Remembering Les Gunther (1925-2014)

Les Gunther, a longtime conservationist, community leader and San Juan Preservation Trust legend, has passed away at age 88. Les joined the Preservation Trust’s board of trustees in 1991 after he and his wife Betsy donated a conservation easement on their San Juan Island property. He served on the board for six years, including three years as president of the organization.

His family submitted the following remembrance:

Les Gunther

Lester Capell Gunther


Beloved patriarch, dear friend, irascible coot, Lester Gunther perished Monday at his home on False Bay.

Born Dec. 3, 1925 in Paris, France, Les moved at the age of six to Montclair, N.J. Dressed by his mother in Little-Lord-Fauntleroy attire, he quickly learned his first English sentence, “Me ‘Merican boy!” in vain effort to avoid pummeling by the New Jersey youth with whom he would eventually become fast friends.

Ejected from the Boy Scouts for shooting out streetlights with a slingshot, an act for which he would shoulder life-long contrition, Les confided various subsequent undertakings, including releasing captive bats into a crowded movie theater, and introducing a spraying skunk to a family event.

These acts presaged an enduring love of wildlife that would eventually lead him on collecting expeditions around the world as the head of the Steinhart Divers for the California Academy of Sciences.

Les volunteered for the Navy in 1943 at the age of 17, operating sonar on an escort vessel in the Pacific theater of WWII. “It was that or college,” he would explain.

After graduating from USC on the GI Bill, Les moved to Portland, Ore., where he would meet the love of his life, Elizabeth (Betsy) Thayer, pursuing her throughout her college career at Stanford and proposing, as they liked to relate, beside a pile from a horse stable in coastal Oregon.

He and Betsy bore two children who at times provided no small consternation, but for whom he would demonstrate unfailing affection, support and loyalty. Once they were grown, Les and Betsy were free to relocate from Burlingame, Calif. to the San Juans, designing and building their final home here which they dubbed “Ultima Thule”.

For 30 years Les and Betsy enjoyed, and contributed to the enjoyability of, Friday Harbor. Referred to by some as “The Emperor of San Juan,” by more as their favorite “curmudgeon”, Les liked nothing more than cooking a delicious meal for a banquet of guests and presiding over animated conversations with them.

An avid boatman, Les restored a number of classic wooden motor yachts and indulged in his love for hospitality by piloting friends about on CYA outings or just a sunny summer day. Whatever the occasion, Les was the consummate example of how to flavor it and how to savor it.

Les is survived by loving wife Betsy, daughter Gretchen, son-in-law Patrick, son Erik, and grandson Forrest. They will miss him terribly and be forever grateful to have shared lives with Les.

Les requested there be no memorial. A memorial will be held Saturday, July 26, 3 p.m. at 588 Mountain Shadows Lane. All are welcome. Carpool if you can.

Arrangements are in the care of Evans Funeral Chapel and Crematory, Anacortes and the San Juan Islands. To share memories of Les, please sign the online guest register at

— Family of Lester Gunther


Hole in the Forest

When a tree is felled

The bark is made into a boat

The sweetest wood into a lute

The branches roof a house

The hole

Where the tree grew

Soon greens with fern

The hole in the forest

Remains the color of the sky

And people have

No way of

Hiding the tree’s huge depth

— Michael Dansfield


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Illegal Clear-Cutting on Fidalgo Preserve

IMG_3585 (800x600) Fidalgo clear-cut

The owner of an Anacortes bed & breakfast establishment has agreed to pay a $100,000 settlement for illegally clear-cutting a waterfront nature preserve on Fidalgo Island. The nature preserve, which is owned by the San Juan Preservation Trust, is situated on a steep slope between the bed & breakfast and the shoreline. It is presumed that the owner of the bed & breakfast ordered the removal of all of the trees from a one-quarter acre area extending from the top of the bank down to the beach in order to enhance the views from his establishment. This action has damaged important shoreline wildlife habit and destabilized the steep bank by eliminating native vegetation and undermining its natural water drainage patterns.

The clear-cut property is part of the Preservation Trust’s 1.25-mile long “John H. Geary Shoreline Preserve,” a 38-acre collection of 22 contiguous parcels along the west side of Fidalgo Island that was permanently conserved in 1992 by a coalition of neighbors concerned about a proposed development along this steep hillside. The preserve follows Fidalgo’s western shoreline beginning north of Sunset Lane, around Edith Point, and then south toward Biz Point.

“No one likes to seek legal remedy, but this community worked very hard to protect this shoreline,” said Keith Gerrard, president of the San Juan Preservation Trust’s board of trustees. “We have a responsibility to defend all of our nature preserves in perpetuity, and we won’t shy away from that commitment.”

The Preservation Trust, which has agreed to drop a pending lawsuit, intends to use funds from the settlement to restore lost vegetation, re-stabilize the steep bank, educate upland neighbors about the nature preserve, and implement new strategies to avoid future violations.

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Hats off to our 2014 Volunteer of the Year!


Meet Harvey Himelfarb

We are extremely grateful to Harvey Himelfarb for his volunteer service to the Preservation Trust over the last 10 years. With humility and his articulate manner, Harvey served on the SJPT Board of Trustees from 2003-2011, contributing his intelligent insights and leadership skills to the growth of the organization. Among many accomplishments during his board tenure, Harvey organized our successful Photography Internship program and provided invaluable leadership during the Preservation Trust’s very first land trust accreditation process.

Two years after stepping down from the board, Harvey returned as a non-trustee volunteer in 2013 to serve as chairman of an ad-hoc Governance Committee. Convened to improve our approach to selecting, educating and engaging board members, this committee – under Harvey’s leadership – advanced a number of recommendations that will help shape the future of the Preservation Trust for years to come.

Originally from the Bronx, Harvey has been a West Coast transplant for decades. An accomplished artist, Harvey taught photography and printmaking for more than 20 years at UC Davis before accepting a position there of Vice Provost for Academic Personnel and Programs.

In 1991, Harvey, his wife, Alice Swan, and their son purchased property on Orcas Island and built a small house. They moved to Orcas full time in 1998. After observing dramatic changes due to growth in Arizona and California during the past 30 years, Harvey is convinced that the San Juan Islands remain a special place where those who care can still save its pristine qualities.

“It has been an honor to help the Trust in protecting our beautiful islands. I need no recognition as I believe so much in the mission and the wonderful staff of the Trust,” said Harvey.

Harvey, you are much too humble. You have made a positive and lasting contribution to future of the Preservation Trust!

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