Fox Island Mutual Water Assoc. changes hands

Utilities: After 35 years at the helm, Irelands retire from company started by Col. Fred Nichols

of the GatewayMarch 19, 2014 

Linda and Harry Ireland have retired from the Fox Island Mutual Water Association. Their nephew, Michael Ireland, left, is now in charge.

KAREN MILLER/GATEWAY PHOTO

The Fox Island Mutual Water Association’s new office has two new wall decorations: A picture of Harry and Linda Ireland, and a plaque that honors their service.

After 35 years of running FIMWA, Harry and Linda Ireland retired. Their nephew, Michael Ireland, is now at the helm. The new office opened in December.

When they retired, Harry and Linda hitched up their fifth wheel and headed for sunshine. It was the first two-week break the couple had since they took over at FIMWA in 1979.

During the past 35 years, the highlight for the Irelands has been to watch the island evolve. There were 322 connections when FIMWA started. Now, there’s more than 1,200.

“So, we’ve seen a lot of growth,” Linda said.

The association was formed in 1978, when citizens banded together to take over the Fox Island Water Company, which had been managed by Col. Frederick Nichols for 20 years. Nichols was aging, and it was difficult for him to keep up with the demand for water on the growing island.

“We were out of water,” Harry said. “Weeknights and weekends, it came out orange. Drastic steps had to be taken to correct the water.”

Nichols did his best to help the island, the Irelands said.

“He had a heart of gold,” said Harry, who added that Nichols was there whenever someone needed water.

Harry applied for the job to lead the new association in 1978, and Linda came on board as bookkeeper. She used Nichols’ unique note-taking system to organize the new mutual company.

Nichols’ notes aren’t exactly organized, but they still work. He wrote down notes about pipes, locations and wells on the back of any piece of scrap paper.

In one folder, there’s a January 1963 calendar page, a March 1970 sample ballot and a datebook page from Oct. 9, 1954. All had detailed notes about Fox Island’s water system.

“Any piece of paper that happened to be there,” is how Linda described Nichols’ filing.

Regulations have changed the nature of water work.

“It’s become a paperwork job,” Harry said.

Michael Ireland said much of his work with FIMWA now is maintenance.

“The island’s pretty well-built,” he said.

Development on the island has changed, too.

“The demand for water is much greater than it was 30 years ago,” said Kimo Street, a FIMWA board member.

The Irelands said FIMWA is in good hands. Now, they’re enjoying their retirement.

“So far, it’s great,” Harry said. “I’d recommend it to everybody.”

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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