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OPINION: "Bell Tones": Legacies of the waterfront

After a 50-year sabbatical, your eye on Bellingham Bay is back

When I became the opinions editor for The Front this quarter, I was lucky enough to have a good idea of what I hoped to write about. My idea isn’t exactly “original,” per se, but thankfully, I learned from the best.

To be honest, this little scheme started nearly a year ago when I found some old newspaper clippings in my closet. I always knew Steve was a newspaper man, but seeing a cartoon of my grandfather splashed across a Bellingham Herald paper dated “12-10-67” brought a bewildered grin to my face.

A son of Bellingham, F. Stephen Kurtz was born in 1926. Steve’s father passed early in his life, and his mother had roots in Bellingham dating back decades. Steve served in the Army Air Corps at the tail end of World War II, relaying morse code in the Pacific, and was a graduate of the University of Washington.

Steve began work at The Bellingham Herald in 1952, becoming the assistant city editor in 1962, a position he held for the remainder of his career there. Through his highly social personality (in his free time, he sang in a barbershop quartet known as “The Poets”), and his reporting, Steve seemed to know everyone, focusing on the goings-on of the Bellingham waterfront.

In his last year on the job, his coverage was codified into “Bell Tones,” a review of waterfront events and projects — past, present and future. The column, sporting its author in cartoon format, covered a diversity of topics, from infrastructure plans to social events. “Bell Tones” kept readers up to date with what ships were in port, when Soviet fishing fleets had returned to catch hake and the latest goings-on at the yacht club. This scattershot of differing dimensions of Bellingham’s port and beyond reflected Steve’s love for both reporting and friend-making.

Steve left The Bellingham Herald in 1968 to become the director of publications at Western Washington University. He retired in 1986 at the age of 60. Eleven years later, Steve passed away from heart disease. I never got to know him.

I got to know my grandmother, though, and very well at that. His perfect complement, Joanne Bornstein Kurtz brought light, love and laughter into the world until her passing in September 2023.

In one of my visits to her, I mentioned my hope to write this column and continue Steve’s legacy. A grin spread across her face.

“He who leaps first,” she said, “leaps into the fire.”

As it’s probably clear by now, my family is deeply important to me, and it’s the honor of a lifetime to continue what came before, in the form of a revived waterfront column. So, Grandpa Steve, I’ll try my best to match your tone.

Finn Kurtz

Finn Kurtz (they/he) is the Opinion and Outreach Editor of The Front for summer quarter. He is a history and political science double major and a journalism/news editorial minor in their fourth year at Western. In his free time, he enjoys looking in bookstores, going on walks in the woods, and trivia. 

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