John Poole was always smiling — and always up to something.
A real character, he loved visiting and joking around during his daily walks through Stanwood over the past 30 years.
He teased the police chief about his haircut, strolled into City Hall to jokingly hassle them about his bills, asked his granddaughter if she needed money to buy jeans without holes and annoyed telephone solicitors so much they’d hang up on him.
He loved a good deal, whether complimentary doughnuts at the bank, a free bruised apple from the grocery store or a discounted half-cup of coffee, and his keen observation skills yielded many treasures on his walks in addition to a large collection of newfound friends.
Poole, who died June 3 at age 83 from an aggressive form of Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), was known as helpful and energetic, always ready to lend a hand. A hard worker. A family man. A local legend.
“It was all about visiting people”
Poole, his wife Coleen and their three daughters moved to the Stanwood-Camano area in 1967 so he could fulfill a longtime dream to own a garbage business.
He purchased Stanwood-Camano Disposal and collected trash in Stanwood, Camano and Warm Beach for the next 24 years.
“He always visited people along the routes,” daughter Jeannie Poole Hough recalled. “He’d park at school to visit the custodians, stop at the gas stations and visit people at the old Union Oil plant.”
When Poole retired, he started walking.
For the next 30 years, he took daily walks from his home near the faigrounds to downtown and back. After a while, his wife began driving him downtown to start his walks there. He walked 5 miles a day.
Poole made many stops during his walks.
“It was all about visiting people,” Poole Hough said.
One favorite spot was Stanwood Cafe.
According to co-owner Alan Downhour, Poole came in once or twice a week without fail, entering through the back door rather than the front.
He’d fill in Downhour and the customers on the local goings-on, chat about lottery tickets (“We’d often go 50-50 and buy one,” Downhour said) and place his signature order.
“John only wanted half a cup of coffee,” Downhour recalled with a smile, “and he only wanted to pay for half.”
When it came time to leave a tip for his drink, Poole would set down a fishing lure. Downhour still has a little collection of Poole’s special tips.
He was also known to order a half-cup of coffee at the Duck In Cafe, Poole’s daughter Darla Scarboro said.
“When my daughter Samantha waitressed there, he would tell the girls his granddaughter would pay for his coffee, so they would take it out of her tip jar," she said.
During Poole’s long walks, he stopped by his daughter Cindy Smith’s daycare and joked with the kids — they called him “Silly Grandpa.”
He visited Marcy Mathis at her workplace to chat and joke and ask about her mother’s cousin Bob, a childhood friend of his.
“John always had a huge smile and a twinkle in his eye,” Mathis said.
He’d pop in to see Poole Hough at the hair salon where she works and tease her clients, saying their hair looked bad and he hoped they weren’t paying for the haircut.
He’d also stop by the funeral home, where he’d prepaid for cremation years ago, and ask for his money back since he was still alive.
“I respected his ability to tease everybody,” Poole Hough said.
Physical therapist Karl Hedeen has fond memories of bantering back and forth with his “quick-witted” friend when Poole came by the office.
“I cannot recall how many times he and I have had conversations over the years, but I enjoyed every one of them,” Hedeen said. “John was kind-hearted, very engaging, always loved talking about his family and loved the Stanwood community.”
Haggen was always one of Poole’s last stops on his walks. He was a regular fixture, making the rounds to visit employees in various departments.
“He always wanted us to pitch in for lotto tickets,” Haggen employee Barbara Gross recalled. “He’d say, ‘I found 75 cents on my walk!’”
“He’d never buy a lotto ticket unless someone would go in on it with him,” Haggen produce manager James Loaris said.
In the Haggen produce department, Poole was known for seeking the occasional freebie: “He’d look for a bad apple,” Loaris said. “If he found one with a bad spot, I’d give it to him.”
Poole was much-loved at Haggen, particularly among the morning shift who saw him so regularly.
“He liked to give us a razzing,” Loaris said. “He was a really cool guy.”
“We really got to know him here,” Gross said. “We’re so happy he was part of our community.”
“He saw everything”
During his walks, Poole didn’t miss a thing.
Not a fan of litter, he always collected discarded cans. He also picked up loose change.
“He’d get excited if he found a quarter,” Poole Hough said. He was delighted when he found enough coins during a walk to pay for his half-cup of coffee.
But it was more than cans and coins: "He saw everything," Poole Hough said.
Once, Poole noticed some scissors lying in a ditch — expensive haircutting scissors that must have fallen from a truck. Poole Hough used a pair for years, affectionately calling them “Dad’s roadkill scissors.”
Another time, Poole inexplicably found a life-sized Tin Man sculpture a mile from home and carried it all the way back.
