Rich histories unfold in print at Panorama

Panorama is a Lacey retirement community with some 1,200 residents, many of whom have lived rich and rewarding lives filled with travel, career accomplishments and adventure.

So it stands to reason that there’s enough material there for some interesting memoirs and creative nonfiction books.

Turns out about 20 of the residents have written and published books, most of which line two shelves in the Panorama gift shop.

And the books on display don’t even include the works of a handful of professional writers who reside at Panorama, including noted natural history and science author Ruth Kirk.

One of the self-published Panorama authors is a longtime Olympia resident and former state senator from Spokane, R.H. “Bob” Lewis. He called me a few months ago and alerted me to the plethora of Panorama people who found their writing voice late in life. He invited me to come to Panorama to peruse the books, talk to some of the authors and, of course, write a column about it.

I took Lewis up on his invitation last week, and I’m glad I did.

Lewis introduced me to Panorama activities director Veronica Kessler, who said there are a number of programs in place that encourage residents to explore their artistic side, whether it be writing, acting or broadcasting on the community’s own radio or television stations. One of the creative outlets is a writers group called Panwriters, which meets once a month under the direction of Olympia playwright Bryan Willis and might be the longest-running writers group in South Sound at 23 years and counting.

Willis, 52 and an Olympia native, kind of stumbled into the job in 1998, when Panorama was looking for a replacement and he happened to be visiting with Kessler, who also was new in her job. He calls it one of the most rewarding jobs he has ever had.

“Some are good writers, and some just have good stories to tell,” he said of the Panorama group, which typically consists of about eight men and women ranging in age from mid-70s to early 90s.

In the gift shop, I met another author, Coriless Hanson, an 81-year-old retired United Methodist Church missionary who has lived and worked on three continents and taught and preached in three languages – English, Portuguese and Chimanyika, which is a language of Zimbabwe.

Retired for 20 years, Hanson was all smiles, eager to share the fact he is about to return to Angola for two weeks, the African nation he left because of civil strife in 1961 but revisited in 1985.

Hanson was in the gift shop to drop off a few copies of the book he wrote and published titled “The Ivory Necklace,” which is the story of Florinda Maria Bessa.

Bessa was an Angolan of Portuguese and African descent who was born in 1880 and became a ward of the Methodist missionaries at 9, living to the grand old age of 109.

The historical novel relies in part on Bessa’s journal and Hanson’s own experiences and research.

“My daughter talked me into doing it,” Hanson said of his decision to write the book, adding he had trouble finding a publisher interested in the topic of missionary work in Africa.

For the record, Lewis’ book is called “Speak Up & Move Up!” and is a handbook on how to become a successful business leader.

My favorite chapter is the one in which Lewis, a Republican who later became a state banking regulator in the Spellman and Gardner administrations, offers advice on dealing with the media, including:

 • “If one is providing news, or is the news, all the facts are fair game.”

 • “It’s okay to be disappointed if only a portion of your remarks are printed or aired, but it’s not okay to be discouraged or to complain.”

Gift shop co-manager Sue Ballard said she tries to read all the books the Panorama residents write. She reminded me that the gift shop, deep in the bowels of Panorama’s main administration building, is open to the public from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Among the authors:

 • Nels Skov, former professor at The Evergreen State College. He’s one of the more popular and prolific writers; his five books – “A Global Citizen,” “Underground,” “Saboteur,” “The Making of An American” and “Operation Emigrant” – chronicle his life in Denmark as an anti-Nazi freedom fighter during World War II and as an immigrant to the United States after the war.

 • James D. Fett, a physician who has provided medical care to some of the poorest people in the world, everywhere from Haiti to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to refugee camps on the Cambodia-Thailand border. The book is called “In the Shadow of Tyranny.”

“We have remarkable people here who have lived remarkable lives,” Kessler said. “And we have some very talented writers.”

John Dodge: 360-754-5444