Hometown Heroes: Woods to music, Nutt and Kendy give their all

Volunteerism, environmentalism way of life for transplants

  • Saturday, August 23, 2003 7:00pm
  • News
Diane Kendy and Michael Nutt have been music to the ears of arts organizations and environmental causes since they moved to their Whidbey Island home nine years ago.

Diane Kendy and Michael Nutt have been music to the ears of arts organizations and environmental causes since they moved to their Whidbey Island home nine years ago.

To treat all humans and all life with the utmost respect is the basis on which Michael Nutt and his wife, Diane Kendy, try to live their lives.

“None of us should think for one minute that it is OK that some do not have food or shelter,” Nutt said. “Every human deserves an equal break. People shouldn’t want prestige or privileges. Things need to be balanced out some.”

Involved in the South Whidbey community since they moved here nine years ago, Nutt and Kendy have volunteered regularly at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, spearheaded a campaign to save more than 100 acres of woodland on Saratoga Road, and have donated to charitable and volunteer causes. Nutt, a retired professional violinist, has also played for numerous fund-raising events.

He says it’s up to those fortunate enough to have some of those privileges to help empower others by spreading the advantages around. “Especially here in America, the land of opportunity,” he said.

The husband and wife talk about all the South Whidbey people who role model this for them.

“These are the people of real class, people we call a mensch (someone who’s upright, mature and responsible),” Kendy said.

When Nutt was a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, it bothered him that musicians were held to their own chairs.

“None could move up, unless someone retired or died,” he said. “If someone was good enough to play in the orchestra, why couldn’t they hold any seat?”

He fought for six years to bring equality amongst the musicians. Now, all the major orchestras have “revolving strings,” under which every two weeks each musician moves up a chair.

Born in England, Nutt at the age of 10 had to move in with his aunt because of World War II. He attended the only school available, an all-girls school. His aunt bought him a violin to keep him occupied. She was strict about his practices, and afforded him the best music teachers. As a young man he was a busker, playing for money on the streets. He also played country music for various radio stations, and even had his own weekly show on the BBC.

After a stint with the Halle Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli, he eventually was chosen for the L.A. Philharmonic.

Kendy was born in a Berlin woman’s prison to a 17-year-old unwed Latvian mother. She lived in an orphanage for a year and-a-half until adopted by German parents — who fled first to China in 1938 and then to the United States in 1949. She searched for her natural mother until 1994, when she became convinced that her mother had been an early victim of the Nazis.

Still Kendy, a retired court reporter, believes she has been fortunate in life.

“I was born under a lucky star.”

She refers to living on Whidbey Island as an example of this luck.

Kendy is a naturalized citizen, while Nutt remains a British subject. Neither take their citizenship responsibilities lightly. This shows up in all the ways they focus on this community.

“For instance,” says Richard Tilkin, an active volunteer himself, “Diane is a formidable organizer. When she got word of a destination resort plan for the Saratoga Woods, she gathered neighbors to hear their consensus. Hearing that her community was unanimously against the project, she flew into action.”

Writing recently about Kendy, Tilkin noted that “Diane worked tirelessly for more than six years, giving time and money to the project, while husband Michael organized, planned and played music for fund-raisers. The result was that in the end the group, Save the Woods on Saratoga, accumulated $750,000 from the community, purchased the property, and gave it to the county for all to enjoy forever.”

Kendy and Nutt also take care to do the smaller things in life right. They hire people locally, and only if they can afford to pay them a respectable wage. When shopping, they try to find all their needs on South Whidbey. They also check labels, trying to find products that are actually made in America.

Even leisure activities are turned into volunteer projects. Lynae Slinden, a friend of Kendy’s, has seen this in action.

“Being an avid walker, I will ask Diane to join me for a walk,” she said. “Her idea of a walk is to pick up trash all the way to Langley and back, leaving bags of garbage for Michael to come by later and pick up with his truck.”

Annapoorne Colangelo, a yoga instructor and volunteer, said the two are wonderful companions at a dinner party or out on the town.

“An evening with these two will bring deep intelligent conversation, about spirituality, politics, philosophy, et cetera — in the next breath, pure laughter.”

She recalls a time when Nutt played a tuba at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, then pulled a beer out of it for a refresher. At a New Year’s Eve at the couple’s home, Nutt met Colangelo at the door in a black smoking jacket with silk lapels and wearing large, fuzzy slippers with an animal’s head on each.

The offbeat humor isn’t the only part of Nutt’s British heritage that he treasures.

“I have more of a British accent now than I did when I was in Britain,” he said. “I work at it.”

As a couple, humor and a dose of impulsiveness has paid dividends. Kendy recalled the June day in 1990 they went to get a septic permit for their Saratoga Road home at the Island County Courthouse. Nutt explained.

“We were up at the county obtaining the permit for our septic, and I noticed at the end of the counter a sign that said ‘marriage licenses.’ So I looked at Diane, pointed to the sign and said, ‘Want to?’ “

As it turns out, they wound up getting two permits that day. They were married three days later in Langley.

However, Nutt has another side. One time he says that while he was playing for an audience he started feeling emotional, tears began to fall and took the varnish off his violin. Another time he got all choked up while playing a Haydn adagio movement, had to stop and start again. Even now, his eyes water when he talks about it.

“It’s all the beauty that gets to me, in the soounds and nature, beauty is all around on Whidbey,” he said. “What a privilege and joy to be able to live and volunteer here.”

Kendy agrees, then adds her vision for a better world.