Once while walking in Stanwood, Poole found a handgun. He picked it up and continued walking toward the high school before deciding to backtrack and tuck the gun in an acquaintance’s flower bed for safekeeping. He continued his walk until the police pulled up because they’d heard reports he was carrying a gun. Poole happily led them to the flower bed where he’d stashed it. They knew him. They had to laugh.
Another time, after taking a different route on his walk, Poole spotted wreckage of a car at the bottom of a gully. A young man had died in a car accident the previous night. Poole alerted the nearby road construction workers, who called the police.
“He loved his family so much”
Poole adored his family: Coleen Poole, to whom he’d been married for 60 years when he died, his three daughters Cindy Smith, Darla Scarboro and Jeannie Poole Hough and their families.
“He loved his family so much,” said friend Marcy Mathis.
“We were very close,” Coleen Poole said. “Whatever we did, we did it together — except the walks. And he loved his kids, grandkids and five great-grandbabies.”
His three daughters agreed their childhood was ideal.
“He was a very fun and silly dad,” Scarboro recalled.
His daughters recalled fun times spent going to drive-in movies, camping, boating, fishing, digging for clams and crabbing.
“When we would get home, he would chase us girls around the house with a live crab,” Scarboro said. “Always a teaser."
Family vacations were special. A favorite memory of Smith’s was seeing her dad go down a hotel waterslide over and over during a trip to Disneyland. Scarboro said if the family saw a garbage truck during a vacation, her dad would want a picture — and if the truck was stopped, he would always go talk to the workers.
“He had a very funny side and a very serious side,” Coleen Poole said. It was Poole’s serious side that led him to support his family in many ways.
There were the little things he did, like looking at Scarboro’s tires every time she visited, going to the parking lot of the high school and checking the oil of his grandchildren’s cars, or helping out with home repair projects.
“I’m a single mom, and he was my go-to hero dad,” Smith said. “He’d fix things. And if he couldn’t fix it, he’d find someone who could.”
But there were also big things.
Every Sunday, he walked from his home to Smith’s house. Smith’s son, Noah, has severe autism, and it is difficult for her to take him on errands.
He’d greet Noah with a hearty handshake and drive them to Haggen. Then, he’d stay in the parking lot with his grandson while Smith went inside to grab her weekly treat: a coffee at Starbucks.
Rain or shine, Poole would always show up each Sunday for his daughter and grandson. Now Poole Hough plans to do the same for her sister.
“I wanted to do this in honor of my dad,” she said.
“He always put a smile on my face”
According to his wife, John Poole never wanted to sit down. He worked hard, whether on a crab boat, in the farming fields or in the schoolyard. He helped friends rid their lawns of pesky moles. During his walks, he might pause to help a car pull out of a driveway into busy traffic or toss newspapers toward subscribers' homes so they wouldn’t have to cross the road to get them.
“He was a hard worker, and every bone in his body was honest,” Mathis said. “Anyone could call for help and he’d be right there. He was such a good man.”
He savored life’s little pleasures: a Bloody Mary on a Sunday after his walk, an apple plucked from the tree, his wife’s home-cooked meals. He loved all his neighbors. He adored animals and had a special place in his heart for a stray cat he named Kitty, who faithfully followed him around and climbed in his trees while he pruned them.
Poole also loved a good practical joke.
“I called him a social butterfly,” Coleen Poole said. “I also called him a rabble rouser.”
If he walked by a friend’s house and they weren’t home, he’d still go in their yard — and they might return to find the shoes they’d left on the porch were hidden or the trash cans they’d left in the driveway were suddenly perched on the car.
A couple of years ago, some of his favorite grocery store employees found fishing lures on their vehicles.
“John had cleaned out his tackle box and stuck plastic squids on our car antennas,” Haggen employee Barbara Gross remembered with a smile.
In another memorable incident, Poole lost a bet against Harry Taylor Sr. and had to drive his tractor in his own “parade” through town.
“He always put a smile on my face,” Karl Hedeen said.
Poole joked until the end. Though he was battling cancer, he was still teasing the doctors and repeatedly offering to sell his bulldozer to his confused oncologist, who didn’t know what a bulldozer was.
That bulldozer now sits in his front yard surrounded by flowers. He’d tried to sell it for two years, and within 30 minutes of placing it outside, his family got an offer from a potential buyer. They said no, of course. The bulldozer stays, along with the rusted garbage truck and that Tin Man sculpture that's still in the garage.
His back field contains dirt from his favorite grocery store. “When they were building the store, he asked the superintendent for some dirt for his back field, and they brought over a backhoe,” Gross recalled. “He has some Haggen dirt.”
“We lost a legend when John passed away,” Mathis said. “I’ll never get that smile or those twinkling eyes out of my head. They broke the mold after him.”
Now, John Poole’s family would like to honor him in the best way they know how: by walking.
A Walk for John will take place at 8 a.m. Aug. 8, starting at the Stanwood Middle School parking lot.