Jerry Grow left a quieter, simpler Bainbridge Island in as a youngster in 1955.
But his memories conjure images that would be familiar to generations of islanders before and since: attending services at the Congregational Church downtown, marching in the Fourth of July parade, learning to fish from a boat his great-uncle Fred kept on Eagle Harbor.
The latter experiences have proved useful into Grow’s later years, giving him “sea legs” for his travels in retirement.
“My great-uncle would take great delight in running the boat back and forth across the wake behind the ferries, to see if he could get me seasick,” Jerry recalls. “I thank him for that now, because I do a lot of cruising and I never have any problem with seasickness.”
A direct descendent of bonafied island pioneer family, Grow returned to Bainbridge in July as an honored guest at the “Sharing Our History” reception in Grow Community’s new neighborhood hall.
The evening reunited former residents of the old Government Way housing, dignitaries from the American Legion and island’s Japanese American community, and local historians for reminiscence and reflection.
Visitors shared their memories of the berry fields and orchards that once rolled down the hillside toward the harbor, the vibrant scene at the Japanese community hall nearby, and the many families, faces and touchstones of bygone Bainbridge.
While Grow Community’s new neighborhood hall is still under construction, the evening was a chance to unveil colorful display boards that trace area history – from millennia of Native American habitation, through pioneer settlement, to post-war military housing, and into the present – that will be on permanent display inside.
Among the honored guests was Jerry Grow, whose great-grandfather Ambrose homesteaded north of Eagle Harbor in the 1880s. Along with fellow pioneer Riley Hoskinson, Ambrose Grow is credited as one of the founders of the town of Winslow and donated land for the first school.
Jerry Grow’s parents still held 20 acres on the northwest corner of today’s Wyatt Way and Grow Avenue into the 1950s, while his grandfather Walter owned the southeast corner where Grow Community is now being built. His great-uncle Fred resided farther down by the harbor.
The family moved off the island in 1955 when Jerry was 8. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1965, trained in electronics school and went on to maintain fighter jets.
After leaving the service, he parlayed his training into a career in the nascent computer industry repairing big IBM mainframes. As computers got smaller, he went back to school for certification as a network engineer, and worked for many years for the City of Seattle.
He and his family lived up on the Sammamish plateau, another community that was about to be touched by dramatic change.
“At the time we bought, it was still unincorporated King County,” he says. “Then everybody decided it was the place to be, and it really exploded up there.”
Grow retired to Long Beach on the Washington coast in 2005.
He has only been back to Bainbridge a handful of times through the years – once when his father was grand marshal of a centennial parade, again in the 1980s to show his own son the island community their Grow ancestors helped found.
The occasional visits marked a changing island – the loss of the family farmhouse and barn from the old Grow property, the incremental appearance of new homes and neighborhoods as the town his ancestors helped found stretched ever north and west.
He only learned of Grow Community this past February, quite by chance, when he met a couple from Bainbridge while on a cruise to Hawaii. He researched the new planned-solar community on the web and contacted developers Asani out of curiosity, leading to his recent visit.
“We’re so grateful Jerry reached out to us,” says Greg Lotakis, Grow Community project manager. “We’re committed to honoring the history of the land and those who’ve lived here through so many generations. Being able to bring Jerry here to share his stories adds to that continuity, helps connect more fully and vividly with the past.”
While others in the Grow clan could not attend the Sharing Our History event, Jerry Grow has kept them apprised that not only does a Bainbridge street still bear their name, but now a whole neighborhood.
“They’re pleased, and quite surprised,” he said.