on the outside of the rambler.
Emma was Bert’s second wife. By his first Bert had two daughters, Bernice and Barbara. When his wife moved to California, Bert stayed put. Emma had been married previously also to Charles Bay Sr. Their son named Chuck lived just down the road from the farm. Dad considered Chuck his full brother. Charles and Emma ran Pete’s Place, a tavern on the north west side of Lake Sammamish, just a couple of hundred yards from the Shamrock resort. Like the Shamrock, it was another “resort” that rented boats. Years later Pete’s Place was renamed the Hideaway Tavern.
Dad’s brother Bob was born in 1939. Dad was born at Harborview Hospital, Seattle, on March 12, 1940. His mom would later tell him that he was almost delivered on the Leschi Ferry on the Black Ball Ferry line that ran from Kirkland across Lake Washington to Madison Park.
Bert and Emma were poor but industrious. Emma, who worked as a waitress at the Crab Apple Restaurant in Bellevue, made the small kitchen hum. She picked apples from their trees and made delicious apple pie. Bert worked the farm. Its livestock over the years consisted of one turkey, pigs, three to five head of cattle, and a Jersey milking cow called Pansy from who they got wonderful milk. The boys milked Pansy morning and evening, tying her to a post in the barn. Dad and Bob milked the cow, and chopped, carried and stacked wood for the fire, their only source of heat. Bert used a crosscut saw to cut blocks for firewood burned in the wood furnace that heated the house. Bert dug a well and hit water at 50 feet. Dad remembers using a windlass to crank up the rope that pulled up the bucket filled with water. They used an outhouse for a bathroom. When it snowed, they tied burlap sacks around their shoes. They made it by grit and grind.
Redmond Neighbors, Friends, Fishing and other Adventures
The Dorsey family didn’t stand out. Their neighbors were poor as well. The area from Redmond to Rose Hill was impoverished. Sandy Potts Rose, who used to catch the bus by the gated mansion in Marymoor Park says “We were all poor.” The safety net wasn’t government. It was neighbors helping neighbors. Often when Dad walked home with Bob and Johnny Peterson from Redmond junior high school, Chuck’s friend Tony Jeppeson, who lived across the street from Pete’s Place, gave them a ride. In turn, Dad shared his modest packed lunch with Ralph Emler, one of the poorer boys. Dad remembers the smell of lunch in the cafeteria being so good; but only the rich kids got a hot lunch. Yet rich and poor mingled in Redmond’s public schools, playing dodgeball, capture the flag.
It wasn’t all work. There was fun too. For Bert, Bob and Jack, that fun was fishing on Lake Sammamish Dad remembers it like this: “We fished on Saturdays and Sundays,” Dad recalls. Early in the morning they’d drive to the Shamrock resort, between Cottage Grove and Idlewood. Bert rented a wooden rowboat. He’d pick the one with water in it from a recent rainstorm because that meant the boat was holding water. That was important because Bert didn’t know how to swim. Dad remembers, “There we were: Bob in the stern, me in the bow, and Dad rowing. Dad taught us how to row straight to the north end of the lake where there were pilings and lily pads by keeping his sight on an object in the distance and heading towards an object on the other side of the lake.”
Bert dropped his two home-made anchors, coffee cans filled with cement with iron loop tied with a rope into the water; one from the stern, the other from the bow. Anchored, they fished for perch, trout and summer run cutthroat. Dad remembers there were a lot of perch. They caught sunfish too. On the east side of the lake there was a dock with a little shed at the end of it. Dad remembers fishing in winter time with his dad, baiting their poles then huddling in the shed to get out of the weather while they watched their rods. When a big lake trout hit, the rod bent down. “That was quite exciting,” Dad recalls. His brother Chuck and Chuck’s friend Tony Jeppeson, who lived off West Lake Sammamish, across from Orchard Park, loved fishing together.
