Bill Moeller Commentary: When Times Get Rough, Might It Help to Remember the Past?


When we remember the temperature on one of our days last year reached 90 degrees — and it rained lightly overnight, with the next day’s temperature leveling out at a comfortable 75 — we can affirm that, yes, in our heart and soul, we were born to forever be Western Washingtonians.

It took a while after returning in 1960 to this side of the Cascades to stop thinking of Wenatchee as home, probably because I’d been so active in that city and a part of the community there. But it was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer when the grassy hills all turned brown, and lightning storms were all too frequent.

There were, of course, consolations, such as the spring when I bought a junked out Chris-Craft speedboat powered by a World War II Jeep engine with a Studebaker transmission. I then traded advertising on the radio station where I was a partner for enough repairs to launch and store it one summer on Lake Crescent.

That was followed by swapping the boat for enough heavy lumber, salvaged from a demolished old schoolhouse, to build a small A-frame cabin on land leased from the Wenatchee National Forest, only a few footsteps from the Entiat River.

Those were good times, but the lower hills still didn’t stay green in the summer. I sold my interest in the radio station and found a job at KELA, thinking it’d make a good base for job-hunting again at radio stations back in the Puget Sound area where the money was greater.

That was 60 years ago.

What kept us here? Was it our green hills in the summer? Maybe our uncrowded smaller town atmosphere (which is fast disappearing). Was it being closer to the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean where I built another cabin? And we have wonderful backpacking destinations.

We always have access to shopping in larger cities if we can’t find what we need here, without having to live with the high costs of housing. Plus, we can enjoy a city without some of the recent chaos — a village that once had only 17 police officers needed back when I was mayor, in addition to being both police commissioner and fire commissioner.

And, after living here for 60 years, there can still be surprises.

For instance, when you’re driving from Chehalis to Centralia on I-5, have you ever wondered — as I have — what’s in those woods off to the right between the Plummer Lake and the Skookumchuck River? 

Once — on a fall day —my son and I decided to find out. The first thing I noticed was that there is a well-worn path leading from the launching ramp. I’d expected nothing but brush and blackberry bushes, but Matthew knew the area because he confessed that he used to ride his motorcycle there when he was a kid.

He’s now collecting Social Security.

Might we run into a homeless encampment along the trail and, if so, would there be trouble?  We met one man coming out of the woods who was neatly dressed, very little like my image of what we might expect. We exchanged greetings and further along the trail came across the first of three encampments — all without occupants.

There was no garbage strewn around any of them and belongings were neatly piled and covered with a tarp. Perhaps the city might have just cleaned the sites, but the mental image of what we could have encountered was washed out of my mind.

We sometimes forget that being homeless doesn’t have to mean being drunk or on drugs and living in filth. There are also some living close to us who still maintain their dignity in spite of what the world has done to them.

We complain about the amount of trash near any homeless encampment, but don’t provide them with a place to put it. So, we can mutter about having to “shelter in place,” but we’re lucky — we have a place.


Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at