History lesson

Phil Flash was awarded for his devotion to Island history at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle on April 22. - Jack Storms/
Phil Flash was awarded for his devotion to Island history at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle on April 22.
— image credit: Jack Storms/

One-time citizen of the year and senior games champion Phil Flash, received high honors last week for his long-time involvement with the Mercer Island Historical Society.

Last Tuesday, Flash was given the Willard Jue Memorial Award by the Association of King County Historical Organizations, or AKCHO, for his persistence, devotion and enthusiastic work in preserving Mercer Island’s historic legacy. Williard Jue, the award’s namesake, was a founder and president of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest as well a president and board member of the Wing Luke Asian Museum.

The annual award honors an individual employee or volunteer who has initiated, developed or presented a plan that has led to the advancement of funding for heritage projects, protections of heritage resources, or public awareness for heritage, such as posters, videos, newsletters or Web sites. Flash has done all of this at one point in his tenure on the Island.

Flash said he was “very honored, privileged, glad and appreciative to have received the award.”

He also credited the historical society’s board of directors and thanked them for their support. “We are doing this now so information is available for future generations,” Flash said of his work. “We recognized that a vital piece once gone is gone forever and cannot be replaced.”

Over the past few years, Flash has called for the preservation of the East Seattle School currently occupied by the Island’s Boys and Girls Club. While the club plans to redevelop the property into a youth sports facility, Flash hopes a part of the school facade can be preserved.

“To preserve the entire facade is very desirable,” said Flash. “But if that is not feasible then maybe saving just a little piece of it. It is a long-time historical landmark and we could put up some signs and pictures of the old school.”

The 25th AKCHO award ceremony took place at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, where Flash was the chief exhibit designer for 21 years. Flash received 19 letters of support in addition to the nomination submitted by Islander Dick Decker.

“That amount of support letters is unsurpassed, I believe,” said AKCHO awards chair Patricia Filer. “Nominations for this award came from the Mayor of Mercer Island, City Council members, School Board members, Historical Society volunteers, pioneer residents and newcomers of Mercer Island, they all declare Phil Flash is an island institution.”

Over the years, it is true that Flash has become an Island institution of his own. He developed the display case of Mercer Island’s history at City Hall (although he wanted a small museum, he was unsuccessful in that campaign.) He is a senior games champion and won citizen of the year in 1990.

Now, at 89 years of age, Flash is respected as both the heart and soul of the Island’s historical society, where he currently serves as co-president.

Flash is currently working to preserve and catalog the collection of photographs, documents and papers that belong to the historical organization. He has also teamed up with former Reporter editor and current director of the Sister Cities Association, Jane Meyer-Brahm, to update the historical societies book, “Mercer Island Heritage.”

“Phil works tirelessly to educate the community about Mercer Island’s history” Meyer-Brahm wrote in her support letter.

Flash also regularly attends and participates in City Council and School Board meetings as well as most public events.

One Islander recognized Flash as the sole voice in support of preserving some of the Island’s past.

“He is often the lone voice at City Council meetings standing up for old buildings and asking the Council to please consider or reconsider a decision about the destruction of a building,” wrote one Islander in support of Flash receiving the award.

“I am impressed by Phil‘s ability to bridge the generations,” wrote another. “He is in his eighties but when he speaks to classes at the elementary schools about Mercer Island history, they are transfixed. He holds their attention with stories, dramatic descriptions and humor, he is a regular on the elementary school speaker circuit.”

Former City Council and School Board member Susan Blake said she first met Flash while she served on the Board.

“Phil spoke out on the side that we should use closed district buildings for other programs to keep historic symbols in tact,” wrote Blake in her support letter.

One supporter, however, summed up Flash’s contributions best.

“In short, he’s a local treasure,” stated one of the support letters.

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