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A spry 103, WWII vet looks back on service
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seabrook / World photo/Don Seabrook 

Ken Gausman celebrates his 103rd birthday at a dinner party at his son Tom's East Wenatchee house Wednesday night.

WENATCHEE — How does it feel to be 103?

“Oh, it feels like I wish I was about 40 years younger and I could go hiking up in the hills and drive and take vacations, but I guess we take what we get,” Ken Gausman said on Wednesday.

Gausman lives in Avamere at Wenatchee, a senior living home, with his wife, Eleanor, 93. Eighty years ago, he was a soldier in the Army’s 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division.

The Nebraska native was drafted into service in February 1941 — 10 months before the U.S. became involved in World War II.

Provided photo 

Ken Gausman

By the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the soldiers of the 35th Infantry were ready to fight, but the decimated Navy wasn’t ready to ship them overseas. Instead, Gausman was stationed along the California coast.

They stayed in camps at city and state parks and built overlapping observation posts to monitor activity on the ocean.

“After Pearl Harbor, there was a little excitement that you might be invaded here,” Gausman said.

He added, “Fortunately, we never saw any action because they never invaded. But they had to have protection.”

Gausman, who’d completed two years of college at the University of Nebraska prior to the military, was sent with a group of soldiers to Ohio State University by the Army to pursue an engineering degree.

“I was surprised when I got called out of the infantry back to school,” Gausman said. “I didn’t know anything about it. My name just came up on a bulletin board: ‘Report in.’ So I did.”

A handful of the 150 or so students were selected to work on the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb.

He was discharged in December 1946 — after four years, 10 months and 21 days of service, he said unprompted — and then returned to Ohio State to complete his degree. The entirety of his enlistment was spent in the U.S.

“I had a fairly fortunate life in the service,” Gausman said. “I believe they almost gave me more than I gave them.”

A job with Bell Telephone brought him to Wenatchee where he met Eleanor Thorndike, a nursing student at Deaconess Hospital, which was Wenatchee’s hospital at the time, after friends set them up on a blind date. They went roller skating. The two married in 1950 and in August celebrated their 71st anniversary.

Together they have four children whom they raised on an apple orchard outside Oroville after Gausman left Bell Telephone.

seabrook / World photo/Don Seabrook 

Eleanor and Ken Gausman hold hands for prayer before their meal Wednesday night.

Gausman celebrated his birthday Wednesday with his family at his son’s home in East Wenatchee. Gausman ate meatloaf with ketchup and a glass of red wine. It was the first time the entire family gathered together since the pandemic began.

“The Lord has blessed me thus far and I don’t know how many more years I’ll have but so far it’s been really good,” Gausman said.

seabrook / World photo/Don Seabrook 

Ken Gausman, 103, married Eleanor 71 years ago last August. She is 93.

Wenatchee's Veterans Day Parade returns Thursday.

A double Christmas miracle: Finding East Wenatchee’s tree
World photo/Sydnee Gonzalez  

Hunter Collins, an East Wenatchee Streets Department employee, decorates the city's 2021 Christmas tree outside city hall on Wednesday. The tree is the city's second this year after the first one broke in half. 

EAST WENATCHEE — It’s not often — or ever, really — that East Wenatchee goes through two Christmas trees in one year.

A two-tree Christmas wasn’t the original plan. But when the first tree broke in half, city employees quickly had to come up with a Plan B.

“I think the first reaction I had was probably, ‘There it goes’ or ‘That’s not good. That’s why we wear hardhats,’” said city employee Aaron Clardy, who has helped with two other Christmas trees. “But it was also, at the same time, a little entertaining that our big Christmas tree just broke — and now what are we going to do?”

Part of the tree’s trunk was rotten, causing it to snap in two mid-air as Columbia Crane, which donates its time to help lift the Christmas trees, was hoisting it over a 4-foot fence. The tree landed between the crane and the truck that would have transported it.

“I’m really glad nobody got hurt and that the tree wasn’t falling on anybody or hurting any property,” said Hunter Collins, a city employee who helped cut down the tree. His first thought after the tree broke was, “‘Where’s the next tree?’ Because I knew we had to get another one.”

And so the search for a replacement tree began. Luckily, the city didn’t have to look too far.