When Dad walked home the three miles from Redmond on the Bel Red road, he passed the Marymoor Mansion that had been the home of James W. Clise, a big-time real estate developer and business entrepreneur. James was married to Anna Herr Clise, who was key in the founding of Seattle Children’s Orthopedic Hospital. Clise developed a 440-acre model dairy farm near Lake Sammamish. He built a home there called Willowmoor, which is now Marymoor Park. One of Dad’s best friends and golf partners today is Rich Clise, the great-grandson of James Clise. Just south was Ed Cook’s ninety-six acre farm. The historic barn, built by the original owner, Mr. Tosh, was on the ninety acres of pastureland on the east side of Bel Red Road. Across the road on the hillside, there was the remaining six acres where the farmhouse was located. Ed’s son Ben lived on the hillside next door to his dad. He maintained the farm and cattle after Ed’s passing in 1954. Eventually the ninety acres was sold to King County, the property adjoined Marymoor and extended to Lake Sammamish. A portion of that land is designated to dogs frolicking in the Sammamish river as it flows downstream. Many times our family and dog have enjoyed the off-leash dog park. Dad’s classmate Patsy Cook, who lived near Redmond elementary, would occasionally catch the bus below the farm house with the other Cook children.
Dad remembers the friends that lived nearby. Johnny Peterson lived off West Lake Sammamish Road. Fred Vingie’s house is near where the Buddhist temple is now. Charlie Crimes was down the hill towards the lake. Harry Siepmann lived south on Bell-Red Road. Ralph Chandler’s home was across from the Dorsey farm down a gravel road off 40th street. Frankie Little lived on that same road, but closer to the Stevens Chicken Farm. Ron and David Fry lived next to the chicken farm. The boys had lots of adventures and few misdeeds. Dad remembers when someone stole a chicken from Stevens Chicken Farm. They went into the canyon past Frankie Little’s house and cooked it. One fall day it was snowing. Dad and a friend decided to go duck hunting though neither had a license. They rented a rowboat and Dad shot his first and last duck with a twenty-gauge shotgun. They never did find it. All of Dad’s friends were a short bike ride away. When he was fourteen, Dad and his friend Johnny Peterson peddled their bikes from Redmond to North Bend on what is now I-90.
Redmond Elementary and Junior High, Lake Washington High School
Dad attended Redmond Elementary. At Redmond Junior High he was the art editor on the staff for the annual, doing all the lettering and ads by hand. When the editor of the annual looked into the “crystal ball” he foresaw that “Jack Dorsey has become a famous commercial artist.” Dad’s artistic talent was nurtured by Miss Cederstrom in the seventh grade, Mr. Goetschius in the eight grade, and Mr. Greer at Lake Washington High School, all gifted instructors. In the eighth grade, Dad had an art piece selected for the Scholastic art contest. Dad liked art, but he loved sports. He ran track and played basketball at Redmond Junior High and played baseball Lake Washington High School.
Life for Dad wasn’t all fun and games, friends and fishing, art and baseball. Emma was an alcoholic. Dad remembers waiting in the car for his mom outside of the bar in Redmond. He could tell if she was drunk by the look on her face. His family’s move from Redmond was hard for him too. In 1956, when Dad was sixteen, Bert sold the farm and the Dorsey family moved to a ranch near Plain, Washington. Dad stayed with Pedro Anderson, family friends who lived in Redmond, to complete his junior year at Lake Washington.
Dorsey Family Moves
The Dorsey family moved. The Bay family stayed in Redmond. Dad’s brother Chuck attended Lake Washington High School and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in forestry. He served in the Navy after World War II, then came back to Redmond. Chuck stumbled upon a beautiful gal named JoAnne, whose dad Ben and mom Emily Stenquist owned Redmond Cleaners, a dry cleaner shop in Redmond. He noticed the young lady working at the store and began to visit on a weekly basis to get his shirts dry cleaned. It worked. In 1953 Chuck and JoAnne married. Chuck worked for lumber companies, first to in Portland where their first child, Bobbie Jo (1954) was born, and then in Missoula where their second, Bryan (1957) was born.
Chuck and JoAnne Bay
Chuck and JoAnne returned to Redmond, where he was a successful salesman for United Lumber, a Seattle based lumber company, who worked on major construction projects. Years later Chuck worked at a cabinet shop owned by Bill Sherman. In Redmond, Becky (1959) and Brad (1962) joined the family, making the Bay family a tribe of six. Chuck and JoAnne and kids in tow were present at Dad and Mom’s wedding on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1966.
