Mercer Island 2021: A year in review

Reporter covered intense city elections, the fight against anti-Asian hate crimes and more.


Tears fell from Patty Quigley’s eyes when she learned that the Mercer Island Masonic Lodge #297 F & AM of Washington was to be renamed for her father, Dean LeClare Quigley.

Patty said she practically grew up in the VFW Post #5760 building, where the Freemasons have met since 1966, when she returned there on the evening of Dec. 2 for the re-dedication ceremony. The local Freemasons formed their chapter in 1953.

Dean, who was a Freemason for 73 years, passed away on Feb. 17 at the age of 97.

Stella Prophater packs a lot of activities into her days.

The Mercer Island High School (MIHS) senior plays violin for the school orchestra, she’s the captain of the cheer and swim squads and the Science Club and she thrives in the classroom with a 3.9 grade-point average while taking all honors courses.

There’s more. Last month, Prophater — a founding member of the all-girl Scout Troop 678 — became the first female Eagle Scout from MIHS, joining her father and grandfather in the Eagle realm. The troop formed in early 2019 when Boy Scouts of America opened scouting to females.

“League of Legends” and “VALORANT” video game developer and publisher Riot Games has purchased the former Farmers Insurance property building on Mercer Island.

The Los Angeles-based company closed the deal on Dec. 8 for the 156,000-square-foot, five-story building. Located at 3003 77th Ave. SE, the property stands across the street from Mercerdale Park at the corner of 77th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 32nd Street.

According to Riot Games, the company acquired the Mercer Park Workplace office building for $114.1 million from Mercer Park South LLC, which is affiliated with Ryan Companies partner Matt Burbach.


On a recent afternoon, the sparkling new Pathways building was bustling with activity. Students chatted as they looked up from their books and teachers moved from one room to the next as they surveyed the scene.

Located on the Northwood Elementary School site at 4030 86th Ave. SE, the building was specially designed for adult students with disabilities so they can learn independent living and job skills, according to the Mercer Island School District (MISD).

Kalli Knight remembers her best friend Katie Jay Scott-Stauring as always being a kind and caring person.

They met in sixth grade at Islander Middle School, and Knight said that her pal really began opening her arms to others and immensely displaying her compassion during their years at Mercer Island High School (MIHS).

“She was constantly volunteering, constantly staying late after school. She was loved not only by the teachers, but by all the students. If there was a student that wasn’t necessarily being treated right, she always was an advocate for them at that time,” said Knight, a 1999 MIHS graduate along with her friend.

Knight sees Scott-Stauring’s actions at MIHS as a foreshadowing of the vital work she would do later in life by traveling the world with iACT, an international human rights non-governmental nonprofit organization that focuses on refugee-led solutions. She made a major impact then and now.

On the evening of Nov. 23, Scott-Stauring, 40, and her husband, Gabriel Stauring, 55, were killed in a car accident in Manhattan Beach, California. Their 9-year-old daughter, Leila, survived the crash, which occurred after the family had dinner and were returning to their home in nearby Redondo Beach. Another man was killed in the four-car collision and the cause of the accident was being investigated by police at press time, according to the Easy Reader newspaper.

Three weeks to the day after King County Elections tallied the first round of returns for the Nov. 2 general election, it certified the results of the election.

In the Mercer Island City Council realm, Salim Nice, Ted Weinberg and Lisa Anderl officially won their races. For Position 2, Nice (5,602 votes, 58.75%) beat Daniel Becker (3,921, 41.12%); for Position 4, Weinberg (5,193, 54.19%) defeated Michael D. Curry (4,384, 45.75%); and for Position 6, Anderl (5,334, 55.49%) beat Kate Akyuz (4,265, 44.37%).

It was a powerful moment as the crucial message echoed throughout the gymnasium.

