Remembering Mike Wallace | Kingston Strand

The “Kingston Strand” is a new column brought to you by the Kingston Historical Society. Twisted together from the past to the present, it forms a part of the complex whole of the community. To have your recollections included, contact the society at kingston wahistory@gmail.com.

A few months after moving to Kingston I asked my neighbor, “Who is Mike Wallace?” My neighbor replied derisively, “Damn. Don’t you know who Mike Wallace is? How long you lived here anyway?”

As fate would have it, I would never meet this colorful figure who had a penchant for outdoing himself.

Mike Wallace Memorial Park was named for this beloved community figure in 1992, on land adjacent to the Port of Kingston Marina.

Attempts to learn about Wallace led to several locals who knew him well. One was Bob Lee, who vividly recalls their first encounter.

“I met him on St. Patrick’s Day in 1980,” Lee said. “I went into town for a drink. Next thing I know, I was enlisted into an impromptu parade, led by Mike, down the middle of town. We ended up followed by some Kingston lumber trucks, an old ambulance and a fire truck.”

Wallace refinished bathtubs for a spell and he was good at it. But his liquor store paid better and he was really good at that since he knew just about everyone in Kingston — as pals at the bar by night, and customers of his store by day.

In another Pied Piper event, Wallace convinced his merrymakers to strap outboard motors onto old tubs — leftover stock — to create the Fourth of July bathtub races. He contributed mightily to the fireworks spectacle as well and was persuasive in convincing others to volunteer in all sorts of ways.

Later, Wallace and Lee, with Cy Wyse, expanded their civic interest to local children. With sponsorship from Poulsbo, they formed the Kingston Kiwanis Club.

Through their work, a Builders Club began at Kingston Middle School. And “Tiny Town” was established as part of the Kingston Fourth of July celebrations.

Rev. Duane Sabin, observed, “Mike had his seat in the sun outside his store and was in the center of everything. He was active in the Chamber of Commerce, a past commodore of the yacht club, and was named Kingston’s Person of the Year [in] ’86.”

Sabin said Wallace was a great resource; he knew before anyone else who needed help.

Pete DeBoer offered a memory of his own.

“Because of his prosthetic legs and his disposition, Mike would sometimes fall down in the back of his store and lie there until someone came in. Then he would bang his walking canes on the floor and yell, ‘If you help me get up, I’ll sell you a bottle of whiskey at a fair price.’ ”

Laughing, Lee said, “He was a great guy but also crotchety.” Sabin added, “He was always happy, but Mike did things his way.”

Wallace’s end began with a fall outside Smiley’s Hotel in December 1990. This time, Lee found Wallace lying in the snow-covered road.

“He hurt his hip and never recovered,” Lee said. “Mike, having diabetes, avoided doctors because they always told him not to drink. But it was the Tylenol that killed him, not the booze. It destroyed his kidneys.”

Wallace ended up in a Seattle care facility. When Lee visited without bringing a bottle, Wallace would throw a pillow at him. But he would calm down as they watched the Sonics play basketball on TV.

Lee still wonders if he should’ve brought Wallace a drink on his last visit.

“Maybe I should have just given him what he wanted … but I’m glad we could spend our last time together watching our Sonics in the playoffs,” he recalled.

Only 54 years old, Wallace died on May 9, 1991. Lee remembers him as a friend to all, who taught people to listen to the needs of others.

So, tip your cap (or your cup) to him next time you visit Mike Wallace Memorial Park.

— Dane Sundberg is a member of the Kingston Historical Society. Contact him at danesund@comcast.net.