Anne Butigan was diagnosed with stage 4 soft tissue sarcoma in July. Hers is a rare and aggressive form of cancer in the body’s soft tissue, and Butigan is undergoing chemotherapy to try to slow it down.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” she said. “For me, it’s trying to make the most out of every day.”
On Friday, that meant fulfilling a lifelong dream: to blow a whistle like the one she grew up hearing at the old Olympia brewery.
Butigan, 54, grew up in Olympia hearing that whistle. In the summers she and her siblings would visit the brewery, when her teachers worked in the taproom and there was always 7UP for the kids.
Now Butigan works for Thurston County’s public health and social services department helping people with disabilities. She mentioned the idea to Schelli Slaughter, the department’s director.
“She said, ‘...I’ve always heard it, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,’” Slaughter said. “I thought, ‘Hmm, I think we can make that happen.’”
Bud Blake, chairman of the Thurston County Commissioners, called a friend of a friend who works at Fish Brewing Company, which bought a steam whistle from the old Olympia brewery after it closed, said Matthew Lisowski, Fish’s executive vice president.
Workers at the brewery on Jefferson Street Southeast in downtown Olympia typically blow it at 5 p.m. on weekdays, though Lisowski said on special occasions they let other people do it.
Friday afternoon, Butigan’s family, friends and coworkers gathered outside Fish. As she posed for pictures, Butigan wondered out loud what it would be like.
“I’m taking bets on what it actually looks like. Is it a button? Is it an actual pull thing?” she said.
Butigan for months had been in a wheelchair due to a different health issue, but earlier on Friday she was fitted for a brace that allows her to walk again. When it was time, she made her way slowly through the brewery, past large fermentation tanks and other equipment, and into a narrow room toward the back of the building.
A crowd gathered around her, many with cameras at the ready, and at exactly 5 p.m. Butigan pulled the whistle, releasing the familiar sound high above.
Butigan called it the soundtrack to her childhood.
“It’s just an iconic part of being in town, hearing that,” she said later. “I’m spreading the gospel of the whistle.”