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A good number of Key Peninsula residents know Dan and May Wilson through their Allstar Guitar store on the Gig Harbor waterfront where Dan teaches music and sells and repairs instruments and music gear, and May runs the Allstar Academy, the instruction part of the business.
Others know Dan because of his huge heart and his work with kids.
Allstar Guitar got its start in 1990 in Wilsons’barn near Penrose Park when Dan began fixing guitars for companies like Fender, Gibson and Ovation.
“Before that I was working for a log home company north of Key Center,”Wilson recalled.
“I’d also been in the music business for a good part of my life, so in the slow time during the winter I’d buy and sell guitars and buy broken ones and fix them, and then I got into building new ones,” he said.
He also got involved with local musician Geoff Baillie, a harmonica player who was on the PSD school board.
“Geoff started doing an after school program at Evergreen Elementary called Blues Kids, where the kids would get a harmonica, a T-shirt and some sunglasses and we’d teach them how to play the blues and then they’d play at gigs like at the KP Fair and other places,”Wilson said.
That led to Wilson’s getting involved with Crime Stoppers, a music program for youth that teaches kids that “it’s better to be in a band than a gang.
“We work a lot with the counselors at Remann Hall, (Juvenile Detention Center in Tacoma) for example,”he said.
“They’ll tell us they have a kid who’s getting out and they’d like for him to have a musical instrument to play so he doesn’t get right back in with the same gang. So we’ll give him a guitar or a trumpet or something and teach him how to play it,” Wilson added.
A few years ago, Wilson’s and the Crime Stoppers organization donated a complete set of marching drums to the KPMS band.
And this year, the Crime Stoppers group took over management of WoodStick, an event that “tries to set a new world record every year to have the most drums playing at the same place at the same time,” he said.
He’s also a strong supporter of the Red Barn on the Key Peninsula.
Recently, the Wilsons have become very involved with an organization called United By Music North America, founded by Gig Harbor residents Barbara Hammerman and her daughter Amanda Gresham.
UBMNA is the North American arm of an organization that started in The Netherlands in 2005 to help musically talented people who have intellectual disabilities become performing musicians.
“There are some people who you can barely carry on a conversation with, but if you sit them down at a piano they’re amazing musicians,”Wilson said. “We’re trying to find people like that here in America and match them with mentors who work with them to become performers.”
“It’s just getting started in this country,”May added, “but it’s really picking up steam.”
The UBMNA pilot project was launched in Portland, Oregon in 2011, and last year Hammerman and Gresham began a Puget Sound chapter.
“A big part of UBMNA is forming partnerships with other local organizations,”Hammerman said. “We chose Portland as our pilot city because Amanda is a producer of the Portland Riverfront Blues Festival, so they were a natural partner.”
David Hoefer, 24, is one of the local UBMNA musicians. “It’s really fun,”he said. “I play guitar. We go to festivals like the Emerald City Blues Festival this past summer in Carnation.
“We rehearse a lot before every big event. We have a great time and after the gig we all talk together. We’re trying to get it well known and trying to get our movement to spread across the country,” Hoefer said.
Locally, UBMNA is partnering with TACID (Tacoma Area Coalition of Individuals with Disabilities).
On Jan. 10, UBMNA will hold auditions for local musicians to join the performing company, Hammerman said.
“It’s going to be a party –– kind of like American Idol or The Voice –– but in a very supportive, friendly atmosphere. The call is for musically talented people who have intellectual disabilities.
She said her goal is to identify people in this area who would be candidates who will learn, rehearse and practice with their local mentors and then be part of the UBMNA performing company.
When Richard Jones looks through his camera lens he likes what he sees on the Key Peninsula.
Jones served in the military starting out in the Marines, but switched later to do a stint in the army. He did a tour of duty as a mechanic in Iraq from 2004-2005 before finishing his military career at Fort Lewis where he met his girlfriend, Jennifer Hoskins.
When Hoskins’mother, Maggie Steiner, a longtime resident of the Key Peninsula decided to relocate to Port Orchard about nine years ago, Jones and Hoskins moved into her former home near Key Center. A sign out front saying “Eggs for Sale,” greets visitors to the small farm that includes chickens, ducks, a dog and three cats ––including a tabby cat bottle raised by the couple from the time he was one-day-old.
Hoskins a certified nurse’s assistant and works at Retsil Veterans Home in Port Orchard. When that facility needed to find a home for their African Grey parrot, Hoskins volunteered to take the bird home. The parrot fit right in and quickly became one of self-proclaimed animal lover Jones’best buddies.