While discussing fighting antisemitism with Island Park Elementary School fifth-graders on a recent afternoon, Devon Benaroya glanced at his two Mercer Island High School (MIHS) classmates and strongly spoke into the microphone, “We decided to take a stand, make a change within our school.”

The MIHS senior added that the youngsters, too, can make a difference in their lives.

Benaroya and junior Mimi Hartman, who are both Jewish, and junior Mia LoBosco centered their presentation on educating the fifth-graders about the Holocaust and coming together to remember the past and learn from those tragedies.

Mercer Island High School sophomore Piper Enge shredded through the pool and grabbed a pair of state records at the 3A state swim and dive meet at the King County Aquatics Center in Federal Way.

Islander junior Brooke Andrews notched the 1-meter diving crown and her team placed third overall.

Enge received the lofty moniker of swimmer of the meet for her stellar first-place performances in the 200-yard individual medley, 1:59.92, and the 100-yard breaststroke, 1:00.44. Both marks are automatic All-American times.

Andrews amassed 406.65 points, an All-American qualifying amount, and could receive the honor when they are announced at a later date.


At its Oct. 19 meeting, the Mercer Island City Council voted in favor of allocating $1,171,500 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to address immediate operational needs within the organization, including sewer and water projects.

City finance director Matt Mornick noted at the meeting that recommended operational investments — with a cost estimate through 2022 — featured $990,000 to cover Youth and Family Services (YFS) mental health and human services; $102,000 for half a limited term equivalent (LTE) through federal grant management through December 2022; and $80,000 for legal support related to the pandemic.

Rabbi Nissan Kornfeld said that people are anxious about antisemitism and hate in general in the present day, and they’re also worried about what’s coming down the line in the future.

To help them deal with these intense feelings, the director of Chabad Mercer Island offered a new four-week in-person and online course, “Outsmarting Antisemitism,” from the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) beginning Oct. 25.


Dr. Martin “Mac” Cheever’s heart was always in the right place, said Linda Cheever, his wife of 49 years.

A longtime Mercer Island resident, “Mac” made his mark in the medical world as a physician-scientist who was a pioneer in the development of lifesaving immunotherapies, according to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Following a high-risk heart surgery months earlier, “Mac” died on Sept. 23 at the age of 77.

Just over seven months after passing an ordinance prohibiting camping and storage of personal possessions on all Mercer Island property, the city council has agreed to partner with The Sophia Way and Congregations for the Homeless for outreach services.

Council unanimously passed a motion at its Sept. 21 virtual meeting to authorize and appropriate $20,000 — $10,000 for each area shelter — to provide services to homeless people on the Island through December of 2022. In a previous Reporter story, City Manager Jessi Bon said the funds were planned to be one of the mid-biennial budget requests.

With masks required to be worn in most public indoor settings and at large outdoor events, regardless of vaccination status, Gov. Jay Inslee said on Sept. 9 that people need to understand that the current situation is severe.

Over at the Island’s Barrels Wine Bar, co-owners Joe and Tina Kennedy said they think the mask mandate is a smart move and it hasn’t made much of an impact on their business. They feel it’s crucial that more people get vaccinated.

“Of course we don’t have 500 people gathering outside either, but we would encourage everyone to wear them where it is required to do so,” said Joe, adding that Barrels requires customers to show proof of vaccination in order to sit inside or on their outside parking lot patio.

“We have lost a few customers — a couple got a little belligerent — but the overwhelming response is, ‘Thank you for doing this. We feel much more comfortable knowing everyone here is vaccinated,’” he said.


School days are finally here — in a masked-up environment.

There was plenty of activity on the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) campus as students arrived and were split up into two groups of classes on separate days to have their photos taken, pick up textbooks and iPads and become apprised of clubs and activities.

The Mercer Island School District (MISD) students hit the books in-person and full time beginning Sept. 1 for grades 1-12 and Sept. 3 for kindergartners. All students and employees will be required to wear masks in their buildings and on school buses.

