On May 24, 1916, Roderick Franklin Blanchette was born to James Blanchette and Mabel Williams of White Earth, North Dakota. Eighty-nine years later Rod could still remember his address in White Earth — 6202 Ivanhoe. Rod said; “It was a small town then, and it’s a small town now. Always will be.”
Rod’s father was a sailor on the Great Lakes who wasn’t around much and eventually abandoned the family when Rod was quite young. Rod was about six years old when his folks moved to Duluth, Minn. After two years in Duluth, his father left, never to return. At the behest of her brother, Mabel escaped the harsh winters of Duluth to live in Olympia, where Rod entered third grade. Later, when he was in his eighties, many of his closest friends never knew that he had been both a gymnast and quarterback of the football team before graduating from Olympia High School.
After high school, Rod “bumped around” (his words) quite a bit, working as a bellhop, then for his uncle at a company that made railroad ties. When his mother moved to San Francisco looking for work, Rod went with her. In 1940 he joined the Merchant Marines, working his way up from Oiler to Second Engineer. When asked how many ports of the world he’d seen, Rod would say; “Name a port – I’ve been there.” And he had.
During the war he worked for the Army Transport Service delivering supplies and munitions overseas. In 1942, while sailing in a three ship convoy to Calcutta, he narrowly escaped the fate of his comrades when two of the ships were torpedoed and all hands were lost.
By 1953 he decided to test his land legs. After being employed by ABC, he eventually became a broadcast engineer, working for the Disney group.
Seventeen years later, disenchanted with the electronic media, he quit. He got a job on a salmon fishing boat for awhile. Later, he began working for the Port of Oakland.
A staunch, lifelong, unabashed New Deal Democrat, Rod wasn’t shy about expressing his opinions.
In 1975 he met the love of his life, Phyllis Krueger, who became his third wife. It’s no mystery why Rod was smitten with Phyllis, a teacher on the verge of retirement from the Contra Costa County school system, who not only had a Master’s Degree but was teaching Chinese cooking and weaving in her spare time. They lived in the San Francisco Bay Area five years before moving to Orcas.
The decision to settle in the San Juan Islands was preceded by returning to sea. By 1980 things had changed; steam engines were passé – diesel was now the mode. To get certified in diesel engines, Rod worked the summer aboard the ferry Elwah.
Rod and Phyllis rented the O’Malley house in View Haven, then bought the property on Marilee Lane in 1983. In 1985 Phyllis decided to open a weaving and spinning shop called “The Mythical Beast”. A few months later, two days after Rod shipped out, Phyllis died of a heart attack. Devastated, Rod flew home to scatter the ashes of his beloved wife.
Most people who knew Rod well were endeared to him because of his love of life, his compassion, sense of humor, loyalty and generosity. Capt. Mark Flitton, currently serving in Iraq, and a good friend of Rod’s whom he thought of as a son, said, “I’ll never forget when I first met Rod. I was working at Cooper’s Driving Range in Burlington. Rod came in the golf shop with Farley the pug and wanted golf lessons. Rod’s personality was dynamic and he had great wit, smarter than a tack, great memory. We hit it off and stayed friends. I’d come over to Orcas and we’d play golf and then we got into flying. Rod was the consummate gentleman…a great, great guy…and a father figure to me. I will miss him deeply.”
Before retiring, Rod briefly owned a Piper Cherokee and began taking flying lessons. After he retired, he sold the Piper, then bought a Cessna 150 and renewed his flying lessons at the age of 80, continuing to fly another four years.
A week before he passed away, his step-son, Kurt (leg in cast from a work-related accident at Lawrence Lab in Berkeley) flew up from San Francisco to spend some time with Rod. It meant a lot to Rod and they shared some tender moments together.
The day before Rod died, Anna Ashbeck, his step-daughter, and her husband Curt, arrived from Santa Rosa, not knowing they would be there at the end. Anna, who was closest to Rod, fought the tears as she described what kind of man he was. “Rod was a real gentleman. He loved his friends and family without condition. He always treated my brother and me as though we were his own children. He also had many pets that he loved. I’m sure everyone will remember his last dog Barney, a constant companion to Rod. They were inseparable. Rod outlived Barney and would tear up when talking about him. He really wore his heart on his sleeve, whether it was weeping over a lost pet or friend, or weeping with joy and happiness. Once he started laughing at a joke, we’d have to pass him a hanky for the tears! We will all have a huge void in our lives now that he is gone and I will miss him dearly.”
On Aug. 14 at 4 p.m., Rod died. His last breaths were in his home with Anna, Curt, and Phil, his caregiver, gathered at his bedside.
Rod is also survived by his step-son, Kurt Krueger.
Rod’s family wishes to publicly thank Alan and Kate Lichter and Bill and Jan Clark for their tireless support and friendship.
Rod was an avid animal lover and donated regularly to the Humane Society. All those who wish to honor his memory are encouraged to contribute either to the Humane Society or the local animal shelter.