Many celebrities and public figures have resided on Mercer Island over the years. When Covenant Shores Chaplain Greg Asimakoupoulos found out that Donna Reed, one of the stars of his favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” had lived in the Seattle area, he resolved to track down her former home.
Asimakoupoulos has written a book about the movie, and often reflects on it, especially around this time of year. He even attended and spoke at the “It’s a Wonderful Life Festival” in Seneca Falls, New York in December 2016.
When Asimakoupoulos and his family moved to Mercer Island in 2005, he discovered that Karolyn Grimes (who played Zuzu Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) lived in the Seattle area.
“Rumor had it that another one of the stars from Frank Capra’s classic film had lived on the Eastside,” he said. “Some folks said Mercer Island. Some suggested Bellevue. When I got to know Karolyn Grimes, she wasn’t sure.”
At the festival, which celebrated the 70th anniversary of the movie’s release last year, he met Donna Reed’s daughter, Mary Owen. Owen confirmed that her mother and step-father had lived on Mercer Island in the late ‘70s, but couldn’t remember the address. She said that Reed had remarried a retired military man by the name of Grover Asmus, who wanted to live in the Seattle area.
“When I got back to Seattle from New York, I set about trying to locate the home Donna Reed lived in so that I could take a photo of the home and send it to Donna’s daughter,” Asimakoupoulos said.
He asked longtime Island residents, including a realtor receiving treatment in the health center at Covenant Shores, who told him she thought it was on the south end, near the Beach Club.
He called Susan Blake at the Mercer Island Historical Society, who offered to go through old telephone directories and look for Asmus. Three months later, Blake called and said she had found the address in the 1977 phone book.
Asimakoupoulos drove to the house in the 6900 block of 96th Ave. SE and knocked on the door. The current residents, Gary and Patricia Ritzman, welcomed him and gave him a tour. They said they had lived in the home for more than a quarter century.
“They informed me that the people from whom they’d purchased the home had made significant revisions and added on,” Asimakoupoulos said. “They showed me a warming oven in the kitchen they’d been told had been added by Donna Reed and her husband when they lived their 40 years ago.”
The Ritzmans also showed him a cabana in the backyard connected to their dock on the lake. Their next door neighbor (99-year-old Clay Nichols) recalls Reed hosting many a summer party in the cabana, to which he was invited.
Asimakoupoulos emailed the photos of the home and cabana to Reed’s daughter, who was grateful, though she admitted that she had not spent much time on Mercer Island while her folks lived here.
Asimakoupoulos said he was “delighted to solve the mystery.”
“In addition of being a fan of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ I faithfully watched ‘The Donna Reed Show’ as a teenager,” he said.
The Asmuses only lived on the Island for a few years, and Reed died in 1986 at the age of 64.