The Dorsey and Bay families stayed close. I remember visiting the Bay’s spacious and welcoming home at Christmas time. Uncle Chuck and Aunt JoAnne were very generous in their gift giving. That meant a lot because by that time we were a struggling artist family living on Camano Island, trying to make ends meet. When Dad launched on his full-time art career in 1969, Chuck was very supportive. Over the years he purchased many of Dad’s paintings and encouraged his friends to buy his younger brother’s art. Bill Sherman held an “art party” at his beautiful home in Redmond, invited his well-heeled friends, and bought a painting himself. Chuck came to Stanwood to watch some of my Little League baseball games, and attended an all-star game I played in in Everett. It was hard for Dad to see his strong, successful and supportive brother battle cancer. Chuck passed away June 4, 1986.
My Family’s Move to Redmond
Dad’s roots were in Redmond. But that seemed irrelevant to me until my own family moved to Redmond in August 2015. Here’s how that happened. I was serving as pastor of Redeemer, a large presbyterian church in Indianapolis, IN, when Mom called in January 2015. She told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her diagnosis moved tectonic plates in my heart. I wanted to be closer to Dad and Mom who live on Camano Island to help them in their time of need. My wife, Jenny, agreed. A job came open at Redeemer, a presbyterian church in Redmond, WA. I applied and got the job. Jenny, my son Judah and daughter, Jackie, moved into Riverpark Apartments on the Sammamish River near Luke McRedmond Park. My other sons were in college: Jacob, was a junior at Purdue University. Julian was a freshman at George Mason University.
When we moved to Redmond, my family’s history became relevant. On Sunday, November 8th, 2015, Dad and Mom surprised me by coming to Redeemer Redmond’s worship service. After worship we had lunch together. Dad had an idea of going to visit JoAnn at the apartment she lived at in Kirkland. We made a spontaneous visit. Not only was my cousin Beckie and Aunt JoAnn there, as we had expected, but we were delighted to discover my cousin Bobby Jo was also visiting. Then to our amazement my cousin Brian arrived. It was a mini-family reunion. That afternoon, I heard stories from my Aunt JoAnn about how she and her dad and mom had moved from Seattle to Redmond to run a Dry Cleaning business; how she met Uncle Chuck who had regularly brought one shirt to be cleaned; how they fell in love; how my cousins had grown up in Redmond.
Finally, we said goodbye and headed back to Redmond. We decided to drive to the old downtown of Redmond to see if the dry cleaners was still there. It was. And just a few buildings from it, Dad pointed out the bar where he and Bob had waited in the car for their mom. I had known about this sad part of my dad’s history, but had no idea the bar was just a few blocks where I currently live. Dad drove us by where Uncle Chuck and Aunt JoAnne lived. We drove on 40th street to the farm where Dad grew up. As we drive, Dad says how this friend lived here, and this friend lived on this corner, and how they rode their bikes down the hill to go fishing at Lake Sammamish, and on and on. Finally, we get to old farm site, now Microsoft East Campus. Dad and Mom dropped me off at our apartment, just a couple of miles from where so much of Dad’s life played out.
Not an accident
As I reflect on that day, I am in awe of God’s plan. I don’t think it is an accident that I live in Redmond. I believe God put me in this place where Dad fished, rode his bike, played with his friends, worked with his dad and waited for his mom. I believe God planted me in this place where my Uncle Chuck and Aunt JoAnne lived, worked and raised their family, to serve my congregation and the common good. My new roots in Redmond intertwine with my family’s old roots. This is not a random chance of fate, but the mysterious purpose of God. Why God did this is a mystery. What I’m to do is not. I get to love and serve this place and its people where my family has deep roots.
Bridges of Redmond Project
This is the first article in the Bridges of Redmond series. It tells the stories of people who have lived along the Sammamish River, who love Redmond and who have contributed to the common good of this place. It aims to build bridges between Redmond old-timers and newcomers, the diverse people who call Redmond home, and to encourage a shared respect, love and working together for the flourishing of Redmond. You can learn more about the project here.