In her letter to the MISD community on Aug. 18, Superintendent Donna Colosky said that Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation issued that day regarding adult COVID-19 vaccination requirements for those involved with K-12 district operations would not delay the school’s targeted return dates.

Due to increased COVID-19 risks and after a fully-vaccinated person who was present at a concert tested positive for the virus, the city pulled the plug on the final two Mostly Music in the Park events.

Additionally, the reopening of City Hall to the public has been postponed as a safety precaution for the risk of indoor virus transmission.

At the initial concert in the series on Aug. 19, the COVID-affected person followed public health recommendations and was masked up for the duration of the event, which took place outdoors under the pergola at Mercerdale Park in a socially distanced atmosphere and featured headliner The Olson Bros Band.

Dr. Kathy Taylor, the state of Washington’s only forensic anthropologist who helped identify the youngest Green River Killer victim in late 2020, died on Aug. 1, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County. The cause of death was not available at post time.

Taylor, 55, was a Mercer Island High School (MIHS) class of 1984 graduate and received the school’s Pathfinder Award for distinguished graduates on March 31.


The city is flowing along with its booster chlorination system project, which is aimed at strengthening its water supply system and improving system operations for water quality control.

At its July 20 meeting, the Mercer Island City Council took the next step with the project’s development by voting to award a bid to Woodinville’s Harbor Pacific Contractors, Inc. to construct the permanent booster disinfection system for the city’s reservoir and main pump station.

Council also voted to authorize City Manager Jessi Bon to execute a contract with Harbor Pacific Contractors, Inc., in an amount not to exceed $2,115,642, which is the contractor’s total submitted bid.

A person hurled concrete debris at a Mercer Island Fire Department ambulance while its crew was transporting a patient along Interstate 90 to Seattle for medical treatment in the early morning of July 20.

No one was injured during the incident, which occurred at approximately 3 a.m. near the Rainier Avenue exit when the subject threw the debris while standing on the far right side of the interstate, according to the city. The vehicle received a scuff on its suspension from the debris.

The ambulance driver swerved away from the debris, and the crew immediately alerted the Washington State Patrol (WSP) before continuing its trip to the Seattle hospital.

WSP arrested a suspect in the incident. Earlier, a suspect evaded state troopers.

Mayor Benson Wong issued a proclamation at the July 6 city council meeting regarding Mercer Island’s rejection of antisemitism and hate crimes against those of the Jewish faith.

In declaring its ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, the city — which houses a robust Jewish community — first passed the proclamation in 2016.

“We urge all our members and residents of our community to treat each other with respect and to stand up and work together to overcome all expressions of hate and bigotry,” Wong said on behalf of the city council.


Mercer Island’s Marine Patrol recovered an adult male who drowned in Lake Washington at approximately 5:30 p.m. June 17. He went missing about 22 and a half hours earlier in the Meydenbauer Bay area of Bellevue.

Redmond’s Strategic Robotic Systems utilized a remote operated vehicle (ROV) to recover the Bellevue man who was resting in 100 feet of water.

“The body was transported to shore and turned over to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, who will determine the cause and manner of death,” according to the Mercer Island Police Department (MIPD).

The man was identified as Parahat Akyshov, 33, by the King County Medical Examiner’s office.

Members of the Mercer Island Marine Patrol and Bellevue emergency responders searched for the man on the evening of June 16 after he jumped into the lake to try and assist his young son who fell off their motorboat, according to the MIPD.

ONE MI and the city of Mercer Island invited residents to engage in the conversation of “What Freedom Means to Me.”

In the week leading up to Juneteenth on June 19, they launched a public art installation alongside large eye-catching signs emblazoned with bold red and green lettering on the north border of Mercerdale Park. One sign read, “Juneteenth is a time to celebrate, gather as a community, reflect on the past and look to the future.”

People were encouraged to speak out and share their thoughts on freedom by creating signs and placing their art at the Mercerdale location through June 30.

