Justin Burnett/The Record — Pam Kniseley poses for a photo outside her home. She is July’s Hometown Hero.

HOMETOWN HERO | Pam Kniseley, living with intention and purpose

Just as people choose to live on South Whidbey, what are the other daily choices they make that are intentional?

Pam Kniseley says she defines her values and plans her days to match. She and her husband Jack’s life values are God, family and serving their community.

“I want my life to be about purpose,” she says. “I plan everything out, however, I am ready and willing to be flexible and go with the flow.”

Jean Baker remembers Kniseley being flexible for her.

“I didn’t know Pam except through a volunteer meeting, in fact I wasn’t sure of her name. Pam had her day all planned out to go to Seattle, as I had overheard her telling someone at that morning meeting. I needed a ride to Oak harbor for an appointment. I announced at the end of the meeting, ‘Is anyone happening to be going to Oak Harbor now?’” she said.

“No one replied — silence. And then Pam said, ‘I will take you.’”

Baker said Kniseley not only happily gave her the ride she needed, but then waited for her and took her home.

“My neighbor, Pam, is exactly the kind of person I strive to be,” says Sue Williams. “She’s always willing to lend a helping hand and has such a positive attitude. We could learn a lot by following her example. It doesn’t matter if she’s helping the community, the neighborhood or her family; she is the first one to say ‘yes’ get involved and be supportive and easy going. She’s a walking beam of light. Her heart is full of love and compassion that radiates from her and that’s why she is not only our Hometown Hero but also my personal hero.”

Kniseley looks at the bright side of life, and can adapt to life’s daily changes.

As an example, a trip recent Seattle trip with her grandkids.

“We recently went to Seattle by bus and I had everything planned out. I knew the bus schedules and the details of places we were to visit. I helped the children pack lunches and brought water,” she said.

“I was fully prepared, but I know it’s important to be flexible, too. If something unexpected comes up (which it always does), I need to be ready to adjust and not be attached to my plans. For instance, when a downtown Seattle construction prevented a transfer bus we needed, I suggested we walk and find a different place to see. We still had just as much fun and learned a lot along the way.”

In 1981 the Kniseley’s planned to move to South Whidbey. First thing they needed was an income. After sometime, Jack landed a position in the South Whidbey School District. After he accepted the position they moved here and built a home.

Their home is reminiscent of Walton’s Mountain. Her husband, Jack, is outside playing fetch with their golden retriever, Hutch. The property has a tree house, safety netted trampoline and various yard games. Inside the home is full of pictures, family memories and meaningful mementos. The refrigerator door is no exception, covered top to bottom with photos. Family treasures and photos are displayed throughout their home, on counters, walls and even on some windows.

The pine door closet in the kitchen is marked with the various heights of the four kids and 11 grandkids throughout the years. Kniseley says laughingly, “This will be the top of my casket.”

Some of her values are to be positive, have fun, and find humor in anything she possibly can.

She says, “Naturally not everything can be laughed at, like when our 3-year-old son was hospitalized with meningitis, and we had to wait 24 hours for test results to see if he would live. Thank God he did!”

However, she says most of life has humor if we look for it. She uses an example.

“One of our intentions when we bought this property was to use the small lake, included, that is shared with a neighboring property. So Jack, along with the other neighbor, stocked it with 1,000 fish. We built a deck for fishing and a small boat the kids could use to enjoy,” she said.

“Everything was beautiful, until one day, when the adjoining property changed hands. The new owner, a lady from out-of-state, would not allow us near the lake, even though we owned 40-foot frontage. If we did get close to the lake she would blow a loud air horn, or set off recorded howling noises. We tried everything nice we could think of, including inviting her for dinner, and sending her neighborly cards. In response, we received a threatening letter from her attorney not to contact her or set foot near the lake. We sought legal counsel, and were told we would easily win… however, that it could end up being very ugly and expensive. We had a family meeting and decided we needed to ‘let it go’ and not use the lake.”

“I am human, however, and my nature is to find humor in anything I can. So, I admit our family did have fun thinking of all the ideas we ‘could’ do to retaliate. Ideas like placing some ugly junk near our side of the lake, that she would see. Our family referred to this as ‘lake art.’ Well OK, OK, we actually did try that idea.”

She says, she is not proud of this, but it’s “survival so we don’t feel so much like victims or go crazy,” she states. She placed a old blue Toyota truck, water tank, hoses, and a old toilet. She remarks, “Well, as you can imagine that didn’t go over well at all, and made things much, much worse!”

