Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Olivia, Filina, Hannah and Joel Niemeyer.

At Large in Ballard: The Delivery

By Peggy Sturdivant

To make a long story short: a Ballard family responded to a column I wrote entitled “Dear Santa” and this led to many good things.

The family enjoyed a delicious pancake breakfast and what seemed excessive appreciation when they told the Ballard Senior Center volunteer collecting funds to ‘keep the change.’

Then it got even better when the mother said on the way out, “Why don’t we collect for the Ballard Senior Center at our Christmas party this year?”

And what happened next became one of the most memorable gifts I’ve had since I started writing this column about a hundred years ago (okay, January 2007, I had to Google it).

The long version dates back to the birth of my blog, At Large in Ballard in 2006. I would get lovely comments and emails from a certain “Joel,” also known as Reader #3 in my ranking system of regular readers. Future husband tied up the Reader #1 title.

Reader #2 supplies me with Krumkake, fresh sage, Early Bird garage sale privileges and story tips. As for Joel, well it turns out that since he is a lifelong Ballardite, childhood student of Mrs. Bertha Davis at Webster, married to a local teacher (Filina, who happens to be a Longmire), and son of the quintessential Ballard couple, Phil and Zita Niemeyer. We’ve managed to find dozens of crossover connections. Which could explain why Zita Niemeyer, former Director of Surgical Services at Ballard Swedish (and 50 year employee) popped in after I had a “procedure” to give me a column idea.

After I wrote about the Ballard Senior Center’s perpetual underfunding Joel posted a link to the column and encouraged others to attend the Santa breakfast on December 7th. That afternoon there was a follow-up to the annual Niemeyer Holiday Open House invite: Instead of collecting non-perishable foods this year we will be collecting for the Ballard Senior Center.

What about the food banks, you might be thinking, unless you knew the party was the same week that Filina Niemeyer organizes the “Fill to Feed” event at North Beach Elementary, collecting donations during safety patrol for Northwest Harvest.

There are so many things I love about the entire family, but that would be an even longer story. They have traditions surrounding the purchase and decorating of their tree. They have a cat named Cutie with an attitude and a dog, Misha that I swear can smile. Their daughters are as beautiful as their mother. Joel treasures the past but can accept change. If they wrote one of those Christmas letters about themselves I would have to hate them. But they’re not that kind of family.

The party started at 5 p.m. and the house filled quickly. Fellow teachers, the accumulation of a lifetime of old and new friends…I gathered the family for one photo before the Open House hit its peak. Despite the Niemeyers giving me the evil eye word spread that I was writing a column about the hosts. Their guests started dishing more than Joel’s chili.

Friends Kate Rappe and Theresa Schulz cornered me in the kitchen, speaking in turn and overlapping. “Joel and Filina are the glue. They do all these things they never talk about.”

“Joel was President of the school PTA,” one said. “Before he had kids at the school.”

“Filina was our girls’ Girl Scout Leader,” Rappe added, “And my daughter was so upset when she learned Joel wasn’t her real uncle, she asked, ‘Can he be my fake uncle?’ They celebrate each other’s birthdays.”

“Did you know that Joel is still involved with Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps Foundation?” Schulz asked me.

“They’re the best,” the women agreed. “So giving.”

Unaware of their friends selling them out, Joel continued to keep food dishes filled and wineglasses washed while Filina commanded everyone’s attention and asked for guests to ‘give it up for the Ballard Senior Center.’

The following morning Joel emailed with a total. “We don’t want to make a production out of this,” he wrote. “Can’t we just drop it off?”

“Think of how happy they were with $10 extra,” I wrote back. “You have to tell them the story. And yes, I do want to be there.”

Which is how it came to pass that on a sunset clear, and after the doors were locked at 4:30 p.m. on the Thursday before Christmas that Reader #1 and I took the Niemeyers up to Director Carlye Teel’s office, knowing she always works late. “I’d like to introduce some friends who were here for the pancake breakfast.”

Joel pulled out a bulky assorted mix of checks and paper money. “It’s a little over $500. I know it’s not much,” he said, probably in reference to the $30,000 deficit in their funding needs.

“I think I’m going to cry,” Carlye said, but when she hugged both Joel and Filina Niemeyer I couldn’t see her face. Seeing it the moment before was enough.

Afterward the four of us stood in front of the Ballard Senior Center on 32nd NW. “That was great,” I said.

“It was because of your column,” Joel said. Told short or long, the sum is a wonderful gift, all around.

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