Remembering Merrilee Hagen, 1943-2017

As family and friends remember Merrilee Hagen, this obituary provided by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society explains her legacy for the entire community:

The longtime West Seattle resident who sparked acquisition of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society’s “Birthplace of Seattle” Log House Museum on Alki has died.

Merrilee Ann Blackinton Hagen, a former board president of the historical society, a longtime real-estate broker and a prolific painter of local scenes, had been recovering from lymphoma when she died of a massive stroke on Sunday, April 9, 2017, in her home across from her alma mater, West Seattle High School. She was 73.

“Merrilee is one of the giants in our organizational history,” said Clay Eals, executive director of the historical society. “The impact of Merrilee on our organization was wide-ranging, but easily her most enduring contribution was her vision and action to acquire our museum.”

Merrilee served as board president in 1994 and 1995 when the organization was meeting and storing items at then-South Seattle Community College and was looking for a permanent headquarters of its own.

As a broker who “knew West Seattle like the back of her hand,” Eals said, she learned that the 1904 log home at 3003 61st Ave. SW was for sale and might be razed or moved. The building, one of the last three log structures on Alki, originally served as the carriage house for the nearby Fir Lodge, which became the Alki Homestead restaurant.

On behalf of the historical society, Merrilee immediately began to organize a campaign to purchase the building by securing a portion of mitigation funds offered by Metro as part of a West Seattle sewage-pipeline project. Volunteers worked the phones from her real-estate office, calling residents of Alki and Beach Drive, encouraging them to vote for the acquisition, which would be the first step in restoring and opening the building as a community-history museum.

The campaign was successful, and after extensive fundraising and exhibit preparation by Merrilee and other volunteers, the museum opened on Nov. 13, 1997, the 146th anniversary of the arrival of the Alki Landing Party. The museum will mark its 20th anniversary this fall.

Merrilee tells the museum acquisition story in this four-minute video from the Nov. 14, 2015, annual meeting of the historical society held at High Point Library:

In recent years, Merrilee regularly attended the historical society’s Champagne Gala Brunch and contributed her unique paintings of the Alki Lighthouse, the Alki Homestead and other icons as auction items. Her painting of the Historic Admiral Theater was part of an auction package at the 2016 Gala last Nov. 5 and was presented to the winners, Maryanne Tagney and David Jones, at the grand-reopening celebration of the theater one month ago on March 22.

A one-eighth member of the Samish Indian Nation, Merrilee was born to Chester and Shirley Blackinton on July 15, 1943, in Bellingham, the second child of four. She lived on Orcas Island until age 4, when her family moved to downtown Seattle then, one year later, to a West Seattle beach house at 59th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Carroll Street, across from the original one-room Alki schoolhouse.

She attended Alki Elementary School, and as a third-grader one of her highlights was attending the 1951 ceremonial celebration of the Alki pioneer landing. (In later years, she delighted in discovering her signature in the guest book at the Alki Lighthouse from when her Girl Scout troop visited there in 1953.)

After attending then-Madison Junior High School, she graduated from West Seattle High in 1961. In high-school years, she served as a “candy striper” volunteer, operating elevators at Seattle Hospital.

She briefly studied commercial art at Edison Art College downtown. In 1963 at age 19, she married Oscar Hagen Jr., a Navy veteran and Boeing office and computer worker, and they lived in the north Admiral and Seaview neighborhoods.

Merrilee gave birth to their only child, Melissa, in 1969, and her family welcomed long-term stays from relatives and friends in subsequent homes in the Highland Park and Arbor Heights neighborhoods.

After working briefly in the shipping department at Sears downtown, Merrilee was a full-time mom, busying herself with projects such as canning garden produce and painting the faces of Raggedy Ann dolls made by her grandmother.

Merrilee and Oscar divorced in 1982, and she moved to Marguerite Court on Alki. With her moves, she had developed an interest in real estate, starting a career in 1977 as a broker for Evan Carlson Realty on California Avenue and opening a realty business with Karis Malagon near 35th Avenue and SW Alaska Street.

She further developed interests in gardening and painting while transitioning to work for high-school classmate and West Seattle broker Rich Bianchi in the Junction and later for John L. Scott and moving to a succession of homes south of the Junction, in Burien, on Beach Drive, across from Lincoln Park, behind the Admiral Theater, and to a home west of the Junction to care for her mother.

Her watercolor, oil, and acrylic paintings filled every wall of her homes and hung in her real-estate offices, and her coordination of home tours for the historical society in the 1990s and early 2000s prompted her to create themed poster paintings for those events.

Merrilee retired as a broker in 2005 while battling Crohn’s disease. Following her mother’s death, she moved to lower Queen Anne and, two years ago, to the Island View apartment complex across from West Seattle High School.

Besides her devotion to West Seattle and the historical society, Merrilee was known for her keen memory and low-key sense of humor (one of her maxims was “Never pass up a good straight line”) and for staying in touch with and taking care of family and friends.

Survivors include her daughter and son-in-law, Melissa and Terry Cooper, of Highland Park; siblings Linda Blackinton, Daniel Blackinton, and Eileen Addison of Seattle; and ex-husband Oscar Hagen of SeaTac.

Her ashes will be scattered near the family home in the Guemes Channel north of Anacortes, and there will be no public memorial service. The Southwest Seattle Historical Society will host a time of remembrance for Merrilee during its annual Independence Day picnic from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, 2017, in the museum courtyard.

(WSB publishes West Seattle obituaries by request, free of charge. Please e-mail the text, and a photo if available, to editor@westseattleblog.com)

2 Replies to "Remembering Merrilee Hagen, 1943-2017"

  • pjk April 17, 2017 (3:19 pm)

     This is such sad news for both West Seattle and SWSHS.  I enjoyed serving on the board with Merrilee and her positive attitude.  RIP, Merrilee.

  • Diane April 17, 2017 (6:01 pm)

    She was a good/great friend and she will be missed!

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