Author of ‘Mukilteo Pictures and Memories’ Opal McConnell dies at 88

By Sara Bruestle | Dec 18, 2013
Courtesy of: Brad McConnell Opal McConnell passed away on Dec. 1.

Opal McConnell, local historian, author of “Mukilteo Pictures and Memories” and co-owner of the historic McConnell’s Boat House in Mukilteo, died on Dec. 1. She was 88.

“If she left a mark on Mukilteo, it was how important family are and how we shouldn’t lose our history,” said son Brad McConnell. “Those were things she felt were important.”

Ina Opal McConnell was born Oct. 23, 1925, in Los Angeles and grew up in Stevenson, Wash.

She was a sophomore at Stevenson High School when she met future husband George McConnell Jr., then a senior. She graduated in 1943.

During World War II, McConnell worked at the Skamania County Courthouse in Stevenson and was later transferred to the Portland, Ore., office. She was in charge of expediting the rationing program.

It was in Portland that she ran into George again. They married Jan. 18, 1947, and moved to Mukilteo to establish a business. Together, they had three children – Bruce, Betsy and Brad.

George bought Victor McConnell’s Service Station in 1946 – no relation – and renamed it McConnell’s Boat House. He wanted his own marina business, and happened to find one that “already had his name on it,” Brad McConnell said.

McConnell and her husband lived for years in a loft atop the boathouse with no toilet or shower and a sink with no drain. She was the bookkeeper; he rented and repaired the boats.

She wrote: “I really felt like a pioneer in those days. Even though we did have more conveniences than the original pioneers, there were things that tried one’s patience.”

Mukilteans will also remember McConnell for her contributions to the Mukilteo Historical Society and the book “Mukilteo Pictures and Memories.”

“She was really interested in Mukilteo history and really spent a lot of time recording and preserving it,” said Ann Collier, a member of the Mukilteo Historical Society. Whenever they do research, “Opal’s name keeps coming up.”

She joined the Historical Society in 1966 and was a member until her death. After learning about the history of Mukilteo through pioneer’s pictures and memories, she proposed members compile a book.

It was decided that she would talk to early settlers and collect their photos, newspaper clippings and more to record the history of Mukilteo for future generations.

“Opal found time to work on the book each day by getting up at 4 a.m., when the boathouse was opening, so that she could work on the book before breakfast,” Brad McConnell said.

After nearly 10 years of research, the book was published Aug. 12, 1977. Though, with the amount of information she had, she could have turned it into four books, Brad McConnell said.

“Her work is treasured by the many families who shared their stories, and is a great resource for those who share Opal’s love of Mukilteo history,” he said.

“She added a whimsy to it and made it personal. It was done in a way that made it a good read.”

McConnell was also a member of the Friends of the Mukilteo Library, the city’s Historical Commission and Mukilteo Presbyterian Church.

She helped to save the Pioneer Cemetery, establish a Mukilteo museum, and launch the Lighthouse Festival, originally called the Pioneer Festival. She gave some photos and stories to the Historical Society and had still more in her safekeeping.

Among her possessions are the diaries of Mukilteo founders Morris Frost and J.D. Fowler. Brad McConnell said the family will donate historical records to the Mukilteo Historical Society as they come across them.

At the 50th Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival in 1990, McConnell was honored as the Mukilteo Citizen of the Year for her contributions to the city, and in 2007, Opal and George were honored as Mukilteo Pioneers of the Year.

They sold McConnell’s Boathouse in 1993. They had owned the business for 47 years. Opal and George moved to the Losvar Condominiums for their retirement.

“It was a perfect fit, and they finally got to enjoy the fishing that they had made possible for so many,” Brad McConnell said. “It wasn’t long before the red McConnell’s boat became a common sight on Puget Sound, as well as Opal and George with handfuls of salmon at the Losvar’s boat launch.”

In addition to fishing, the couple also tended to condo flowerbeds and a vegetable garden. Since 1974, they celebrated their wedding anniversary with a month in Hawaii.

“Opal and George worked together as an inseparable team and could often be found walking hand-in-hand,” Brad McConnell said. “They were glued at the hip. It was kind of amazing.”

McConnell is survived by son Bruce (and his wife Rochelle), daughter Betsy and son Brad, as well as seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. She is preceded in death by her husband George, who died in 2009, and her brother Frank.

“They spent all their lives together,” Brad McConnell said of his parents. “They were married for 64 years, and so we’re kind of not just saying goodbye to my mom, but we’re saying goodbye to my dad again.”

A memorial was held Dec. 14 at Mukilteo Presbyterian Church. In memoriam, donations may be made to Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County or Providence Regional Medical Center – Colby campus.

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