When Dick Radonich was born, he was the smallest baby born in Snohomish, at 1 pound, 2 ounces. They kept him in a warm oven, and three doctors said there was one in a million chance he’d survive.
When he was 4, his parents divorced, and he and his mother moved to McNeil Island to live with his grandmother. His grandparents homesteaded 86 acres with 1,800 feet of low-bank waterfront, directly across from Mosquito (Pitt) Island.
Dick lived an idyllic life on the island and enjoyed a lot of water play. He chopped a pointed bow on half a cedar log, and used a broken paddle for oars. An old sheet converted a rowboat into a sailboat. He and friends would sail out to an approaching tugboat, then hang onto the boom to be towed back, or they’d watch for a tug going up the bay, hitch a ride and sail home with a south wind.
He and a friend rowed to Ketron Island for a camping expedition once, found a campsite with lots of leaves on it, and thought that would be a cozy bed. When the leaves moved under them, they realized they were lying on a nest of rats.
The next morning they caught a baby seal, put it in the boat and headed home. Soon the mother seal came after them, so they quickly dumped the baby overboard and rowed quickly away.
“Bootleggers were my buddies,” Dick recalls. The mail boat captain, too. Passengers rode for a quarter. “The Eagle” whistle blew when there was mail for them, and Dick rowed out to collect it.
Dick was given a striped red and green bag with candy when they bought groceries at Carl Soderquist’s store on the Longbranch dock. Soderquist also gave him leftover fireworks after July 4.
His mother paid him and a friend to row over to get Lux soap to wash her silk stockings. Halfway home, he remembered they’d forgotten to buy it in the excitement over spending their nickels on candy.
He claims the prisoners were few in the early days of the federal penitentiary on the island, and they’d sit around with the wardens in the evening, playing cards. “It was really exciting when a convict escaped” in later years. The Pen boat drifted awhile, then the searchlight swept the water, shore and land, went off, and the boat drifted again. Dick said their boat was the one stolen most often by escapees.
Once a convict holed up for about three weeks under their barn. Dick was accused of not stripping the cows when he milked, and they wondered why the hens weren’t laying as well as usual. Broken eggshells were the clue to where the man was hiding when officials searched the area.
When he was 16, the federal government made them move from the homestead, offering to pay $2,700. A lawyer got them $3,700, but most of the extra went to pay him. Dick still holds some bitter feelings about the government taking the beautiful island, where they had to run expensive cables across for electricity.
Dick still lives on the waterfront with wife Marge (Rickert). Now in his mid-80s, he proved those doctors wrong.
Next month: Read about wife Marge, also from pioneer stock.
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