To commemorate the end of slavery in the United States, Mercer Island Mayor Benson Wong recently signed a proclamation to observe June 19 as Juneteenth on the Island.


Local kindergartners received a massive surprise when a major politician who resides in Washington, D.C., responded to their letters.

President Joe Biden himself penned a letter on May 26 to the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC) Early Childhood School students, who put their notes in the mail to the White House around the time of Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

A school blog post dated Jan. 21 reads that Kayla Schuman’s kindergarten class fully embraced the historic week and learned about the Inauguration.

Some of the students’ notes, which also feature drawings, wish the 46th commander-in-chief and Vice President Kamala Harris well in the White House and hope they can eliminate the coronavirus.

Prior to the pandemic, Mercer Island’s Youth and Family Services (YFS) had an eye on addressing the ascending trends in mental health concerns for college students and recent high school graduates.

When COVID hit, the urgency reached an even higher mark to connect with students, said Rachel Montgomery, YFS’ Healthy Youth Initiative coordinator.

“We reached out to the (University of Washington) and asked to get more information on their Be REAL program and to see if we could apply it on Mercer Island. To our good fortune, they were really excited to do that,” Montgomery added.

The Be REAL (REsilient Attitudes & Living) program is situated within the UW’s Center for Child & Family Well-Being, and YFS launched the program on the Island for local high school graduates from classes 2017-2021 who are age 18 and up.


Rev. Roberta Rominger and her Congregational Church on Mercer Island members are passionate about protecting the Earth. It’s a major part of their faith.

“We’re responsible for this beautiful planet we’ve been entrusted with, so we should just do everything humanly possible to preserve it for future generations,” said Rominger as she proudly glanced around at masked-up people gathering for the church’s inaugural Earth Day Fair on April 22.

The three-hour free evening event took place in the church’s parking lot on Island Crest Way and included booths providing environmental information from local environmental groups Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Interfaith Power and Light, Sustainable Mercer Island and more.

Mercer Island School District counselors stepped into the forefront and shared vital information about youth suicide prevention during a web program on April 20.

Acknowledge, care and tell a trusted adult (ACT), talking to teens, building coping skills and healthy habits were some of the main talking points at the MI Parent Edge and Islander Middle School Counseling Team’s “Signs of Suicide (SOS): Youth Suicide Prevention for Parents” community presentation.

Harry Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked as a counselor at Islander Middle School for almost 20 years, explained to parents that suicide can be a challenging topic to address. The night’s presentation focused on the SOS program, which is sponsored by the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services’ Healthy Youth Initiative grant.

As people gathered at Luther Burbank Park to savor a recent sunny Saturday morning, one group of mothers and daughters had a serious item on their agenda.

Within minutes after their arrival on a bountiful section of grass with Lake Washington glistening in the background, they paired off and the punching and kicking began. The dozen Islanders holding red and blue body pads and wearing black hand pads put in some solid work as instructor Brandon Uttech gave pointers and offered words of encouragement.

Sophy Yang participated in the introductory course with her daughter Chloe, who helped organize the course in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. The Atlanta spa shootings, a high school teacher attacked in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District and a grandmother beaten in San Francisco were weighing heavily on their minds and they wanted to make a difference in their community.

Sophy said they want the girls to feel empowered.

Mercer Islanders participate in an introduction to self-defense course on April 17 at Luther Burbank Park. Sophy Yang participated in the introductory course with her daughter Chloe, who helped organize the course in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

Mercer Islanders participate in an introduction to self-defense course on April 17 at Luther Burbank Park. Sophy Yang participated in the introductory course with her daughter Chloe, who helped organize the course in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo


Some conversations are uncomfortable, but crucial.

When it comes to placing diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of community discussions, Mercer Islanders’ Lori Cohen-Sanford and Alice Finch’s recent training session with local PTA leaders and other community members about Confronting White Nationalism in Schools was as impactful as things come.

