April 29, 2022
With the passing of Harriet Bullitt, our greater Leavenworth community lost an iconic citizen. Harriet was a unique treasure! She was a passionate individual who stated her values and what she stood for by practicing them in her daily life. And in doing so, she drew both her admirers and her detractors. I readily admit to being one of her admirers. Harriet was a deeply spiritual person, whether that spirit was the spirit of nature and place, exemplified locally in her love of the Icicle River and its watershed, or the human spirit exemplified in its ability to create and express through the arts, exemplified locally through the Icicle Creek Center for the Arts. Most people will remember Harriet for her passion in those two areas, and the legacy she left that will live on through the Icicle Fund.
I did not know Harriet as well as others who have given tribute to her. My encounters with Harriet were mostly tangential and brief. They came about because of my very close personal friendship with Werner Janssen, who has hired by Harriet to help develop Sleeping Lady and was its first director. (And who wrote a very personal book about his time with Harriet entitled, “Conversations with Harriet Bullitt: The Development of Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat”). For a short time, my encounters with Harriet were more frequent and involved wonderful, lengthy discussions – and a surprise.
In the late 1990s, during the early years of Sleeping Lady, I was the Director of Upper Valley MEND and was trying to start something called a community land trust (CLT) here in Leavenworth. I had stumbled upon this idea of addressing affordable home ownership at a state housing conference as I was exploring options that might work in Leavenworth. I was already seeing what the high cost of land and a rather limited supply was doing to home values in our mountain “island.” As I was fundraising to get the first MEND project off the ground, I called on Harriet to see if she would be willing to make a donation.
She was interested in the idea of affordable home ownership, and asked many questions, such as, “how does it stay affordable?” I explained the leasehold concept – that the leasehold agreement limits how much the home could be sold for, with a yearly increase that was tied to the rise in area incomes. After that first meeting, she made no commitment, but said she would definitely think about it. Later, she asked me to come and answer some other questions, one of them being, “how do you make sure that these homes go to the local workforce?” I explained the process that would ensure this.
Both our meetings about housing ended with us discussing the importance of community. Our conversations wound through housing to many topics, and forced me to think carefully through all the arguments in support of the community land trust model. Harriet was a good steward of her resources, and she was not about to just throw money at something without a careful vetting. I think the example I used that resonated most with her – due to her experience with, and support of, conservation land trusts – was the way the community land trust model was a akin to the conservation land trust model. Just as the conservation land trusts ensure the beauty and diversity of our creative ecosystems are available for future generations, community land trusts ensure that a city’s housing is kept accessible to future generations as well. One holds an area of creation “in trust,” the other holds access to housing “in trust.”
A short time later, as I was preparing to leave on vacation for a week, Harriet called and asked if I could meet with her one more time. I wasn’t about to tell Harriet no, so I made the trip out to Sleeping Lady once more, wondering what questions she still might have about the CLT model.
After a few minutes of chit chat, Harriet pulled out her personal check book. She said, “I am ready to make a donation to help you with that seed money for your first project, and some for your next as well. I only ask two things of you. First, can you please hold this check for a few days as I will need to transfer some money into the account. And second, please don’t make a public announcement of this. I think it is important that we keep our ability to house a diverse workforce, and so I want to support your efforts, but quietly.” And so, with that, she wrote out a check and handed it to me. We had never talked about a specific amount. In my mind, I was hoping for something in the $5,000-$10,000 range. I’m sure my jaw dropped a bit when she handed it to me. I held in my hand a personal check, no bigger than one of my own Cashmere Valley Bank checks, written for $500,000. Now, not only was I holding in my hand more money than I had ever held or even seen up to that time in my life, but I had to find a place in my home to hide it for a week while I was on vacation!
With Harriet’s generous gift, not only did we get our first CLT project, Alpine Heights, off the ground, but we also purchased the land for our second project, Aldea Village and a chunk of what would later be a part of the Meadowlark project. Harriet wanted to do great things, and she did – we all can cite examples that are well-known and very visible. But, I am willing to bet, that there are far more, like the one I am sharing here, that are not so visible – done without fanfare, but just as important and still centered on the values that mattered to her. With Harriet, it wasn’t ultimately about the splash, or the credit, rather, it was about the core values that were supported. Thank you, Harriet, for being consistently you, and for all you did to make all our lives that much better. While you now rest, we know your legacy never will!
City of Leavenworth
700 Highway 2
Leavenworth, WA 98826