Duke LeBaron moved to South Whidbey for good in 1986, and after that rarely found a reason to leave.
“He thought of Whidbey Island as his paradise, and our place, too,” his wife Kate said Thursday. “We had it all right here. That probably sums up what he thought of the community and where he was living.”
Everell “Duke” LeBaron, 82 — farmer, environmentalist, minimalist, champion of all things local and sustainable — died at his Bayview home early this past Sunday morning, when the cancer he had been fighting for nine years finally got the best of him.
To the end, he continued his public passion for local living, most recently in his promotion of a federal credit union by and for islanders. Those who met him rarely thought him to be in his 80s.
“He wore his age well,” his wife said. “And he was a no-growth person.”
Born and raised in Berkeley, Calif., LeBaron received a business degree from the University of California. He moved to Seattle in 1971 and acquired two service stations. He later owned a wood stove and passive-solar-home design business, and developed a mini-farm on a West Seattle lot.
He and his wife bought their Whidbey property in 1978, and a few years later began to build their quirky, functional family home, putting to practical use the knowledge he had acquired through years of study and experimentation.
At the same time, he jumped into community affairs, pushing for a local emphasis in products, services and economics, the latter evident in his credit union efforts that extended all the way into this month.
“He worked on it almost to the time of his death,” his wife said. “It’s typical of the things he got involved in — something local, local economy, local people.”
Beverly Rose of Freeland, his compatriot in the credit union project, agreed.
“Having local people pooling their financial resources was really important to him,” she said Thursday. “He really cared.”
One of LeBaron’s earliest civic campaigns was to ensure that Porter Field in Langley remained a community airfield. A longtime agriculturist, he also was a driving force behind South Whidbey Tilth.
“He showed a willingness to take action, and to take a stand,” said Lea Kouba of Clinton, who knew LeBaron for 25 years and worked with him in Tilth. “He was in his element here.”
He raised poultry, sheep and pigs, and worked at local feed stores off and on for 20 years. He never formally retired.
LeBaron was a superintendent for the Whidbey Island Conservation District from 1998-2001, and was on his second consecutive term on the district’s board.
“He was the environmental giant on the board,” Fran Einterz, board chairman, said Thursday. “He really brought balance and environmental wisdom. He leaves some big shoes to fill.”
LeBaron is survived by his wife and daughter Taina and sons Ward, Jon, Matthew and Trif. He had five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held later this summer.
“He was truly one of a kind,” said longtime friend Sharen Heath of Langley.