June Magnuson moved to Orcas Island in 1962, drawn by the memory of a college break when she had called every travel expert in Seattle and could only find one vacancy – on Orcas!
She found an 1890s farmhouse on North Beach Road in need of repair and moved in with her three youngest children, Joel, Mary and Erik. She immediately burned down the sagging barn, painted the living room chartreuse, planted a vegetable garden, got chickens and a horse, and plunged into community affairs. She passed away Aug. 22 at the age of 95.
June Elizabeth von der Helen was born June 4, 1917 in Eagle Point, Ore. while the Rogue River raged in flood around the house. In 1938, she graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism. She worked for the Seattle Times during World War II (“with my own photographer!”). There she met and married Don Magnuson, a reporter and widower with two young children, Craig and Terry. In 1952, Don was elected to the House of Representatives and served Washington state for 10 years. Twice a year the 3,000 mile cross-country trips were made in the family station wagon, crammed with children, suitcases and pets. After their divorce, June left the city behind and reveled in the beaches, woods and rolling fields of Orcas. First, however, she took a 4,200 mile detour to Mexico City with Mary and Erik, exploring the colorful culture for a month before driving back north.
June taught Spanish for several years at Orcas High School, after returning to the UW for her teacher’s certificate. She then worked at the post office in Eastsound before becoming Postmaster in Deer Harbor and moving to Spring Point. After retiring in 1981, she built a house above Crescent Beach and enjoyed daily walks along the shore.
June traveled world-wide with friends and family. She toured Great Britain; walked rainy pathways in Monet’s Garden; thrilled to the steel drum bands of Trinidad at Mardi Gras and the temples of Machu Picchu; floated down the Yangtze River; and explored the Philippines. Returning from a wondrous but arduous trip to India with friends from her gradeschool days, she advised, “Don’t wait until you’re 70 to see India!”
Both artist and collector, June filled her home with paintings and sculptures. An oil painting of Montmartre was still wet when she bought it on the streets of Paris. Her dedication to art was exemplified by her decision to sell part of her property to the community for Orcas Center. She was a lifetime member of the Madrona Club, which also was instrumental in the creation of the vibrant arts center.
June struggled against the onslaught of Alzheimer’s for the last 10 years of her life; only in the last year was she able to forget how much she had lost.
She is survived by Terry and Bob Cairns, who lived in the farmhouse for six years after his retirement, now in Texas; their daughter Gerry and husband Stu Baker are longtime Orcas residents. Remaining family include Mary Macapia of Vashon Island; Joel and Jan Magnuson of Renton; Erik Magnuson of Seattle; nine more grandchildren; and 24 great-grandchildren.
Memorials may be made in June’s memory to Emmanuel Episcopal Church, where she was a member for 50 years. There will be a reception for friends of June Magnuson at her family’s home at 912 N. Beach Road at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6.
Submitted by June Magnuson’s family.