Senior Living in Bellingham - City of Subdued Excitement

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Donna Mae Scheib

Senior Living in Bellingham - City of Subdued Excitement

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on September 01, 2020

Senior Living in Bellingham – City of Subdued Excitement

Bellingham, Washington is the county seat of Whatcom County.  It is located 52 miles SE of Vancouver, BC, Canada, and 90 miles north of Seattle, WA.  Although it is the northernmost city in the contiguous United States with a population over 50,000, it combines a sense of community and home town feel with vibrant art and music urban scene.  Bellingham is often named on Best Places to Retire lists because of many recreational activities, mild climate, and beautiful setting. The nickname, “City of Subdued Excitement” originally was painted on a sign next to Lone Wolf Antiques as an unofficial welcome to peaceful sunsets, beautiful scenery, and laid-back Bellingham culture. It is close enough to Vancouver, BC, and Seattle, WA for those who crave urban nightlife, but far enough away to offer the charms of the best of the Pacific Northwest.

One of the keys to understanding the neighborhood feel is that Bellingham was consolidated from different settlements on Bellingham Bay: Fairhaven, Sehome, Whatcom, and Bellingham in 1903.  Like many cities in the area, it bustled with logging, railroads, and mining.  It soon became an alternate route to the goldfields of Fraser Canyon and Alaska and is still the southern terminus of the ferry to the Inside Passage of Alaska.  Fish packing, from Pacific American Fisheries to modern cold storage, is still important to the economy. 

The city of Bellingham is located on Bellingham Bay, west of Mount Baker and the North Cascades, and north of the Chuckanut Mountains and Skagit Valley.  It is bounded by water, from Bellingham Bay to Lake Whatcom, Lake Padden.  Whatcom Creek runs through town, including Whatcom Falls Park.  It has a generally mild climate, with pleasant, warm summers, rainy fall, winter, and spring. Winters can be cold, with icy air coming from the Fraser Valley Canyon. 

Ski to Sea

The Ski to Sea race, accompanying parades, and other activities happen around Memorial Day.  The Ski to Sea race is a relay race that goes from Mount Baker down to Bellingham Bay.  It is a relay race that combines cross-country skiing, downhill skiing or snowboarding, running, road biking, cyclocross biking, and kayaking.  The kayaking leg ends in Marine Park, with a celebration for all ages.  The Ski to Sea race has its origins in the Mt. Baker Marathon that was run from 1911-1913, contests that combined athletics, mountaineering skill, and nerve.  It was revived in the 1970s as another event to the Blossomtime activities, to advertise Bellingham’s proximity to the Mount Baker Ski Area. 

Music, Arts, and Literature

The world-famous Bellingham Festival of Music is held yearly.  Classical musicians from orchestras around the world join as the festival orchestra, and there is also an audition-only chorus.  Some of the soloists who have performed since 1993 include violinists Joshua Bell and Sarah Chang, cellist Lynn Harrell, pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Alicia de Larrocha, and opera singers Frederica von Stade and Heidi Grant Murphy.  Michael Palmer is the artistic director.  The historic Mount Baker Theatre was built in 1927 and renovated to provide a beloved entertainment venue with a full size, Broadway-caliber stage.   The Whatcom Museum of History and Art has three locations, the Old City Hall, the Syre Education Center, and the Lightcatcher Building.  The Bellingham Railway Museum has displays about the history of railroads in Whatcom County, and the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention (formerly the American Museum of Radio and Electricity) provides a rich history of electronics and radio broadcasting.  The SPARK museum has its own FM station, which rebroadcasts old radio shows, as well as interviews and contemporary programming.  The Western Washington University Outdoor Sculpture Collection is connected with the Western Gallery.  The Chuckanut Writers Conference, as well as other opportunities for writers, are in Bellingham.  Village Books, one of the independent booksellers in the area, sponsors open mike activities for writers in the area, as well as featuring well-known writers on tour as “Literature Live” events.


Western Washington University (also known as WWU) was founded in 1893 as the New Whatcom Normal School.  It became a four-year college, Western Washington State College, and then a university in 1977.  There are over 14,000 students at WWU, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a variety of disciplines are granted each year.  In 2013, US News and World Report named WWU as the top public master’s degree-granting university in the Pacific Northwest. WWU is one of the campuses which offers the innovative Elderhostel program, giving interested seniors a university experience.   Bellingham is also home to Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, and Northwest Indian College, four public high schools, four public middle schools, public elementary schools, and several private schools.

Who Calls Bellingham Home

Although two-time Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank was not born in Bellingham, she lived there from age 6 to 16, going to school at Happy Valley Elementary School, Fairhaven Middle School, and Sehome High School, where she acted in drama productions.

Discovery Channel Carspotting host Carlos Becerra was born in Bellingham and grew up there, where he saw old cars on the back roads of Whatcom County.

Comedian Tommy Noonan, who starred with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and in other supporting roles in the 1940s and 1950s was also born in Bellingham.

Comedian Ryan Styles, a regular with Drew Carey on improvisational comedy, operates the Upfront Theatre in Bellingham, an independent stage venue.

Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy was born in Bellingham and began her music studies at Western Washington University.  She sung with the Metropolitan Opera has appeared with the Bellingham Festival of Music, and teaches at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. 

Steve Martini, the author of legal thrillers, lives in Bellingham, as does science writer George Dyson.  Jo Dereske, the author of the Miss Zukas mystery series, lives near Bellingham.

Some of the athletes have called Bellingham home include former University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker (who was born in Bellingham), and the late relief pitcher Clarence “Cuddles” Marshall, who played for the New York Yankees during the 1940s. Outfielder Roger Repoz was born in Bellingham, as well as pro golfer Ryan Hietala.  Motorcyclist Steve Baker was born in Bellingham, was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, and owned a motorcycle dealership.

Opportunities for Senior Living

With all the many attractions that Bellingham and surrounding communities hold, it’s no wonder that it is often named one of the best places to live and retire.  The Peace Health Medical Group includes the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center; the main hospital, emergency department, and trauma center.  Doctors in the PeaceHealth Medical Group include primary care physicians and specialists in many campuses throughout Whatcom County. Bellingham ranks as one of the most livable places in Washington state, with the highest life expectancy.  The Bellingham Senior Activity Center is part of the Whatcom Council on Aging and serves over 1600 members.  It offers a wide variety of activities, from art, health and wellness, computer skills, current events, and social activities.  In addition to Meals on Wheels, the Bellingham at Home program provides connection and support in a virtual village to help seniors stay in their own homes.  The Bellingham at Home program is part of the Whatcom Council on Aging.  The clearinghouse provides volunteer opportunities to assist with chores, transportation, access to Bellingham Senior Center activities, and much more. 

For those seniors who no longer live at home, the Bellingham area provides several opportunities for assisted living.  Woodway Assisted Living,  located in the Roosevelt neighborhood in Bellingham, offers apartments for both independent and assisted living.  Chef-prepared meals and 24/7 care (including respite care) are all part of the plan.  Many health and wellness activities, as well as opportunities to take part in community events, are offered.  Rosewood Villa LLC  has 70 senior apartments, located in an area near the south side of Bellingham, with a skilled nursing option.  Orchard Park Assisted Living is in the Parkview District and features customizable solutions to meet the changing needs of each resident.  24-hour care is available, as well as daily meals, medication management, common dining and recreation areas, and more.  The Spring Creek Retirement and Assisted Living Community is located in north Bellingham, with a lovely view of Mount Baker.   Besides options for retirement living, there are also assisted and memory care facilities on the same property, to provide continuity.  Spacious grounds provide plenty of paths for walking and enjoying the outdoors. 

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