“One way that everyone could contribute to the general welfare is by establishing a system of compulsory civilian service, in the order of VISTA or AmeriCorps,” she said. “Think of all the positive things that could be accomplished for our domestic needs, as well as giving participants a sense of fulfillment. Hopefully, at the end of their service these young folks will stay engaged in our national community and, at the very least, faithfully exercise their right to vote.”

Though typically preferring not to be singled out for their volunteer efforts, Nutt and Kendy said they hope their being Hometown Heroes will be an inspiration to someone.

“Our hope is someone who perhaps hasn’t felt before that they had anything to give this community will feel empowered to in some way,” Kendy said. “It’s too easy for some to blame the government and use that as an excuse to do nothing, or give up.”

Having lived in many places and traveled widely, Michael and Diane feel truly blessed to be part of this amazing community on this very special island.

What their friends are saying about them

“These two people have class! They are the most giving people I know. If they say they’ll do something, there’s no doubt it’ll be done and then some. They are committed to this community and to each other. I can’t think of more inspirational and civic-minded role models.”
Stacie Burgua, WICA Executive Director

“Early on in Michael’s tenure on Whidbey, when the Artists Cooperative Gallery in Langley was struggling with question of could we afford to buy the whole building, which was for sale, Michael had just received some unexpected money, and just like that he offered to give us the many thousands of dollars needed to help us purchase the property. He has skill and charm that can emcee any party or meeting. Very dry wit.”
Ed Severinghaus, Island Arts Council

“Michael and Diane take defeat gracefully and keep right on with their work. Time and time again they get bucked off the horse just to jump right back on. They don’t seem to understand burnout and always rise above discouragement. They jump right in with a roll-up-their-sleeves-let’s-get-this-done style. They have enriched my life, my neighborhood’s life, and our community.”
Fran Abel, co-founder of Save the Woods, and a landscape consultant

“They are the kind of citizen’s our democracy requires — well-informed, involved people who speak up for and acts on their political beliefs. Each of them supports the other’s pursuits in a loving partnership that they both clearly enjoy immensely, with their eyes ever twinkling and dispositions ever ready to laugh.”
Betty Azar, co-founder Save the Woods

“I am personally grateful to Michael for being a woodworker, for he built me flower boxes on my truck bumper. His handiwork brings a smile and enjoyment to a lot of people.”
Cary Peterson, neighbor and volunteer

“I am deeply moved by Diane’s rapturous dedication in preserving the woods, giving us all a place for healing and renewal. Thank you, Diane.”
Talia Toni Marcus, local musician

“Musically and politically these two have made a difference in our community. Diane has phenomenal organizational skills. And Michael, a superb musician of course, doesn’t mind playing with us less-skilled musicians.”
Paula Pugh musician and instructor

“All of us are in their debt. It’s the rhapsodic music organized and often played or conducted by Michael. It’s the intense involvement in public affairs of Diane. We couldn’t be without this perfect melody of accomplishment.”
Tom and Ann Morgan Campbell, community volunteers

“Not only is Michael a professional musician, but also an accomplished woodworker and craftsman. They both are an inspiration on how to live a full and productive life in retirement. The secret to their success as individuals is based on their contributions to life on this Island.”
Rolf and Barbara Seitle, volunteers

“Michael and Diane have had such a positive impact in our community, it’s hard to believe they’ve been here less than 10 years. Talk about relative newcomers: The first time I met them, they were mentioning they were going to plant blackberries on their slope to hold it and fill it in.”
Kim Drury, Friends of Saratoga in the Woods

“Michael and Diane have brought to Whidbey Island a great gift of stewardship and creative involvement. Michael created the Saratoga Chamber Players, and Diane with her deep political and ecological involvement. We all can be grateful for these two.”
Charlyne and Ralph Pyle, L.A. Philharmonic retiree, neighbors and volunteers

“They have actually transformed the South Whidbey community in so many ways: artistically, environmentally, politically, even socially.”
Bill Humphreys, director of LUMC, active volunteer

“People think of Michael as a classical violinist but he has a pseudonym or alter ego, country fiddler Slim Weston. He’s great at telling jokes, and is an inspiration how he handles those ‘senior moments’ with humor. Diane is fluent in German and her children are bilingual as well. They are both truly cosmopolitan. One time when the conductor was delayed at a concert, Michael got up and entertained the audience beautifully.”
Linda Good, Island Strings, active volunteer

“The effects this couple has had on our community are all around us. They’ve done everything from stuffing piles of envelopes to raising daunting amounts of money, always with attention to detail, and making sure everyone gets properly thanked. What I treasure most is that they can lighten any dreary job or meeting with off-the-wall humor.”
Ann Medlock, founder of the Giraffe Project and poet

“I remember Diane volunteering for all the jobs none of the rest of us wanted to do, including sitting through endless meetings and hearings in Coupeville. Her humor and common sense helps keep any group on task. Future generations have much to thank her for. Michael as the musical maestro, brings world-class music to this community, often to benefit local causes.”
John Graham, President of the Giraffe Project, and citizen activist

“Michael is the first one to volunteer to organize a musical event, schedule the rehearsals, set up the stands and chairs, and think up some whimsical, zany slant for the event. Diane brings enormous energy and passion to politics, the environment, and global events.”
Linda Morris, musician and volunteer

“Michael kindly agreed to perform as guest artist at the end of my student recital last spring. I had the privilege of playing a Beethoven violin piano duo with him which I consider to be one of my lifetime highs.”
Kathy Fox, Music teacher and volunteer

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