Kniseley says she learned her lesson, and though they still had fun thinking up ideas, they never tried to execute them again.

She says, “Didn’t help when we went to church and the sermon was about loving your neighbor, but then it was always added we didn’t have to ‘like’ them. Whew!

This neighbor nightmare went on for nearly nine years until that lady moved across the country — and the property was sold to a wonderful person, and everything is beautiful again as we all enjoy the lake together.”

Kniseley wonders what makes people so angry and mean like that woman.

“I remember when our grandchildren complained about a student that was always a grump. I suggested maybe this student has a harsh home life and perhaps comes to school hungry. We never know what someone has gone through. We cannot presume people’s lives are like ours.”

Kniseley knows when to be serious, but when it comes to herself, she is intentional about finding humor.

Last year she had to have a full mastectomy.

“I thought, ‘Well, OK this could be pretty funny really,’” she remarks.

There are many choices to choose from before and after a mastectomy. She has recovered from the surgery, and has a “stand up comedy routine” from her experience.

One of their 11 grandkids, Kayli, says her Grandma Big Hair (GBH ) is crazy, in a very good way. “GBH and Papa Jack are the best role models. They taught me that volunteering is fun, and we don’t need to be hooked up to technology to have a good time. They showed me how fun and interesting history and museums are. They make it a priority to come see us in our school activities. Lucky me to have them as grandparents.”

Kniseley says she learned volunteering from her parents, and she loves how her own children and their children all enjoy volunteering.

Sandy Menashe says, “I am so lucky to live next to the Kniseley’s. If you need anything, they will lend a hand. Faith is important to Pam; it comes from a deep part of her, nothing trivial about her beliefs. What I love most is her connection with her family, and especially the wee ones, the grand kids. She does Grandma Camps in the summer, and makes learning fun and exciting. She takes them on excursions and teaches them that taking the public transit is fun. At home, there are crafts to learn, cooking, gardening, and building projects. She teaches them to see beyond themselves, and how it feels to be a part of something bigger, by noticing what is needed and then stepping up to help.”

Grandma Camps are separated by age, says Kniseley. She explains, there are three camps each summer. She sleeps in a tent with the kids in their yard for three nights. Lots of planning goes into these camps, and one rule — no technology allowed, she says.

“Pam is the woman who we could all wish was our grandmother (sister or mother),” says Richard Epstein. “I know Pam through her volunteer work on the board of Hearts and Hammers. She served as secretary for several years with honors, spot-on-humor and fresh energy. Pam was always ready to jump in and raise our group’s efforts to the next higher and more loving level of service. Hearts and Hammers is a better organization as a result of her commitment and dedication.” Her love for her family and community is upbeat, effusive and contagious, always a positive word (or no word at all) for others.”

Raising children is fun but never easy, she says. “When all four of ours were teenagers, I set aside a small time everyday to worry. Once that time was up, my worrying was up.”

“I never want to do any future worrying, I plan, I pray, and re-evaluate my values. Not everything in life works out as we hope, but if we plan for life, we have a better chance of it doing so. However we must always be ready for the unexpected.”

What other people say about Kniseley

“My neighbor, Pam, is exactly the kind of person I strive to be. She’s always willing to lend a helping hand and has such a positive attitude. We could learn a lot by following her example. It doesn’t matter if she’s helping the community, the neighborhood or her family; she is the first one to say “yes,” get involved and be supportive. She’s a walking beam of light. Her heart is full of Love and compassion that radiates from her and that’s why she is not only our Hometown Hero but also my personal hero. Love ya neighbor!”

SUE WILLIAMS

Neighbor

“It has been an absolute joy to have been Pam’s pastor for the past 20 years. Pam’s life is consistently lived with a deep devotion to her family, her faith and her community. Consequently, Pam carries the most important titles in our society. She is a daughter, a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a patriot, a follower of Jesus, and faithful servant to her beloved Whidbey Island Everyday without fanfare. Our island, our church, our world and of course the Kniseley Family are better off because God gifted us with the beautiful woman.”

PASTOR JIM LINDUS

Trinity Lutheran Church, Freeland

“When I started as the volunteer coordinator for Home Health & Hospice of Whidbey General, Pam was one of the volunteers I inherited, and did I ever inherit a gem! She was tireless in her work as a volunteer, dedicated, does whatever is needed, and goes beyond the call of duty. What a treasure she is.”

