courtesy Louise North
That's Louise North as a young girl atop a pony that was brought around to pose for pictures.

Louise North is one of a kind

By Georgie Bright Kunkel

Our little village of West Seattle held out against corporate takeover for a long time. There was even a move to secede and form a town of our own. After all, entrepreneurs of every persuasion set up little shops that covered all our needs. I remember browsing in apparel shops for one-of-a-kind garments that no one else would be wearing. There was the La Grace shop, Johnson’s Apparel and of course Louise North Apparel. These special shops could not continue to compete in a world of large corporate retailers obtaining wearing apparel manufactured in sweat shops overseas. So luckily manager retirement was an option as one apparel shop after the other disappeared. Louise managed her store for forty years before closing the shop at last.

Louise North is a homegrown miracle. She was born ninety years ago, along with Ed, her twin, in West Seattle and when the doctor could not get her to breathe and had given her up for dead, her father decided to try and revive her. At last she took her first breath and she has been actively pursuing her passion ever since. The first picture she showed me was of playing the accordion and since she lives in the original Colonial style home that she grew up in with five brothers and sisters she still has her piano and organ nearby.

Even though she was surrounded by boys in the neighborhood she never married. Twenty nieces and nephews are in her life so she says she never missed having children of her own. As I was talking with her one of her family members came in with a fresh crab which he said he would prepare for her to eat.

The entrepreneurial spirit permeated her family. Her father was an ear, nose and throat specialist in West Seattle after marrying her mother who grew up in wheat country and attended WSU. Her older brother Charles North worked at Huling Brothers. Albert went to sea earlier and then went into commercial insurance. He still lives in the area with wife Lillian. Ed was in insurance and his wife Mary North managed a travel business. Dick had a drug store for 30 years and Patty Stammets, her younger sister, lives in Winthrop after working in real estate for twenty-five years.

Talk about surviving—Louise suffered a stroke in 2002 leaving her somewhat limited and she recently recovered from an injury after a fall. But she is still enjoying her home with help on hand. Her memories cover living in a hundred year old home in Redondo in the summer months and stories of her father who volunteered for a Scottish regiment during WWI. She says he wasn’t about to wear a kilt and never did.

Louise attended the University of Washington and went on to attain her Masters Degree at a women’s college connected to Harvard University. Harvard’s president gave the commencement address and offered this advice, “Go west, young women.” Her home was already out west so she returned there and began working at Frederick and Nelson, interrupting her employment to go to Europe to live for two years. She was such a valued employee that Fredericks left the door open for her.

Mentoring and contacts really help a young person going up the ladder. Louise had help from a friend of the family who was in the business of selling wholesale. With her influence and her own experience at Fredericks she began searching for a place to start her apparel shop and Louise North Apparel was born. Louise would go downtown to a display of wholesale apparel five times a year to order for her store. They got calls when she had picked up garments she knew they would enjoy wearing. One day a fellow came into the shop and looked around and a little later Louise discovered that he had robbed the cash register. She quickly called other shops to warn them.

She retains the energetic and interested look of that little girl in the picture she showed me of her posing on the back of a pony. Some enterprising person brought this pony around the neighborhood for children to ride and it is one of her special memories. When asked what her hope for the world would be she replied, “That people will find work once more.”

She lived through the Great Depression days and knows that recovery is always possible.

Georgie Bright Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at gnkunkel@comcast.net or 206-935-8663.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.