What began as a research tool for novelist Ryan Winfield has blossomed into a Facebook page for people who grew up in Bellingham, or perhaps wish they had.
Winfield started the open-group page - which is called "You grew up in Bellingham, WA if you remember ...." and has nearly 3,300 members - two years ago to help him gather and remember details for a contemporary novel set in Bellingham.
That novel is not yet published, but Winfield, who is 38 and now lives in Seattle, has had success with his other novels, "South of Bixby Bridge," "The Park Service Trilogy" and, most recently, "Jane's Melody."
With all of his writing duties, it wasn't long before Winfield was too busy to oversee the Facebook page, so an early member, Jan Stilts, now administers it from her home on Camano Island.
Stilts grew up in Bellingham and graduated from Sehome High in 1968. She lived in Bellingham until she was 35, when she moved to Lynnwood.
"All my family and friends are in Bellingham, so I'm constantly up there," she said.
If you go to the Facebook page you'll see people sharing photos, recollections and questions about life and history in Bellingham and other parts of Whatcom County.
What you won't find are bullying comments or opinions about religion or current politics. Those are the three no-nos of the site. If need be, Stilts will contact offenders and ask them to follow the guidelines. On occasion, she'll block someone from staying a member.
Members range in age from their teens to their 70s, Stilts said. People don't have to have been raised in Bellingham to contribute to and follow the page, but about four out of five members are native Bellinghamsters, she said.
Recent posts include such topics at Lee's restaurant on Alabama Street, Burke's Grocery in Blaine, Fairhaven Pharmacy, sunsets over Bellingham Bay, and a fifth-grade class photo from Carl Cozier Elementary.
"Bellingham was a great place to grow up and it's nice to be able to relive so many memories again," Stilts said.
Thanks to the page, friends have found each other and sweethearts have reconnected.
"We've all learned so much; made friends," Stilts said.
Winfield grew up on Grant Street, picked strawberries and delivered The Bellingham Herald. He left Bellingham High School early, attended Whatcom Community College, earned his GED and then hit the road.
"I fled as quickly as I could, although it's a wonderful place to grow up," he said.
He lived in California and worked in real estate and managed car dealerships before he settled down to become a writer. Now he's back in the Northwest, with plans for a novel set in his hometown.
"I've come to appreciate Bellingham much more," he said.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
- To find the Bellingham memories page, go to Facebook.com and search for "You grew up in Bellingham, WA if you remember . . ."
- Page members plan to hold a potluck get-together in Bellingham July 13.
Reach Dean Kahn at email@example.com or call 715-2291.