Photo courtesy of the Town of Eatonville: Not everything in 2020 was negative in Eatonville. The town was able to complete significant road projects, including one on Ranier Avenue South, using Transportation Improvement Board grant funds.
Photo courtesy of the Town of Eatonville: Not everything in 2020 was negative in Eatonville. The town was able to complete significant road projects, including one on Ranier Avenue South, using Transportation Improvement Board grant funds.

As people prepare to say farewell, and in many cases, good riddance to 2020, some Eatonville notables shared a look back at the challenges of the previous year.

Mike Schaub, Eatonville mayor: “The year started out with more than our share of heavy rain and a couple of landslides that impacted the town. There was a large landslide a few miles outside of Eatonville that took place on the Mashell River that took out trees along the river’s edge, caused severe silt and other debris that impacted the town’s water inlet on the river and damaged a couple of the woody debris structures just outside Smallwood Park. The smaller slide took place just off Mashell Avenue where a small section of the hill moved several feet with the excess water moving through the hillside,” Schaub stated. “Like all municipalities throughout Washington and across the United States, the impacts of COVID hit in March. Per the governor’s order, we closed down Town Hall, the visitor center and the community center to the public. With the closure, we had to provide services via the phone or email and could no longer help citizens in person. Certain services are on hold until we open back up to the public, like passport applications or concealed weapon permits. Although we have been able to provide services to the citizens, we would much rather help in person.

“We were able to complete three road projects this year with the help of grants the town received from the state through the Transportation Improvement Board. These projects improved three sections of roads on Rainier Avenue, Penn Avenue and Lynch Street. The first two were a complete removal of the old pavement replaced with a new layer of pavement. The last project was a chip seal project to extend the life of two blocks of road by the high school.

“Working with the Eatonville Chamber of Commerce, we had to cancel the July 3 fireworks show and the July 4 parade. It was such a disappointment not to enjoy what has become a large draw to the town.

The 25th Rod Knockers Car Show had to be canceled. This is another big draw, bringing in 300-400 cars into town for all to see.”

Schaub said there were good things that happened as well, including the town receiving funding opportunities.

“The town received a portion of the CARES Act funding from the state,” Schaub said. “These funds were used to offer small business grants, utility help to residential and commercial customers and the Shop Local program. All the funds utilized for these programs made an impact to our community. The town received money through the state capital budget for improvements to our water treatment plant to add a third filter to our plant along with a clear well to store another 100,000 gallons of treated water. This project started in October and will be completed early next year.

“The final item was the success of the reverse Christmas parade this year. What a great idea to keep the floats in place and have people drive through to view all the sites. It took around an hour and 45 minutes for everyone to drive through the parade.”

Bob Walter, Eatonville Town Council Position 2: “By far, the biggest event of the year was the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on life in our town,” he said. “Most of our events had to be canceled. The American Legion’s Memorial Day services at the cemetery, for example. The Legion still put up crosses and flags at the graves of military veterans (but the public services were canceled). All of the Fourth of July events, including the parade and the amazing July 3 fireworks display that the Chamber of Commerce puts on, as well as what would have been the 49th annual Eatonville Lions Art Festival in August.”

Walter said town groups and clubs adapted to the new social-distancing requirements necessitated by the pandemic in whatever way they could.

“Meetings shifted to the virtual realm for most organizations and, certainly for the first time on a mass scale, in our community,” he said. “The council’s first Zoom meeting was in April. The Historical Society Board’s first one was in September. They will all likely continue this way until people can safely meet in person again.”

Walter expanded his views on the effects of 2020 on the town and the nation.

“I think the pandemic has to be viewed through the lens of the political realm,” he said. “The health crisis, our response to it and our effect on it wouldn’t be the same in a less politically divided era. Normally, a group facing a crisis will naturally band together to surmount it. But the divisiveness is so strong in this time — not just in Eatonville, but everywhere — that it has a profound effect of giving the coronavirus epidemic a lot of oxygen. Recommendations by health experts are viewed with skepticism. One group follows them; another disparages them. Responses are at cross-purposes with no group cohesion.”

But Walter remains hopeful and suggests the town stay true to its motto: “Better Together.”

“I hope the lesson we take from 2020 is that we have to get back to decency, get back to listening to and at least considering others’ viewpoints and working together for the greater good.”

Longtime Eatonville Lions Club member Geneal Palmer joined Walter in lamenting yearly Lions Club events put on hold in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have missed being able to gather for dinners and programs of interest, as well as having to cancel Casino Night, the high school Senior Send Off barbecue, the art festival, the Halloween party and our senior holiday dinner.”

Palmer said she and her fellow Lions have stayed busy helping the community, often in collaboration with other Eatonville agencies.

“We have just made a deal with the Eatonville Family Agency for the Lions Club to match up to $5,000 in community donations,” she said. “We are hoping that by the first weekend in August 2021 we will all have had our vaccinations and be ready to welcome a good crowd for the art festival. We are also hoping to have local students K-12) do peace posters.”

She explained that peace posters is a Lions International project.

“It’s originally for a limited age group, but we wanted to be more inclusive,” Palmer said. “We’ll offer cash prizes for different age groups based on a people’s choice vote among festival attendees. It will be our first time trying it, so we hope for good participation.”

Kirk Heinz, founder and owner of Kirk’s Pharmacy in Eatonville, called 2020 an amazing year.

“It was a good, normal productive year and then COVID hit,” he said. “The hardest thing was making the decision to close the pharmacy doors, but it was the right thing to do to make sure our customers stay healthy. My staff and I spent some time figuring out the best ways to still serve customers using curbside pickup while maintaining the safest conditions for both patients and ourselves. Our staff is very much like our family, and we made decisions together to take the best care of everyone. We are considered kind of a health hub in the area, and it was important to stay present for people who needed us. After awhile, we were able to open the doors again to a limited number of customers, about 25 percent of what used to be normal. The town worked with us on it, loaning us barricades for the parking lot.”

Heinz said he is proud of his staff and their work as they constantly adapt to meet the community’s needs.

He said they are all very excited to begin the administration of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine this week, adding his pharmacy is working closely with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to successfully roll out the new vaccine to people designated “1A,” a group which includes first responders, health care workers and others.

“It’s part of our ‘new normal,’ ” he said. “Whatever normal used to be, I don’t think it will ever be the same again, but my staff stepped up to the front line to help our community. We look forward to providing the vaccine to all who want it in turn.”

Eatonville Family Agency Director Alana Smith said the COVID-19 pandemic hit the food bank particularly hard.

“During this past year with the COVID pandemic, life at the food bank has been severely impacted. Significant increases in people needing food during the first few months was huge, but as increases in food benefits and government Farm-to-Table programs started kicking in, some relief was felt,” she said. “During the first three months of the stay-at-home order, the food bank lost most of its employees and volunteers, as they are of the older generation and at risk and need to stay at home. Due to the lack of work of many people, they were able to volunteer. It is because of these folks that we were able to meet the needs of our clients and get the food out to those in need.”