As the saying goes, “If you want to get something done, leave it to a busy woman.” Good Cheer was founded in 1962 through the efforts of several remarkable women.
“As we look back to our beginning it is our founding mothers that were not only instrumental in the establishment of Good Cheer, but also in the origination of the idea of being self-sustaining which is why we are now celebrating serving the community 50 years,” said Kathy McLaughlin McCabe, Good Cheer’s executive director. “Those were committed, determined and caring women with a vision that is as important today as it was when they first began the Good Cheer journey.”
When organized in 1963, Marian Howe became Good Cheer’s first president, Ida DeArmand served as vice president, and Tommy Double was treasurer. Little is known about DeArmand, but Howe and Double are fondly remembered as the women who gave birth to the vision.
Howe had a rare talent to organize and start non-profits.
“Mother had a knack for starting charitable organizations,” daughter Cheri Howe told Good Cheer volunteers in a 2007 interview. “She was happiest being involved with starting nonprofits such as Good Cheer.”
Born in 1922, Howe became an adult during World War II. Her first husband, a navigator in the Pacific theater, was killed in 1942 when his plane slammed into a mountain in New Guinea. Its wreckage was found 48 years later.
Howe found herself a young widow with an infant daughter. In 1944, after a whirlwind 17-day courtship, she married Capt. Norman Howe. Tragedy struck again as Howe’s B-24 bomber was shot down over Germany. The crew parachuted to safety, but Howe stayed behind to help a frightened crew member. He survived the crash with a broken back, but was in a prisoner of war camp until the end of the war.
Howe became her husband’s advocate as he had his back re-broken and reset in military hospitals. Her family recalled that once she even went toe-to-toe with a general, threatening to go to the newspapers unless her husband received the care he needed.
In 1951, the Howe family moved to Whidbey Island. Howe left a legacy not only as one of Good Cheer’s founders, but as a driving force behind Senior Services of Island County, the Meals on Wheels program, the senior Cambey apartments in Coupeville, Help House and Shalom Circle, a children’s singing group.
Howe again served on Good Cheer’s Board of Directors in the 1980s. She moved off the island to live with her daughter in 1992, but still kept busy with charity work until her death in 2002.
Hanna “Tommy” Double
While Howe was a great organizer, Double was a doer. Born in 1883 on a farm in Pennsylvania, no one knows exactly what brought the widow to Whidbey in 1957. But she was obviously ready to leave her mark.
Double ran the help closet that would eventually morph into the Langley thrift store in 1965. At that time, she also began feeding clients by handing out food vouchers to local stores. In its early days, Good Cheer wasn’t a food bank, but an organization that spread Christmas joy to the less fortunate. The group delivered toys to children and their families would get a few food items. The help closet raised funds for this project.
Double kept running the Langley thrift store until her mid-90s when her health declined. Then board president, the late Robert Porter, was tasked with having to ask Double to step down.
Porter recalled in a 2007 interview that he was up against a strong-willed woman.
“By the time I became Good Cheer board president in the 70s, Tommy’s eyesight was so bad that she depended on someone else to drive her into Langley every day. Her health began to fail and she started to have fainting spells in the store. It broke my heart to have to insist that she retire, but I came up with the idea of naming her Good Cheer board president emeritus and made sure that someone brought her to the monthly board meetings. She was treated like a Super Queen Bee and loved it,” he recalled.
Double died in 1984, just five months shy of her 101st birthday.
After Double retired, Leona Potvin, her right-hand volunteer, took over and worked closely with Betty Davenny and Jean Porter until a new director was hired.
In 1981 yet another wonder woman took charge and under her watchful eyes, Good Cheer began expansion.
Joy McClellan convinced the Good Cheer board to expand and instead of renting out space in the building on Anthes Avenue they expanded the store, creating room for sorting and a volunteer meeting space. The upstairs area was added in 1992.
McClellan said she has thousands of memories of helping people, but what she cherishes most is the “family feeling” at Good Cheer — now and then.
“One of my favorite things was that we served lunch to all our volunteers every day. The volunteers took turns to bring in lunches. My husband would bring in a whole turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or come in to make soup,” she said. “It was a special group.”
When McClellan retired in 1996, Tom Harris took over until his unexpected passing in 2000. Under manager Brenda Thorn’s leadership, thrift stores sales and food bank clients continued to grow for the next two years.
Kathy McLaughlin McCabe
As Good Cheer celebrates its 50th birthday, McLaughlin McCabe is hitting a milestone of her own. She joined Good Cheer in 2002.
Kay Stanley, a board member for 22 years, remembered the day McLaughlin McCabe’s resume arrived.
“At the time, I was board president and we had the applications sent to my home. Some came on notebook paper. We had never gone through a formal application process.
“One day, one resume arrived. I read it. I folded over the part with the name and showed it to my husband. He said: ‘This isn’t like any of the other ones. She is the one,’” Stanley said. Stanley had known McLaughlin for years through community service. Stanley took the resume to the board and McLaughlin was hired.
“She is such a hard worker. I would have gray hair if I was her,” Stanley said.
In the past 10 years, Good Cheer continued its expansion, adding two thrift stores in Clinton, adding the garden, purchasing and renovating the Bayview site and renovating the aging Langley Store.
McLaughlin has also contributed to community building as a driving force behind efforts such as the Help Network, an informal group of service nonprofits on the South End. Passionate about youth issues, she has served on the board for the South Whidbey Commons, Readiness-to-Learn and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County. She is often a voice on economic community issues and is an ambassador for Good Cheer on a regional level advocating for a hunger-free community.
It was not only women who were vital to Good Cheer’s success. Among the many men who were contributors in the early days were Ernest Noble, Stan Boozel, Gust Skarberg, Ace Comstock, Harry Josephson, O.G. Murphy, John Norby, Carl Anderson, Richard Clyde, Robert Porter, David Henny, Lon Chase, Don Marsh, Rev. Kenneth Olson, Rev. William Burnett and Urban Moore.
Good Cheer wants to hear your stories. Newspaper clippings and photos are also appreciated. Mail them to Good Cheer, P.O. Box 144, Langley, WA 98260 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good Cheer volunteer Laura Canby’s research contributed to this report.