Howie the Hero Elf
Bainbridge Island has a fantastic sense of community, tradition, and it is a unique and wonderful place to live. Each December when driving through the downtown corridor on Winslow, for the last 40 years you can count on seeing twinkling stars and scrolls and holiday lighting overhead. But the holiday lights and traditions on Bainbridge Island, along Winslow Way nearly did not happen this year. People often do not realize how much work goes into that one-mile drive through town and take for granted that every year twinkling lights will be back up, as if some magical elf does it in the middle of the night. That magical elf’s name was Bob. Bob Cederwall died suddenly November 27th. He was only 68.
For the past 40 years, Bob Cederwall and a group of close friends have volunteered to decorate downtown. His friends knew him as “Bainbridge Bob” He was a tree cutter by day and an actor by night. His sudden passing, five days before the lights were to go up downtown, took everyone by surprise. There were no elections or deep discussions about what to do next. His group of closest friends all looked to one man named Howie Paine to keep this amazing tradition going.
Howie had been involved for years being a volunteer helper for Bob, but with five days notice, he felt unqualified to take over as leader of the group. It was not a job he wanted. This group of volunteers unanimously crowned the new “Bainbridge Howie” downtown decoration king. But the crown sits uneasily on his head for his dear friend had to die for him to wear it. Howie called their group “FOB or Friends of Bob community tree decorators”. They started out the Sunday following Bob's death by decorating a community tree on Madrone Lane. The tree was a spectacular tribute to Bob and all he has given the community over the years. Bob's wife Denise wanted to make this an annual event, so Howie said: “I'll pencil it in the next 10 years”. Howie and the rest of the Friends of Bob group, with no backup plan, left at dawn the next day and decorated downtown. He was not alone. There were many volunteers, including the fire department, and many elves helping. Howie told me: “I was by no means all alone, I had to rouse some people from their sleeping beds at 4AM and they came begrudgingly, but they came.” Our reluctant local hero, Howie, saved the magical holiday season.
Howie remained true to the design Bob had laid out earlier in the year except for one small addition. Howie added one new light display at the end of Winslow Way, a small heart with Bob's name in the middle, as a reminder of a friend lost. There were hundreds of lights on every tree and beautiful scrolls down light poles. With the influx of cash from the Rotary, the light display was even bigger and better than last year. It would be a great shame if such selfless hard work and determination went without genuine acknowledgment for his efforts. Howie himself would surely blow off any thank you's. He turned me down six times for this interview before finally relenting to answer my questions. Howie simply stated: “Bob was great. He did everything; he set down the blueprint and we followed it. That's it”. Howie would take no credit for the beautiful lights, saying that it was a “group effort” and that he is “certainly no hero”. Every happy child that drove through downtown or walked down the sidewalks would disagree. I am not sure how the newspaper got a picture of Howie, holding the heart illuminated with Bob's name, I have yet to snap a picture that he has agreed to of him with his beautiful lights downtown. Howie has a gruff nature that belies his obvious tender heart and kind and giving nature. Howie Paine is a true hero of Bainbridge Island.