By Steve Guntli
A Blaine resident is reaching out to the community to gather artifacts from life around Blaine from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Jim Zell first came to Blaine as a U.S. Air Force recruit in 1959.
“I had a rich uncle who sent me on a two-year paid vacation to a resort in Birch Bay called the Blaine Air Force Station,” he joked.
Zell spent two years at the base and grew attached to the area.
“Guys on the base would go out and cruise Birch Bay in their free time,” he said. “You’d have to go 5 miles per hour because of all the pedestrian traffic. It was a swinging place.”
Zell wants to capture his fond memories of the Air Force base for future generations, and he’s reaching out to the community to shore up his research material. In the July 16 edition of The Northern Light, Zell submitted a letter to the editor, asking the community for any old artifacts involving the base. He is hoping to publish his findings in a small book or online.
The Blaine Air Force Station was closed in 1979, and is now the site of Bay Horizon Park in Birch Bay. Zell was transferred in 1961, and spent most of his career on a base in Rome, New York, working as an information officer and press liaison. He officially retired from the Air Force in 1980, and in 1999 he moved back to Blaine.
Zell has reached out to former enlisted men who worked on the base, and is drawing on his own memories to add color to his research. More than just a staid history of the area, Zell wants personal stories about what life was like back then. “I want amusing or interesting or sad stories associated with the base,” he said.
Beyond looking for stories about life on the base, Zell is also researching one of the area’s most famous former residents: country music legend Loretta Lynn. Before rising to stardom with her 1967 single “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” Loretta and her husband, Doolittle Lynn, spent several years living in Custer, where Doolittle worked as a logger and Loretta raised their six children. The Lynns lived in the area in the 1950s and ’60s, and Zell is looking for evidence that she honed her performing skills right here in Blaine.
“I know she used to perform at some of the local places,” he said. “I’d love to have some photos or some stories to go along with that.”
Zell has already had a positive response from the community. Just a few days after his letter was published, Zell heard from both a former Blaine woman living in Canada who saw Lynn perform live in the early ’60s, and a man who used to live in Lynn’s old house in Custer before it was torn down two years ago. He also toured and took pictures of an old one-bedroom log cabin the Lynns shared in the ’50s.
Zell said he’s been trying to establish a historical society in Blaine for years.
“I’ve reached out to several groups, and they all thought it was a great idea, but no one wanted to join,” he said.
Zell is now working with the Blaine Chamber of Commerce. He hopes to pass his research on to the chamber to use either on their website or in the Visitor Information Center.
“I just want to collect these memories so people can see what it was like,” he said. “I enjoyed my time at the base, and I want to leave something for people to read about.”
Anyone with artifacts or anecdotes they wish to share can contact Zell at 360/739-1028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.