Mercer Island to celebrate 50 years as city

Neighbors Joanne (Aura) Wahlquist, Margaret Quarles and Conni Strope have stories to tell about early Island families.  - Contributed Photo
Neighbors Joanne (Aura) Wahlquist, Margaret Quarles and Conni Strope have stories to tell about early Island families.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

A community celebration of Mercer Island’s 50th year as a city is in the works. The milestone, termed “Mercerversary” as it was for the city’s 25th anniversary, will be marked on Sunday, July 18, at a party at Mercerdale Park and activities during Mercer Island’s Summer Celebration.

But more than a party is planned. The Mercerversary 50 Committee has recently launched a Web site at that includes event information, city history and a growing list of longtime residents and businesses of the Mercer Island community.

Organizers are asking residents and business owners to contact them at, (206) 232-8897 or stop by the Chamber of Commerce office to be included in this “community roll call.”

“We’re looking forward to a great event,” said Terry Pottmeyer and Susan Kaplan, co-chairs of the Mercerversary Committee. “We’re looking forward to capturing some of our unique history and accomplishments along the way.”

And in honor of that milestone, Islanders have been reaching out and documenting stories about the people who live, work and play here.

Here is one such story.

On a recent afternoon, neighbors from the East Mercer neighborhood gathered as they often do to retell stories and laugh together.

Despite their differences in age, the three women sat comfortably together pouring over old pictures of shared memories. Three generations, three different families, with a remarkably overlapping history.

Conni Strope, Joanne (Aura) Wahlquist and Margaret Quarles each have spent most of their lives on the East Mercer beach that their families have called home for three, four and even five generations.

They recall the five families of Scandinavian descent that came to Mercer Island in the early 1900s because the lake, trees and light reminded them of their homeland. The cottages lined the waterfront — the Olsens (Ford, Pheeney), the Johnsons (Strope, Shaeffer), the Auras, the Gregorys, and then the Engstroms (Quarles). As the original families expanded, they stayed, building homes up the hillside.

“We moved up and down the hill as the circumstances in our lives changed,” said Wahlquist.

And although their ages span over 50 years, they all recall a similar life growing up in the neighborhood. The kids had free rein with no fences, neighbors that were like family, and beautiful sand beaches. “There were lots of kids and we roamed the neighborhood almost in a pack,” recalls Strope. “No one really kept track — we just went from yard to yard, house to house, and someone would feed us dinner along the way.” All three generations recall swimming or rowing across the narrow channel to Bellevue, playing hide-and-seek in the woods and making huge bonfires on the beach.

All the neighbors here were family members of the original five families until about 10 years ago. Now only the three remain, indelibly connected by their long family history. But the homes and cottages still stand, and you can still spot some of the darling red birdhouses in the trees — the ones that Quarles’ father used to make more than 60 years ago.

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