Provided photo 

East Wenatchee employees check out a Christmas tree that broke in half as it was being lifted onto a truck for transportation.

Each year East Wenatchee cuts down a Christmas tree from somewhere in Douglas County. (Chelan County trees, which would require shutting down the Sen. George Sellar or Odabashian bridges to transport them, are off limits.)

Last year, Trina Elmes, the city’s spokeswoman and event planner, received dozens of responses to a call for tree donations.

“We ended up with a lot of trees that we could choose from over the next few years,” she said. “I have probably another 10 trees or so that I never even had a chance to look at last year.”

It was from that pool of responses, all from average residents who happened to have a blue spruce or fir tree in their yard that they wanted to get rid of, that the city was able to pick its replacement Christmas tree.

The city decided to go with a tree from Christine Millett, who donated last year’s tree as a tribute to her late husband, William “Bill” Millett. Elmes said the city had originally planned to return to Millett’s property in 2022 for another tree, making her a logical choice for this year.

“She was more than happy to have us come back out and cut down her tree, which ended up being almost six times the size of the other tree we had,” Elmes said, adding that while the first tree was around 1,600 pounds, the second one is 6,600 pounds at least 30 feet tall. “It’s huge and it’s beautiful.”

The size of the tree proved to be somewhat of a challenge, though. The whole process, from cutting the tree down to installing it at city hall took about five hours. The tree received a special police escort to city hall since it took up two lanes of traffic, and police later had to shut down Ninth Street after the tree wouldn’t fit through the original route.

The tree is so big that the city can’t straighten it completely because it barely fits inside the pre-dug hole it’s in at city hall.

World photo/ Sydnee Gonzalez 

East Wenatchee employee Hunter Collins on Wednesday adjusts lights on the city's 2021 Christmas tree. This is his fourth year assisting with the city's tree. 

“This one, I think by far, was maybe the biggest that we’ve done,” said Clardy, the city employee. “We have an instant tree all of a sudden that looks like it’s been here for 30 years. The whole thing is kind of a cool, once-a-year kind of thing.”

The city finished decorating the tree on Wednesday, complete with a new star on top. But its lights won’t be turned on until the annual Wings ‘N Wishes Christmas Tree Lighting event at 6 p.m. on Dec. 2.

State's COVID trends plateau as other respiratory viruses gain steam

SEATTLE — As COVID-19 trends in Washington state continue to plateau at high levels — with some “mild” decreases — state health officials said Wednesday morning there’s growing concern more patients are becoming sick with other respiratory viruses now that colder weather is nearing.

The state recorded a seven-day coronavirus case rate of 174.2 infections per 100,000 Washingtonians as of the last week of October, the most recent complete data. The rate was down from about 200 cases per 100,000 in mid-October.

COVID hospitalizations also continue to decrease slowly. As of late October, there was a seven-day rate of 9.1 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, down from 10.6 per 100,000 the week before. At this time last year, hospitalization rates were about the same, ranging from 9.3 to 10.9 per 100,000 people.

“When it comes to cases, particularly to hospitalizations, we are still seeing numbers higher than any of us want to see,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said during the Wednesday news briefing. “ … It continues to be a difficult time in our state.”

Hospital occupancy also remains high, which is common this time of year, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said.

“A lot of this is due to the start of our respiratory virus season,” he said.

This year, in addition to COVID-19, Lindquist said he’s concerned about the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which causes cold-like symptoms. King County, which tracks respiratory virus season every year, has reported that the percent of positive RSV tests in late October was much higher than past levels this time of year — 13% of tests are positive compared to the average of less than 2%.

“I’m seeing patient after patient with respiratory viruses that are not COVID,” Lindquist said. “This is really complicating the picture.”

Kids are tending to have “very high” coronavirus case rates, particularly in northeast Washington, Lindquist added. In late October, the seven-day infection rate for children between ages 4 and 10 was 224.37 cases per 100,000 people, about 22% higher than the general population.

Fortunately, Lindquist said, the state is seeing some increase in community immunity, from both vaccination and natural immunity. He referenced Washington’s current R-effective estimate — the average number of new people that one person with COVID-19 infects — which is at about 1.07.

