Kathleen Merryman is retiring after 29 years at The News Tribune.
When she announced her retirement Aug. 4 she promised her readers her last six columns would be about their triumphs. “In them,” she wrote, “you and your friends will show and tell how you took the lost places, the worst times, and made them valuable and beautiful with your work, pressure and, of course, grit.”
Today’s is the last of those columns.
It’s time for your victory lap, South Sounders.
Over the three decades I’ve been observing, you have magnified and multiplied all that is good about our spot on this planet.
You have reclaimed parks, waterways and neighborhoods and demanded that public servants keep up with your standards. You have chosen art, gardens and hard work over blight and fear.
You have done it so beautifully that, 29 years ago, you would not have imagined your accomplishments. Let’s celebrate them, in no particular order, in 29 steps.
1. Every garden on the Hilltop is proof of life reclaimed. Residents who were fed up with crime have organized block watches and the Hilltop Action Coalition, teamed with police and used every law enforcement tactic and trick to bring life, loveliness and food to the streets.
2. Tacoma Police community liaison officers team with people in every Tacoma neighborhood, not to mention code enforcement officers, to drive out crime and blight.
3. That movement is growing into the county. In Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula, residents fed up with abandoned and rotting buildings are working with cops and code enforcement to abate the nuisances.
4. There be dragons, and not just cool lamp post dragons in the Lincoln District. At South 56th Street and Pacific Avenue a green dragon grows out of a hedge and, come December, wears a Santa hat. At East D and 76th streets, a stone serpent presides over the lucky harvest across the street at ...
5. Charlotte’s Blueberry Park. The late Charlotte Valbert made any government that owns blighted land listen to the people. She remembered, located and uncovered a blueberry farm, fought plans to bulldoze it and forced Metropolitan Park District to let volunteers return it to abundance. She built that template with her big boots, clippers, rakes, shovel, and goats.
6. Goats! Herders turn them loose and they turn brambles into fine dining experiences from Swan Creek to Oak Tree Park, from McKinley Park to Billy Goat Hill.
7. The painting of a goat cycling up from Nalley Valley on South M Street, thanks to Tacoma’s mural project, is huffing and puffing and telling that neighborhood’s story. From the Foothills Trail to Fern Hill, civic murals make history fun.
8. So does the Goddess of Commerce. She may not be great art, but what’s not to love about a big bronze babe with derricks for earrings?
9. Cecil Leading Horse stayed drunk as much as he could, and cost us upwards of $2 million over two decades. Sober now and living in a cozy studio apartment, he shows what’s possible when compassion hooks up with sensible social services.
10. Pierce County’s Coalition to End Homelessness brings standards to programs aimed at getting people to a level where they can manage their own lives. Members collaborate, coordinate and are a huge improvement over ineffective programs based on good intentions, or, in some cases, profit.
11. Nativity House reinvented its security and its services to become a good neighbor, and to be an efficient advocate for its guests. It’s in the process of another incarnation, with community backing.
12. Socks. You’ve bought thousands of pairs through The News Tribune’s annual Sock Drive. You’ve invested in moisture-wicking wool. People have feet because of you.
13. People have food because of Mother Earth Farm on eight loaned acres between Orting and Sumner. It’s organic, and not just the food. Volunteers from schools, service clubs and the women’s prison at Purdy work to supply Emergency Food Network with tons of fresh vegetables each growing season.
14. Speaking of growing: Tagro.
15. Speaking of icky stuff morphing into greatness: Zombies. They protect and serve Joint Base Lewis-McChord when it’s faced with haters.
16. Morphing is good. Just trek the Foothills Trail, old train tracks transformed into a healthy hike and bike through East Pierce County, past coke ovens, llamas, buffalo and our old west past.
17. Our Old West’s best artist is painting strong at his heritage center at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. Tell Fred Oldfield I sent you, and, if you are of the cowgirl persuasion, ask for a kiss.
18. At Graham-Kapowsin High School, ask for a caramel latte at Thin Blue Line Espresso in the student store. The $4,500 Simonelli espresso machine was a gift from the family of murdered Lakewood Police Officer Greg Richards. Students learn the barista trade and make money for school programs.
19. Duc Pham turns the bitter into the sweet each spring at The Flower House at 3725 N. Vassault St., visible to all finishers of the Sound to Narrows. It’s the Vietnamese refugee’s thank you to his adopted home.
20. We are good at taking a horrible event, a shameful history, and harvesting beauty from it. McCarver Elementary School students worked with University of Puget Sound Students and Metro Parks Foundation to build gardens, a book nook and giant Ukrainian Easter eggs at Zina’s Park.
21. The surrounding neighborhood is bright and pretty, thanks in part to Paint Tacoma-Pierce Beautiful, which has paired volunteers with low-income, senior or disabled homeowners and transformed more than 2,000 homes throughout the county.
22. Speaking of transformations, who’d have imagined the Thea Foss Waterway? We have an esplanade instead of bad water and rotting buildings.
23. We have Union Station, University of Washington-Tacoma, School of the Arts and Link Light Rail instead of strip clubs.
24. We have the Science and Math Institute, at Point Defiance Park, turning out a steady stream of the geek grads this nation needs to succeed.
25. We have E.T. the walrus. Every city needs a good walrus.
26. We have sharks, too, and all manner of other sea creatures in a zoo and aquarium we voted to pay for, It pays us back with aardvarks in the summer and ZooLights in the winter.
27. We have some of the most beautiful schools around, because we voted to pay for them. Teachers, parents, mentors, volunteers are working to make them some of the most effective schools around, too. We have a way to go.
28. We have Salishan, once a shabby, dangerous place, now a lovely place shared by homeowners and people who live in subsidized housing. It is spurring the redevelopment of the East Side. It is close to crime-free, and every low-income student who lives there has a shot at college.
29. Back to the garden. When Salishan was still awful, multi-national residents grew the most interesting vegetables in town. The garden is growing again.