Second book celebrates South Whidbey heroes

— Created October 19, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

There are lots of movies, novels, television shows, comic books and more all about heroes and superheroes. Those heroes exist in the pages of the stories written about them or spring into action on screens large and small. But those are not the everyday, real-life heroes we rely on to come to our aid or help our community. That is a very different kind of hero and something about which South Whidbey residents know quite a lot.

The release of the book “Hometown Heroes, A Celebration of Community Spirit on South Whidbey Island, Volume 2” will be celebrated Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. in the front room of the Bayview Cash Store in Langley. The book features 53 people who were profiled in the “Hometown Heroes” column by Susan Knickerbocker, which ran in the South Whidbey Record newspaper from 1995 to 2020. Cost for the book is $30 and 100 percent of the proceeds will go directly to three local nonprofit groups – the South Whidbey Schools Foundation, Island Senior Resources and Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation (WAIF).

The new book comes in a coffee table size format and contains the original articles and photos, plus illustrations from South Whidbey students. The release party will feature light refreshments, live music by the group Sarungano and master of ceremonies Kevin Lundgren. It is free to attend and those purchasing copies of the book are encouraged to bring a pen, because several of the heroes featured in the book will be in attendance.

“You can have the Hometown Heroes, many of which are going to be there, sign the book for you,” said Lundgren in an online promotion for the book release event. “It’s kind of like a high school yearbook party.”

The heroes included in Volume 2 don’t parade around in superhero costumes. They are part of the fabric of South Whidbey. All of those featured during the 25 years Knickerbocker wrote the profiles were nominated by others. Most had no idea who nominated them. They didn’t seek recognition, and according to Knickerbocker, they had no idea who she would be contacting to share thoughts and comments.

“I couldn’t write the story without other people,” she said. “People love saying things about another person. And that person had no idea who I was quoting or contacting. It was all kind of a surprise. That’s why I feel like I don’t write these alone. It really is a culmination of everybody.”

As one might expect, those heroes Whidbey Weekly contacted about the new book said they were just happy to be included.

“It is inspiring,” said Gail La Vassar, director of Readiness to Learn and one of those featured in Volume 2. “I feel honored to be included and reading all the nice comments people wrote about me is heartwarming.”

“We are humbled and grateful to be included in this community,” said Lenna and David Rose, active community volunteers. “Volunteering has allowed us to meet and work with so many great people in this community. We hope it encourages others, both young and old, to participate in community activities as a volunteer, a mentor, and to be a good neighbor.”

Margaret Andersen was a featured Hometown Hero in 2016.

“In 2016, I was attempting to address our fears…fears that divide us in our families, our community, our faith and even from our friends,” she said. “In six years, it seems that our fears have become stronger and the topic is even more relevant today. I still think it is important to recognize our fears and find the strength to reach outside of our comfortable places. Volunteering and service still does that for me.”

“Personally, I am thrilled and excited to read about all of the wonderful individuals in this community and the impacts that they have had on those around them,” said Bayley Gochanour, who was featured in 2017, while a senior at South Whidbey High School. She is one of those whose profile appears in the new book.

“My grandparents were featured in the original book (Volume 1, released in 2008), so it was always around the house when I was younger, and I remember reading each page and feeling so inspired by all of the incredible things that were being done by so many different people. I think that the ‘Hometown Hero’ book can bring a breath of fresh air and positivity that we all need in our lives!”

Ron Kerrigan was a Hometown Hero back in 2008. At the time, he had adopted 28 dogs and his story led to a later newspaper article about his work with Dogs on Deployment, a national group that finds people who volunteer to board dogs for military personnel while on deployment. Kerrigan said he had concerns about doing the original feature, but was happy with the overall result.

“I was pleased to have been included and hoped it would highlight the need for more people to volunteer at the shelter or in animal rescue in general,” he said in response to an email from Whidbey Weekly. “When Susan [Knickerbocker] came to talk with me, I think I had six or seven dogs and had – up to that point – adopted about 28. As I write this, my most recent adoptee is at my feet, and he is number 62. So in the years since the newspaper article was published, I have taken in 34 more dogs.”

Kerrigan said he will likely be at the book release party Sunday, along with dog number 62, who has separation anxiety.

Books will be available for purchase at the release party, but they can also be purchased at WAIF thrift store Freeland, Senior Thrift, the Island Senior Resources office in Bayview, the Community Center in Langley and at Moonraker Books in Langley. The book can also be ordered online at or at

“All the money goes to a Whidbey Island nonprofit, so it’s for a good cause,” Knickerbocker said.

“I hope that people can find inspiration in at least one person’s story,” Andersen said. “Inspiration can bring hope, which is the first step to opening ourselves to different thinking about our fears. We have a lot of individual work to do to create community that is more loving, supportive and inclusive. There are so many people who inspire me and I hope that our community continues to find ways to share our stories.”