Though he was only the town’s mayor for less than a year, Steve Purcell spent 20 years as one of Bucoda’s city council members.
That was after spending 20 years in the U.S. Army.
Purcell, 70, initially applied to be on the council in 2001 at the tender age of 48. He didn’t expect to be working for the town as long as he did.
“I put in a letter. They selected me, and what I thought was just going to be a short term of service ended up being a life sentence,” Purcell said.
Like many of Bucoda’s past mayors, including current mayor Rob Gordon, Purcell reluctantly took up the mantle. Purcell got his turn when Alan Carr decided to retire and move to Florida in 2021. Being mayor in a 600-person town like Bucoda means doing it voluntarily while still taking on a lot of responsibility.
“I never aspired to the job at all. Put my name in, and just like when I was on the council, ran unopposed,” Purcell said.
He oversaw his first “Boo-Coda Spook-Tacular” festival this past October but resigned the following month due to health concerns.
Despite not serving a full year as Bucoda’s mayor, he told The Chronicle he had already developed a reputation around Thurston County while attending various meetings.
“Me being the epitome of political incorrectness, well, it didn’t endear me with other people around the county,” Purcell said.
As for his medical concerns, Purcell has already spent 10 years in an on-and-off battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is waiting to meet with his oncologist and cardiologist to see if it has returned.
Cancer isn’t the only health concern he has, as Purcell suddenly began having trouble breathing one morning after waking up about four years ago.
After being taken to the hospital, doctors discovered Purcell had excess fluid surrounding his heart and was suffering from congestive heart failure. Purcell underwent surgery to have a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted in his chest. The defibrillator misfired within the first month.
“It shocked me when I was conscious. It hits you right here and it's like somebody ran and kicked you right in the chest and everything goes white,” Purcell said.
Since then, it has worked correctly and shocked Purcell after he went into atrial fibrillation. He joked he was lucky to be unconscious when the defibrillator activated that time.
“I get up in the morning and have a handful of pills for breakfast, but everything is just part of the adventure,” he added.
People have asked if he’s worried about his cancer.
“My number hasn’t been drawn yet,” Purcell said, later adding, “I wake up every morning and I reach and feel and if I feel a pulse, I get up and make coffee. If I don’t feel the pulse, I’m not bothering. My wife hates that joke.”
While he enjoyed his time as mayor and city councilor in Bucoda, which included the purchase and renovation of the old Odd Fellows Hall into the Bucoda Community Center as well as establishing “Boo-Coda Spook-Tacular” attractions, the retired Army first sergeant missed his time in the military the most.
“Best 20 years of my life, even when I was freezing to death during the coldest winter since the Korean War in Korea,” Purcell said.
He served in the Army from 1971 to 1991 and participated in Operation Desert Storm. In retirement, Purcell plans to take it easy.
“I’m not going to be wearing shoes a lot and I’m not going to be getting out of my pajamas a lot, unless the wife occasionally gets an order from the sheriff to get me out of the house,” Purcell said.
He does plan to continue his involvement with “Boo-coda” activities, including the haunted house and driving the hearse. Purcell still makes himself available to both Bucoda’s city clerk and Gordon for advice.
Additionally, Purcell writes for Washington’s Independent Order of Odd Fellows’ monthly newspaper as a reporter and foreign correspondent.
“People ask, ‘well how are you a foreign correspondent?’ Well, I do talk to people outside Bucoda,” Purcell joked.