“This is a topic that’s difficult. It has pitfalls that you can go into and it’s much better to do this kind of thing with a partner,” said Finch, who received training with Cohen-Sanford through the regionally based Western States Center to present the March 16 two-hour session for about a dozen participants.

Mercer Islanders are speaking out for diversity, equity and inclusion daily and through a series of virtual presentations.

Mercer Island High School (MIHS) students and community groups are at the helm of these crucial, passionate and insightful events: Perpetual Foreigner, “Just Mercy,” “Curiosity & Questions: Engaging in Difficult Conversations” and more. Recently, the Reporter told the story of MIHS students who invited Holocaust survivors to speak during Islander Hour following the antisemitism they noticed on the Island.

Other students are building the Mercer Island School District’s relationship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to ensure local schools are “No Place for Hate,” wrote district Superintendent Donna Colosky in a recent message to district students, staff, families and the community.


Bella Hartman and Samantha Wampold were upset about the antisemitism they witnessed in their community, and the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) seniors knew they had to address it head-on.

The duo reached out to Holocaust survivors and invited them to speak to freshmen and sophomore students on Feb. 24 and March 3 during the virtual Islander Hour.

“What we wanted to do was make this a chance for education and to let everyone hear about the Holocaust survivor stories,” Wampold said.

“We wanted to come up with an idea that would let students know why the Holocaust is relevant to today and why it should never be joked about,” said Hartman, adding that instead of showing graphic images of the Holocaust, they wanted to use their creativity to make the event more memorable through personal connections with the survivors.

Following a 6-1 vote at the Feb. 16 Mercer Island City Council meeting, a new ordinance was passed to prohibit camping and storage of personal possessions on all public property.

Violation of the ordinance — which went into effect on March 1 — results in a misdemeanor crime, according to a presentation at the meeting. The current ordinance was written about 30 years ago and already bans camping on park property. It is also a misdemeanor to camp in parks.

“Despite what you’ve heard by some, it truly does not criminalize homelessness. Experiencing homelessness is not a crime. The ordinance will not be enforced when there’s no shelter space available,” said Mercer Island Police Department Chief Ed Holmes at the meeting.

Holmes told the Reporter that there is a very small number of people experiencing homelessness on the Island.


Louise McDowell’s “Counterpoint” sculpture — which is made of heavy bronze and sits four feet wide — was forcibly removed from its metal base, and apparently dragged away from the Greta Hackett Outdoor Sculpture Gallery over the weekend of Jan. 30-31.

City staff received reports of the sculpture’s disappearance from the gallery on Sunset Highway in Town Center. The city insures all works of art in the outdoor gallery and the public art collection, and the monetary loss will be covered.

According to a city press release, it is believed that cast metal sculptures are attractive for their significant scrap metal value, even though metal recyclers are required to question customers presenting this type of item.

A man fell approximately 30 feet onto the Mercer Island light rail tracks under construction on Jan. 27, sustaining multiple traumatic injuries.

At about 12:55 p.m., a woman driving westbound on Interstate 90 witnessed the incident and called 911, according to Washington State Patrol trooper Rick Johnson. Troopers were dispatched to the scene and located the man a few minutes later. He was conscious with possible broken legs and an arm injury.

According to the Mercer Island Fire Department’s Facebook page, the man is 38 years old, and Johnson said he may be a Seattle resident. After medics stabilized the man and secured him in an aid car, he was transported to the emergency room at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Andy Nystrom/ staff photo 
Mercer Islanders participate in an introduction to self-defense course on April 17 at Luther Burbank Park. Sophy Yang participated in the introductory course with her daughter Chloe, who helped organize the course in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States.

Andy Nystrom/ staff photo Mercer Islanders participate in an introduction to self-defense course on April 17 at Luther Burbank Park. Sophy Yang participated in the introductory course with her daughter Chloe, who helped organize the course in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States.