Peggy Sturdivant
Bea Castona in her treasure room.

At Large in Ballard: Queen Bea

Who works in an overstuffed room on the second floor of the NW Senior Center five days a week? Who spends her Saturdays washing and ironing donated linens? Who decides the price on thousands of items per event with the aid of one loyal assistant? That would be Beatrice Castona, the 91 year-old Queen Bea of the Ballard center’s rummage sale.

“I wouldn’t do what she does,” is the phrase I heard over and over as I picked my way through a hallway filled with last minute donations to find Bea Castona. The boxes lining the hallway appeared in the one day off that Bea took to join the NW Senior Center’s casino trip.

“I blew my top when I saw them,” Bea said. With just days to go before the start of the NW Senior Center’s October 14-15 rummage sale the latest donations were yet more items to sort, clean, price and stack. Already there are so many items that some will have to wait for the February sale.

“I don’t know what they’ll do when I quit,” she said. “No one else is willing to take it on. I’d like to train someone but there are no takers.” Even her most steadfast assistant Pat Fleury tells her, ‘When you go, I’m going.’

Bea’s got a bad hip but she’s on her feet all day, Monday through Friday. Almost immediately after each of three rummage sales per year she begins working on the next one. Bea claims she’s going to take off for a whole week this time. Honored as the 2011 Volunteer of the Year, the center would probably confer that annual if they could just keep Bea in charge of the rummage sale forever. And that’s out of 300+ volunteers.

“The rummage sales are what keep this center open,” Bea confided. Given the City of Seattle’s budget cuts and the annual struggle to keep funding for senior services she is not kidding. The rummage sales can put upwards of $17,000 a year in the coffers of the 32nd NW center, keeping the doors open and a vast range of activities happening. With many items priced in the dollar range and not even a single men’s winter coat priced over $15 that is a lot of sales. Bea pronounces the upcoming offerings, “Bigger than ever.”

In her non-rummage sale life Bea raised seven children in the Greenwood house she’s lived in since 1940. Her husband died at age 45 with five children still at home. Bea is grandmother and great-grandmother, “To about 60, with two more on the way.” Even as she prepares for shoppers to flood the rummage sale Bea loves to shop herself. She’s always on the hunt for gifts for all the offspring, and they have the good manners to send her thank you notes.

Bea’s involvement started 15 years ago when she accompanied a member friend on a senior center outing. She quickly realized it would be cheaper if she became a member. Then the woman who had organized the rummage sale died and Bea agreed to take it on. Cast iron doorstops, a salt and pepper shaker revealed as a Lenox after cleaning - the room is stacked from floor to ceiling with objects. Holiday items, kitchen appliances, fishing gear, crystal, linens, belts, shoes, puzzles, clocks, clothes with the original price tags; it’s all there waiting for to be put on display for when the doors open on Friday. Bea will be there wrapping items while her friend Martha, “Does the money part.”

“I wasn’t doing anything at home anyway,” Bea claimed, but she is being too modest. She also makes rhinestone Christmas trees that she mounts on black velvet; they’ve sold for over $100 at the center’s bazaar. Plus she’s in demand. One daughter on Whidbey Island wants her to come live there and has assured her mother there’s a place she could work.

On Wednesday night Bea also stays for the dinner and Bingo. She fell and hit her head once during Bingo. Her friends at the center insisted on calling 9-1-1. Bea says the hospital confirmed that she has a hard head but was very touched by everyone’s concern. “They were so worried,” she said. “Makes you feel good knowing how much people care.”

Bea’s pricing experience actually dates back earlier than her14 years in charge of the rummage sale, all the way back to when she met her future husband, “Over a belt.” It was a conveyer belt at the Hostess Bakery. He was in charge of fruit pies and Bea was putting prices on the cookies.

Sometimes Bea wonders if she has underpriced something a dealer may spot and resell but for the most part there’s no time for second guessing. The goal is to move out as many of the items as possible and then start amassing for the next sale. However Bea underestimates her own worth. To the NW Senior Center she is invaluable.

“I know what I cost my mother,” Bea said. “My birth cost $20 - and my mother got ten days in the hospital.”

That was an excellent investment.

The Ballard NW Senior Center is located at 5429 32nd Ave. NW. The rummage sale runs October 14 (9-4) and October 15 (9-3). The event also features “Ethel’s famous egg salad.”

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