Jones became a full-time student and earned an Associate of Arts Degree and then a Bachelor degree in Environmental Science from the University of Phoenix. He is currently working on another Bachelor degree in Psychology.
Jones has dabbled in photography over the years, but about a year ago he purchased a new camera to professionalize his blossoming hobby. For the time being he is focusing his time around the Key Peninsula.
“A lot of people ask me if I go anywhere else,”Jones said. “Eventually I will, but I love it out here. I love nature. Joemma is a favorite spot, you can turn 180 degrees and have a whole new view.”
Last year his company, RJ Photography, sold 30 pictures. Part of the profits went to the Wounded Warrior program to help disabled veterans. This year he sold photographs, mugs and calendars at the Winter Warmup at the Key Peninsula Civic Center in Vaughn, and Winterfest Arts and Crafts Fair at Peninsula High School. Twenty-five percent of profits will go to the Red Barn this year, he said.
Nicole Niemann-Carr of SunnyCrest Farm has her third story in a national publication.
Previous stories about her life and the history of her home and farm were published in Farm & Ranch Living in 2006 and 2013. One was about calling cows and the next focused on Old Blue, the farm truck her grandfather (“Popa,”as she called him) Chuck Niemann used to drive.
She has also sent photos of son Colton to Hobby Farms magazine, one with his pony and another with a chicken.
The story appearing in the January issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine, “Life At The SunnyCrest Farm,”includes a full-page photo of Colton petting a chicken. He’s the sixth generation to live and farm there. The story is under a series about families and poultry farming’s tie to homesteading, a perfect fit for Niemann-Carr.
Andrew Olson came from Sweden in 1886 and invested in a homestead on land that was then considered Vaughn. Now considered Key Center with a Lakebay address, it’s been in the family for nearly 130 years.
Elmer Olson, youngest of Andrew’s sons, built a home near his widowed mother and married Elsie Bill. In 1929, they started a chicken business and registered the name SunnyCrest Farm.
They built seven chicken houses plus a large incubator house, still standing.
“It’s where we keep the brooder boxes for our chicks today,”Niemann-Carr says.
When she and her husband, Tony Carr, built their home in 2004, it was on the site of chicken house No. 5. Grandma Joyce Niemann had a plaque made that hangs in the Carr kitchen, stating that fact.
Olson was among the first in the area to get electricity, as it was needed for the incubators.
By 1939, the Olsons had dairy cows but continued to sell eggs on a smaller scale. Grandma Joyce got her license at 14 so she could deliver eggs to the local co-op at the Lakebay Marina.
Niemann-Carr recalls helping to feed the chickens at age 6, carrying a broom to ward off the aggressive rooster. He pecked her once, and she thinks Popa put him in the stew pot soon after.
The Niemanns were busy with cows instead of chickens. Nicole, who was enamored with horses, completed college degrees and was married.
She and Tony graduated with bachelor degrees in fitness and exercise science. He worked in construction while she complete her master’s of science in human movement and performance. She teaches Silver Sneakers classes at the YMCA, and Tony is a Gig Harbor firefighter.
“I thought we’d have a cute little house in Gig Harbor,”she said, adding that she wanted to stay near her family.
They soon decided to move back and live on the farm near her grandparents, with her parents just across the road.
When Colton was about a year old, they bought their first six chicks.
“Then it became 12, then 20, and now we have a flock of about 65 different breeds of chickens and sell eggs to a loyal following of customers,”she wrote in her story.
Tony built a main movable hen house that is moved every few weeks to new pasture.
In 2000, they added a horse, two cows and three bottle-fed calves. After four sets of bottle-feeding, they opted to breed their own. This year, the first calf since Popa Niemann raised them was born on the farm.
Niemann-Carr and the family also raise two pigs per year and cultivate a vegetable garden. She enjoys raising much of her family’s food on her historic family farm.
And yes, she plans to write more stories about her experiences.
Jerry Davis started his business 15 years ago. He did not intend to open a feed store, but that’s what it is.
Davis was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and became Airborne qualified. He saw combat with two tours in Vietnam and later in the Dominican Republic.
Between 1978, when Davis retired from the Army, and 1985 when he moved to the Key Peninsula, Davis operated an underwater marine salvage business, towed marine freight, was a police chief in Wittier, Alaska, attended International Bible College in Hawaii, sold vinyl siding and managed a restaurant in Arizona.
Davis also worked in food service for the state prison system in Purdy and Shelton before he purchased his current business site (at the intersection of SR-302 and Wright-Bliss Road) in 1989, where he intended to construct and operate a restaurant.
