Catching up on 1960 La Conner graduate Roy Pearmain
January 12, 2022
Stories of kids walking miles to get to and from school rain or shine are the stuff of which legends are made.
But for Roy Pearmain it is a story that is both true and represents the first step in what would be his pursuit of careers from nearly all walks of life.
Since graduating in 1960 as La Conner High School’s student body president, Pearmain has gone on to be a college graduate, public school teacher, aerospace scientist, writer, weather watcher and reporter, firefighter/EMT, civic leader, water system operator and entrepreneur.
And that’s not the entire list.
These days he is the unofficial goodwill ambassador for Artic, Washington, the small, historic Gray’s Harbor County hamlet where Pearmain and wife, Annie, own a “logger’s” tavern that they renovated, and an RV park sporting a wooded nature trail that the couple designed and built.
While very much at home in the timber country of southwest Washington, Pearmain traces his roots to the La Conner area, growing up on a 20-acre livestock farm at Summit Park near the north end of Reservation Road.
La Conner farmer Axel Jenson raised crops, including table beets used for seed, near the Pearmain house. The farm included a barn where cows were milked and hay stored, plus four long chicken houses.
“My parents had been living on Orcas Island, on the family homestead, but moved to Anacortes, where there were doctors and a hospital, to give birth to me,” Pearmain told the Weekly News.
That was 1942. A couple years later they purchased the Summit Park acreage.
“I attended grade school at Fidalgo Elementary for grades one through seven, when the Shell Oil Company built an oil refinery where the school was located,” Pearmain said. “My sister, Anita, chose to attend Anacortes schools and I decided upon La Conner for the eighth grade and high school.
“To catch the school bus to La Conner,” Pearmain recalled, “I had to walk about seven-tenths of a mile down Stevenson Road to Reservation Road, but I enjoyed being in smaller classes in a smaller school and felt that the 15-minute walk, twice a day, was an interesting part of my life.”
There was much that interested Pearmain once he got to school as well.
“I enjoyed being on the tennis team,” he said. “Mrs. Van Clute was a great English teacher. I liked biology. I found the whole education process stimulating. I was student body president, which was also satisfying.”
More than 60 years later Pearmain remains connected to La Conner by posting on social media photographs from his school years. Included among those have been a series of shots taken of the 1957 ceremony formally dedicating Rainbow Bridge.
“I haven’t posted for a while,” he said, “but I enjoy people’s reactions.”
After graduating from La Conner, Pearmain attended Skagit Valley College for two years before transferring to Western Washington State College (now University) where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education while majoring in biology with an English minor.
Diploma in hand, Pearmain landed a teaching post in Skamania, Washington, about 45 miles northeast of Portland, where he instructed seventh and eighth graders from 1965-1967 and was once featured in a Vancouver Columbian news article.
After those two years in the classroom, he left to work as a test lab supervisor at Heath Tecna Corporation in Kent.
“I liked teaching,” Pearmain said, “but I also enjoyed working in the aerospace test laboratory and it paid much better.”
He spent 13 years at the lab, testing samples of plastic and aluminum products and despite it being what Pearmain termed a “fulfilling” career, he and Annie mutually decided in 1980 it was time for a lifestyle change.
They moved from Renton, where Annie had worked as a purchasing manager for a food company, to Artic – which like La Conner was named for a female town pioneer.
The difference between the two is that while there has long been debate whether La Conner should be spelled with or without a space, there is no argument that “Artic” resulted from a misspelling.
“In 1897,” Pearmain explained, “when Arta Saunders wanted to start a post office, she decided to name her town ‘Arta.’ But when filling out the form, she failed to close up the small ‘a’ and the folks in Washington, D.C. thought she was spelling ‘Artic.’”
That recording error was never corrected.
Upon arrival in Artic, where he and Annie joined a family business, Pearmain launched the first of his many projects – expanding the tavern by building over the original structure.
“My sister was teaching grade school at nearby Brooklyn and decided to buy the Artic Tavern & Grocery,” he recalled. “It needed a lot of work. With a bad foundation and leaking roof, we decided to leave the rat race in the city and help her out. We bought a one-half interest in the tavern and rebuilt it without ever closing down.”
Then came construction of the Pearmains’ Artic home and development of the 20-unit RV Park and nature trail.
“It’s not rocket science,” Pearmain, who often consulted a do-it-yourself carpentry handbook, said at the time. “That’s what I did for the (Heath Tecna) corporation.”
Not long after moving to Artic, Pearmain was asked to join the community’s volunteer fire department. To do so, the former teacher went back to school and trained in both firefighting and emergency medicine.
“Most of our firefighting emergencies were aid calls and I was an EMT,” he said. “The most memorable was an aid call at a neighbor’s restaurant where a customer had a waffle stuck in his windpipe. I arrived and the waitress was administering CPR on the customer lying on the floor. I showed her how to do the Heimlich Maneuver on a prostrate patient and he coughed and his eyes opened up.”
Now retired, the Pearmains have turned over day-to-day operations of their businesses to their sons. Roy Pearmain is still president of the Artic Community Association but retired from several other ventures.
The Gray’s Harbor Historical Seaport Association is one. There Pearmain met and befriended skipper Les Bolten, who in the 1980s moored his wooden tall ship “Sylvia” on the La Conner waterfront.
“It’s definitely a small world,” said Pearmain, who can speak on the subject in a literal as well as figurative sense.
He and Annie have traveled extensively, including a trip to Europe. Pearmain has highlighted many of those adventures in a monthly newsletter entitled “Ambling With Annie.”
“I’ve been writing ‘Ambling’ for years now and get a kick out of it,” he said.
It is fitting that Pearmain now finds himself with a writing gig of his own after having been subject of several news stories, including a 1997 feature in the Aberdeen Daily World that dubbed him Artic’s “Roy of all trades.”
Yet the pathway to that moniker, while bestowed nearly a couple hundred miles away, was certainly cleared here decades ago on Pearmain’s daily treks between home and a La Conner schools bus stop.