Her full name was Ardelle (Atwood) Lind, but everyone knew her as Ardelle.
For decades, Ardelle was a fast-food cook at popular Bellingham drive-ins, where she was on a first-name basis with seemingly everyone. She was well-known for her cooking, to be sure, but also for doting on her customers, and her knack for remembering their names and checking with them to see how their food was, as well as how their spouses, kids and pets were doing.
“She was a fast-food icon,” said Tim Trott, the owner of Lee’s Drive-In, where Ardelle worked for more than 35 years. “I don’t anybody else who was so well known in the food industry business in Whatcom County.”
Ardelle died Sept. 17. She was 83 and had been ailing for several years, prompting customers at Lee’s to ask how she was doing.
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Born in Mount Vernon, Ardelle graduated from Bellingham High School in 1949. She married her husband, Harry Lind, four years later. He worked at the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill.
Early in her career Ardelle cooked at the Downtowner, a diner started by Bunk Burden in the Bellingham National Bank building at Holly Street and Cornwall Avenue, said Kent Holsather, who is co-writing a history of drive-in restaurants and outdoor movie theaters in Whatcom County.
The Downtowner was popular with young people, in part for its fudgie wudgies, soft ice cream swirled with hot fudge and topped with nuts and whipped cream, said Marian Rawls, Ardelle’s daughter.
Bunk’s, then Lee’s
When Bunk sold the Downtowner and bought the Skookum Chuck drive-in on Cornwall Avenue in 1955, Ardelle followed him to become a cook at the new Bunk’s Drive-In. She worked there for as long as Bunk owned the business, and for a few more years under the new owner, before she went to work for Lee’s in the early ’70s.
Bunk’s was an immensely popular place, known for its fried chicken, tomato burgers, and its burger-and-fries special for 55 cents. Young people would cruise back and forth between Bunk’s and the A&W Drive-In on Samish Way, stopping from time to time in the store parking lot across from Bellingham High to visit and make plans for the evening.
After she left Bunk’s, Ardelle cooked at the Lee’s restaurant on Lakeway Drive for a few years before becoming night-shift manager at the Lee’s at James and Alabama, Trott said. She cooked the early dinner, then worked the front counter and cash register until closing time.
“People would come here to eat because she was working,” Trott said. “She made our business better.”
Ardelle insisted on working six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday. She never missed a day of work, and she rarely took time off for vacations.
“She just liked customers,” Trott said. “It was a social meeting place for her.”
The tomato burger at Bunk’s was a popular item, so when Ardelle went to Lee’s, customers started asking for it there. Lee’s added it to its menu, a hamburger dressed up with American cheese, green relish, mayonnaise and several slices of tomato.
“That was her favorite burger,” Trott said.
Ardelle went out of her way to please customers. While at Bunk’s, she would telephone night workers at St. Joseph Hospital and the G-P paper mill, then deliver their burgers and fries after her work shift ended. She did it because the workers weren’t free to drive to Bunk’s to pick up their food, Rawls said.
At Lee’s, she knew a regular customer who loved cherry pie. It wasn’t on the menu, so Ardelle would bake a pie and give it to him, Rawls said.
With such high customer-service expectations for herself, Ardelle expected similar hard work from the other people on her shift. For many workers, including younger people, it was a valuable lesson.
“I know of lot of them learned respect for work because of her,” Rawls said.
Cooking for customers, clearly, was a big part of Ardelle’s life. Her daughter recalled when, as a child, she tried to roust her sleeping mother one morning. Ardelle stirred and mumbled “two Bunk’s specials,” and went back to sleep.
When she wasn’t cooking at work Ardelle cooked for friends on her Mondays off. She was known for her potato salad and her Scandinavian Christmas cookies. Of course, any leftovers went home with her guests.
An accomplished knitter, Ardelle also made numerous Christmas stockings to give to friends and family. She focused more on doing things for other people than on doing fancy things for herself. She wore simple clothes, wasn’t much for makeup, and her only jewelry was her wedding ring.
“The focus was never on her,” Rawls said.
She did have a few small indulgences. She was partial to El Camino cars and she loved to play scratch tickets.
She also loved to pile her long hair on top of her head in a bun and keep it there.
“That was her trademark,” Trott said, “and that was the way it was going to be.”
The only time Ardelle let her hair down was on Saturdays at her hairdresser’s.
“It came down to get washed, curled, teased and put back up,” Rawls said.
It was such a distinctive look that some people called her “Grandma Bun,” said Dee Day, a family friend.
After Bunk’s closed, Ardelle would sometimes cook up popular Bunk’s fare for former customers’ high school reunions. Her memorial service scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 4, was to be held at the American Legion Post 7 hall in part because it has a flat grill so people could cook fast-food in her honor. A good way to remember Ardelle.
“It’s like Madonna, you didn’t need to know her last name,” Day said. It was just ‘Ardelle.’”