REV. DR. DAVID L. BIENIEK

Whidbey Health Hospice Care

“She is one of the most, if not the most positive people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. We’ve helped run the Hearts and Hammers Woodchucks program together for over 10 years. She served in the demanding role of board secretary for Hearts and Hammers for many years, and is now the treasurer of the Whidbey Island Fishin’ Club.”

KEVIN LUNGREN

Community volunteer

“She takes her mother to all of her appointments and visits folks in nursing homes. Pam and her husband of 53 years have a caring loving supportive relationship. Stemming from that is her love for all of her family and this community.”

KATHY KANSKY

Volunteer

“You can tell a lot about the stories someone tells. Pam always has a story to tell about her life, her family and friends. Even when there is a sad tale to tell, she finds something to laugh about and a lesson for life, usually of gratitude and “lucky us.”

MARY JANE LUNGREN

Dentist

“I first met her at St. Peters church 26 years ago. Over the years I have had the privilege of serving on a number of community volunteer committees with Pam. I always love serving with Pam because I know I can count on her to roll up her sleeves and get things done, no matter what the task. We served on the board at the crisis nursery In a Pinch child care together. When we needed a sandwich board sign for advertising for the program, she said ‘I’ve got what we need at the house.’ We went to her house, she whipped out a saw and we had signs in no time. She also has showed up with meals for those in need, and offers to watch other children when she sees a need, including mine. Pam is just so much fun to be around; she is positive and happy.”

JOHNNA HOLT

Fellow volunteer

“Pam is so talented and kind. She is energetic and has such a positive attitude. Her personality radiates and shines when she talks about neighbors in our community. Her grand kids are important to her and she spends much time taking them on many an adventure. Pam does an outstanding job for the Clinton Cemetery Association as our secretary-treasurer.”

ROY SIMMONS

President of Clinton Cemetery Association

“Pam has always been a wonderful daughter, she put her best self forward and lives with purpose. When her father passed away, she and her husband, Jack, asked me if I wanted to come live with them on their property. They said they would build me a cottage next to them, if I wanted. Oh I said I would love that. That was 20 years ago, and I have loved it ever since. And Pam and her family are a big reason why I love it here.”

JACQUELINE

Pam’s mom

“Thinking about Pam, one thinks about a ray of sunshine entering a room. She brings a smile to my face. Her helpful, energetic, ‘What can I do to help’ attitude has defined my experience with Pam. Whether it was serving with her on the board of Hearts & Hammers, The Fishin’ Club or playing roles in the Murder Mystery, I always know that she exemplifies the good spirit that we love about Whidbey Island.”

WAYNE FURBER

Fellow volunteer

“There is not a time I can remember when Pam was not available to help, to counsel, to lend a listening ear or just be there to give a giant hug or two. I have watched her weep with those in need, deliver meals , travel many miles just to cheer someone up who is in need.”

KAREN EK

Friend

“She was on the board and secretary and really made a difference by helping and volunteering where she could. She always made the meeting go easy with great recommendations and ideas. She was a great asset for our spaghetti dinner and ‘The Woodchucks” also. She always had a smile and a positive outlook when things could have been disastrous.”

ROSS GODWIN

Hearts and hammers past president

Biography

Pamela Ann ‘Grandma Big Hair’ ‘Hepburn’ Kniseley

DOB: Dec. 29, 1944

Born: Orange County, Calif.

Parents occupation: Father, owned a cemetery; mother, housewife

Siblings: Dave, 74; Rick, 62; Marianne, 59

High school: Herbert Hoover in Glendale, Calif.

College: Glendale and Stephens colleges in Mo.

Spouse: Jack Kniseley, married Jan. 24 1964

Children: John Ray, Jennifer, Mindy, Kathryn

Grandkids: 11, and one great grandchild on the way

Years on Whidbey: 36

Personal sides

Adages you like? ‘Do the best we can not the least e can.’ Live below our means, and within our seams.’

What you have learned? “We celebrate birth, so it’s important to celebrate the end of life too.”Humor IS the best stress reliever.” ‘We can learn something from everyone.”

One question you would like to ask God? “Will my grandparents know me when I get to heaven?’Pet Peeve? “Gum chewing smacking with an open mouth.”

Your goal for your kids? “That they grow up to be happy, healthy and good citizens.”