In 2000, the restaurant site was still an empty lot when he learned he would loose his commercial zoning if he did not immediately start operating a business on the site.
Davis started a swap meet.
Seeing as how it rains in Washington, he set up tents and constructed buildings for the swap meet vendors. Those many buildings have since been rearranged for his current Drive Thru Feed business.
“One day one of my swap meet customers was extremely upset about something, so I asked what her troubles were,”Davis said. “It turned out that she was upset and offended over terrible service that she had received from a local feed store.”
“A light bulb lit, I thought for a bit, and I have been in the Drive Thru Feed business ever since,”said Davis. “Service and courtesy are our bywords.”
Davis said his customers never need to leave the comfort of their vehicles. As soon as a customer drives up, one of his workers hands the customer a candy bar and/or a bottle of water, takes their order and loads the vehicle with merchandise.
Davis sells all types of livestock feed (for horses, cows, pigs, chickens, dogs and llamas). He claims his business has grown by 10 percent every year since he opened.
“I check all local competitors and under-price them,”he said. “I concentrate on volume sales and customer satisfaction. I also have the cheapest price for propane.”
Davis likes to surprise his customers. If you have one of his “Follow Me to Drive Thru Feed”bumper stickers, and if you happen to drive in at a randomly selected and posted time of day, then you may experience a discount on every bag of feed and gallon of propane purchased.
Davis usually has other surprises during January, his anniversary month, but if they were told, then they won’t be a surprise.
“If you find that goods are overpriced in today’s market and you are served with disrespect, then fall in behind one of the many vehicle bearing a bumper sticker saying Follow Me to Drive Thru Feed,”he said.
Davis has found that battle wounds and vigorous military exploits have come back to haunt him in his senior years.
The business is listed for sale, but it matters not if it sells, as Davis said he will still stay in the South Sound area. It would simply give him more time to devote to another passion of his, serving his Lord, he said.
For information, call 884-3386.
Since then, it’s grown to its current presence in 10 of the 15 schools in the Peninsula School District, including all the schools in the Key Peninsula, according to Executive Director Coleen Speer.
Nationally, CISP was founded about 35 years ago and it’s currently headquartered in Washington D.C.
CISP’s goal is to help kids who are below grade level in reading or math by pairing them with volunteer mentors who work one-on-one with students.
Currently, there are 140 CISP volunteers mentoring students in afterschool and in-school sessions.
There are also eight program coordinators –– mostly teachers in the school ––who are paid by CISP to oversee the programs.
The mentor list includes business people, retirees and even high school students doing community service, Speer said.
Laura Schulz is CISP program director at Vaughn Elementary. “We do both reading and math here at Vaughn,”Schulz said. “Our students get together with their mentors once a week, an hour and a half for math or an hour for reading.”
All mentors are screened (including a background check through Washington State Patrol) and attend regular training sessions.
And the CISP program meets the kids’needs in more than just academic ways, Speer said.
“The relationship between mentor and student is very important,”Schultz added.
“It shows kids that they really matter and that they can be successful. And for students who come from all types of backgrounds, even those who have the most supportive families, talking to another adult or a high school student about how to stay motivated, how to do their best work in school, is huge,” she said.
There are even CISP programs at Peninsula and Henderson Bay high schools.
“At the high school level we now have students who recognize our programs and they self-refer. They just drop in to work with a volunteer,”Schulz said. “That’s huge.”
CISP always needs more volunteers, she added.
The time commitment includes about two hours of training and then weekly meetings with the student throughout the school year.
It’s a long term commitment because, “once you start with a student, we expect you to continue with the program all the way through ‘til the end of the school year, the last week in May,”Schultz said.“That long-term consistency with a student is what really leads to the best growth.”
Volunteers follow the standard school schedule including school holidays and other breaks.
“We actually have a very high retention rate with our volunteers and they return year after year because they find it very rewarding and they love working with kids. That’s the beautiful thing about working with young people ––you often see great growth,”Schulz said. “The kids have a great sense of humor and wonderful skills, but they might just have a deficit in reading or math.”
Although CISP is part of a national organization, it is its own 501c3, with its own board of directors and fundraising obligations.
“I write lots of grants and we have fundraisers,”Speer said. “We ask individual donors for money. We have some corporate gifts. And the community can donate though our website. We have on-line giving.
“We’re grateful for every monetary gift. And the gift of your time is priceless,”Schulz said. “It absolutely pays off in grades and confidence.”
To donate or to learn more about being a CISP volunteer, visit peninsula.ciswa.org.