In late July, during the recent surge of the delta variant, the R-effective was at about 2.02.

To reduce virus cases and hospitalizations, the R-effective needs to remain substantially below one for a “sustained period of time,” the state Department of Health has said.

“Our community immunity is rising, and this is the perfect time to get vaccinated,” Lindquist said.

The state last week surpassed a milestone of 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses — at least 600 of which were given to children between ages 5 and 11 after the kid-sized shots were approved federally last week, DOH acting assistant secretary Michele Roberts said Wednesday. Roberts acknowledged a “significant” data delay for those shots, since it takes a few days to process vaccination numbers, and said she expects the number to “rapidly increase” in the next few weeks.

Roberts reminded families to be patient as pediatric doses continue to roll out. It’ll likely be a couple more weeks before the childhood vaccination supply stabilizes, she said.

So far, more than 265,000 pediatric doses have been delivered to the state.

More than 79% of Washingtonians 12 and older have received at least their first dose.

Because of Washington’s high rates of vaccination, the winter season could look a little different this year, said Lacy Fehrenbach, the state’s deputy secretary for COVID response.

State health leaders this year are OK’ing small holiday gatherings, as long as attendees are vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID, a shift from last year when they were urging people to limit get-togethers to one household.

“You can still get a J&J vaccine within the next day or so and be fully protected in time for Thanksgiving or Hanukkah,” Fehrenbach said. “You can also start any vaccine series … and be fully vaccinated by Christmas, Kwanzaa or New Year’s if you get vaccinated this week.”

For the unvaccinated, she recommended people bundle up and spend time outside. If you’re indoors, wear masks and open windows, she said.

“We are not out of this pandemic,” Shah said. “We are still having far too many people testing positive, far too many people getting hospitalized and far too many people losing their lives in our state from this virus. … This continues to be a race against this virus.”

High-end home sales push Wenatchee’s housing market

WENATCHEE — Nearly one in every six of the 596 homes sold in the Wenatchee real estate market in the past six months closed for more than $701,000.

Of those 91 sales, about one in five were in the $1 million to $1.5 million range.

If the active and pending sales list for the Wenatchee-area real estate market is any indication, the record-setting high-end home sales trend will continue.

Pacific Appraisal Associate’s October SnapShot report shows:

  • 63 (27%) of the 232 listings considered active or pending are in the $701,000-plus price range, more than any other price category.
  • The $401,000 to $450,000 price range category has 41 active and pending sale listings.
  • The $351,000 to $400,000 range has 30 active and pending listings
  • The $451,000 to $500,000 range has 24 homes listed.

The Wenatchee market includes sales in Wenatchee, Malaga, East Wenatchee, Orondo and Rock Island.

A look back at the previous five years of home sale data provided in the Snapshot reports shows significantly more movement in the sale of high-end homes this year than in the past.

In October 2016, the market had 334 active listings and pendings, with 19 (6%) in the $701,000 and up range, compared to 67 listings in the $251,000 to $300,000 range and 54 in the $301,000 to $350,000 range.

That year, the active and pending list had 14 properties in the $150,000 range and 35 in the $151,000 to $200,000 range. The 2021 list has no listings in the less than $150,000 range and one in the $150,000 to $200,000 range.

Here is the six-month breakdown of the most expensive home sales provided in the Snapshot report:

  • $701,000-$750,000: 18 sales
  • $751,000-$800,000: 16 sales
  • $801,000-$850,000: 14 sales
  • $851,000-$900,000: 5 sales
  • $901,000-$950,000: 8 sales
  • $951,000-$1M: 6 sales
  • $1M-$1.5M: 17 sales
  • $1.5M-$3.2M: 7 sales

The high-end sales have helped push the year-to-date median sales price to $440,000 in October, up 19% from 2020’s $368,500 figure for the same time period, which was a 6% hike from 2019’s $348,250.

The report also shows an uptick in housing sale inventory from earlier this year, with active listings climbing from 35 in May to 96 in October. At the same time, houses are starting to stay on the market a little longer — an average of 58 days in October compared to 54 days in May.

The sales-price-to-list-price ratio, though, remains at 102%, compared to 99% in October 2020, so sellers continue to close sales above the listing price — on average.