Sen. Jan Angel, Republican state senator from the 26th Legislative District who also served as a state representative, is retiring from public service as an elected official when her term ends at the end of next month. Angel also was elected as Kitsap County commissioner in 1999 and served two terms in office. The Independent’s Bob Smith sat down with the state senator and community activist at her Port Orchard home as she recalled her life as a public figure and a “doer” in South Kitsap and Olympia.
PORT ORCHARD — As Jan Angel prepares to close the book on her nearly two-decade-long chapter as an elected official, she can’t help but conclude that her varied and productive journey in serving Kitsap County residents nonetheless began unexpectedly, having been dealt a poor set of cards at certain points of her life.
The Colorado native, who relocated to Alaska in the 1980s prior to making her mark in Kitsap County, has always been a “doer” and an ambitious businesswoman. In the 49th state, Angel quickly became known as “the blonde lady banker” after being recruited there to join the banking industry.
There was little need for her to get her name familiarized, she said.
“I didn’t need a name — I was the only lady banker [in Alaska],” she laughed, also reminiscing of her time working for the bank’s president, Frank Murkowski. He would later become the state’s U.S. senator in Washington, D.C. and then its governor. In fact, she remembers Murkowski’s daughter, Lisa, when the girl was “only up to here,” Angel said, holding her hand to her waist. Lisa Murkowski, of course, is now a U.S. senator for the state.
When Angel learned in 1983 that her husband Bernie Angel would be moving with the Time Saver Groceries company to set up its regional headquarters in Port Orchard, she sent off a letter to the local Chamber of Commerce to find out about the city.
“I knew nothing about the area,” Angel said while recounting the days before the convenience of internet searches. “We came to Port Orchard sight unseen.”
Angel said one of the first things she did when her family made the move to the northwest tip of the Lower 48 was to attend a chamber meeting. And that, she said, was what got her started in a long period of community involvement. Most notably, she said, her first community project as chair of the tourism committee was seeking money to refurbish the old Sidney Hotel.
But unfortunately, the historic hotel burned down, leaving her “devastated.” It’s ironic, she says, that there’s an old photo of the venerable hotel building hanging in her hallway as a reminder of that abbreviated start to her local civic involvement.
After getting established in the community, Angel and her husband began buying business franchises in the area. The couple bought and operated Fantastic Sam’s family hair care shops in Port Orchard, Lakewood, North Tacoma and Silverdale, and for a time had 50 employees working for her. Her husband, himself quite active in the community and a member of the city’s planning committee, ended up handling site selection duties for the franchiser.
But life for the busy couple and their family took a tragic turn when Bernie, who later was posthumously diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, took his own life in 1992. Angel’s career came to a sudden halt — and not necessarily by choice.
“It was a very difficult time for me,” Angel remembered. “I was Chamber of Commerce president that year and people were wonderful to me” after her husband’s death. But that care and understanding didn’t extend to her business landlord back east, she said.
“That was a time when landlords like mine wouldn’t deal with a single woman,” Angel said. “He said to me, ‘I’m going to take your space and it’s going to go to a national company because I’d rather lease to [them] than to a mom-and-pop any day — and you don’t have a ‘pop.’
“This day and age, you could never have said anything like that. For the next few years, I wanted to send him a fax saying, ‘You’re still a jerk.’ I guess what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
With two children in college, the sole provider said she needed a job that would pay her more than six bucks an hour. Angel decided to go into the real estate business as an agent.
With her Port Orchard shop closed, she went to each of the vendors who were owed money and told them they would get a portion of each check she got from her real estate earnings until they were paid in full.
“It was amazing, because one printer in this town said to me, ‘No, I don’t have any amount owing from you.’ Well, he did. So where do you think my first campaign printing went to? He never admitted it, but he knows and I know.”
Her move into the real estate world was a rewarding venture. In her last year as an agent, Angel said she generated $7.5 million in sales on an average sales price of $119,950 per transaction. With a laugh, she said, “Isn’t it amazing what fear can do to you?
”It was really good to me,” Angel said of the real estate business. “I worked hard, but I made the best money I ever had. I loved the industry and in my last year, I got named “Realtor of the Year.”
Her real estate career turned out to be the perfect training ground for the future elected official to learn about land-use issues, wells and septic tanks so prevalent in Kitsap County. But what she saw happening with those issues was concerning to her.
“I started getting upset about it and thinking, ‘this shouldn’t be’ and ‘this should be better.’”
Angel attended a Republican party Christmas celebration when Jim Avery, the county assessor at the time, shared an aside with her: “You should run for office.” She started laughing and Avery countered, “No, you’re electable.”
Weighing his advice, Angel looked at the job description for county commissioner and felt it lined up well with her background in finance and contracts.
“I got a call from some people who said they wanted to talk to me about running for office,” she remembers. “I’m Italian, so I got out the coffee and cookies, but I didn’t really expect more than a couple of people to show up.”
But when the front door rang, Angel was stunned to find enough people to fill her living room, dining room and kitchen area.
“I said to Lynn [her husband Lynn Williams], ‘Oh, my God, let’s go get the folding chairs. They’re serious.’ And that night, one of the guys pulled out a checkbook and said that if I ran, he’d write the first check” for her campaign.
With that crowded meeting at her home, Angel’s political career took root. She successfully ran for county commissioner and took office in 2000. To her knowledge, she was the first Republican elected to the county commission since 1968.