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From war hero to iconic artist, South End remembers Ted Basrak

Ted Basrak stands outside the Whidbey Art Gallery in Langley where he spent the past 16 years showing his paintings. - Ron Roesler photo
Ted Basrak stands outside the Whidbey Art Gallery in Langley where he spent the past 16 years showing his paintings.
— image credit: Ron Roesler photo

If you have spent a good amount of time getting acquainted with the South End of Whidbey Island, chances are good that you’ve had an interesting conversation with Ted Basrak.

It was his love of people and zest for life that will be particularly missed, his friends and family said.

Theodore “Ted” Basrak, a beloved father, friend, artist and war hero, died Nov. 16 at his home in Clinton. A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7 at Freeland Hall.

Basrak was born July 18, 1922 in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.

Having immigrated to the United States in 1949 from his home after World War II, Basrak eventually retired to Whidbey Island where he resided for 31 years. He became a painter, drawing inspiration from the the island’s landscape and its changing weather.

He became one of the first members of the cooperative group of artists at the Whidbey Art Gallery, formerly the Artists Cooperative Gallery, in Langley.

He was fond of his art studio and the respite it provided him, but also enjoyed the company of others.

Basrak was an avid storyteller with a colorful life full of riveting and incredible tales of fighting for the resistance during World War II. He received honors for saving 30 airmen after they crashed in Yugoslavia, in 1944.

His friend, Ron Roesler of Langley, heard Basrak talk extensively about his war experiences.

“He was in his early 20s when he fought for the Resistance. He was captured by the Germans twice and he escaped both times,” Roesler said.

“I don’t know how he escaped, but he was a pretty ingenious person. He was working for the Serbian underground. He ended up in Austria working for the underground there.”

Eventually, Basrak made it to the United States with the help of an infantry captain who wrote a letter of reference for Basrak, having been impressed by the young man calling him “already a true American in spirit and deed.”

It was in America where he met and married Dorothy Ellwanger, a girl whose parents were living on Whidbey Island.

Basrak’s son, also named Ted, said his parents were married in the Lutheran Church in Clinton in 1951 and moved to Southern California, where Basrak owned a car dealership called Golden Crown Motors.

The couple moved to Whidbey Island in 1976 and he opened a repair shop in Clinton, also named Golden Crown Motors, where the conversations continued and Basrak came away with hundreds of friends by the time he retired in 1985. Then, it was time to paint.

“What stands out to me is his generosity for one,” his son said.

“I have this impression of just how open and approachable he was and how many friends he had. He was able to make friends so easily.”

Natalie Hahn has been one of those many friends of Basrak. She knew him for 16 years, with both of them showing their artwork at the cooperative from the time it was formed.

“I can’t say enough about this wonderful man,” Hahn said. “His work as an artist was full of passion and his involvement with the Artists Cooperative Gallery was showcased by his creative spirit.”

Basrak was fond of telling the romantic stories of meeting his now-deceased wife, whom he spoke of often with great affection.

“Just his story and love for his first wife Dorothy could bring a person to tears for joy in their heart,” she said.

“He has touched many lives with his kindness and loving personality. He will be greatly missed by many and truly was an icon of South Whidbey,” Hahn said.

Basrak traveled widely in Europe and South America, was fluent in several languages and revealed a passion for life and people, engaging in the stories of his fascinating life with the many friends who became endeared to him throughout his active life on the South End.

“He was a positive person and a very caring person,” Roesler said. “He had a tremendous heart and never said anything negative about anybody.”

Roesler respected Basrak, especially for what he did in the war, and together they had long conversations about deep and passionate topics.

“We talked about perspectives on living; on life. About who we are, how we got here, what our purpose is; discussions about God and metaphysical perspectives,” Roesler said.

“He was a fun guy. He was upbeat and always had something to say.”

Basrak leaves behind two sons and a daughter-in-law, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A potluck will follow the memorial. Jim Freeman will host the gathering, and anyone wishing to share, tell or read something in memory of Basrak is welcome.

A retrospective of Basrak’s paintings will be featured at the Whidbey Art Gallery through December.

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