TONASKET – Walter Henze and Sarah Kaiser were surprised to find themselves being announced the Tonasket Grand Marshals for the annual parade and rodeo at the Chamber of Commerce Banquet in January, thinking it was an honor bestowed upon long-time residents, but they are both still excited about this weekend’s upcoming activities.
“I feel honored and tickled,” Kaiser said while Henze added that he feels surprised and excited to be chosen as the grand marshals.
“I always thought the grand marshal honor was for families who’d been here for a very long time; I guess we’ve been here longer than I thought,” Kaiser said.
“I think, although we’re newcomers to multi-generation families, we’ve been here for 35 years and we’ve been involved in a lot of things besides medicine,” Henze added.
The couple moved to Tonasket in August of 1979, shortly after Henze had finished his residency in family practice at the University of Washington. He came to town as a family practice doctor while Kaiser was a physician’s assistant in women’s medicine.
“We were looking for a rural community where we could both practice medicine,” Henze said. “It was important to me to have a town with a hospital so Tonasket was perfect. Plus, we’d spent the previous two years recreating in Okanogan County and I’d done residency work in Omak and in Tonasket, so we knew the area well. Mark Patterson was one of the PAs and we told him we’d come out if he stayed and he said he’d stay if we came out.”
Kaiser said they have stayed in Tonasket so long because they both love the area, not only for the medical community, but also for the skiing and gardening aspects, which as much of the community as they’d been when considering the move here 35 years ago.
“Tonasket evolved into a really strong medical community,” Henze said. “It was just a couple of years after we moved here that Dr. Helleson and Dr. Stangland joined us and they’re both still here. Now, we have a younger generation with us.”
He and Kaiser are both now retired and expressed how much they have enjoyed retirement so far.
“I told my patients about a year before I retired that I planned to and many asked ‘where are you going to go?’ and I said ‘you don’t understand,'” Henze said. “There are still a lot of things here I want to do.”
Henze is involved with the Okanogan Valley Land Council, where he is the president, and he said he and Kaiser both worked on the local state Sno-park together while he is still the one who writes the grant requests every year. Henze stated he is still involved in land and forest issues, particularly ones that involve the snow park.
Kaiser said her main community involvement has centered are drama.
“I’ve been directing plays for about 20 years in Tonasket at all different levels,” she added.
The couple also raised two children in the community. Talia works as an urban planner at a consulting firm in Seattle while Daven is a climate scientist and researcher and a professor at the University of Colorado.
“We’re totally looking forward to the parade,” Kaiser said. “We’ve been in it multiple times, but usually in costume. The parade is one of my favorite things about Tonasket.”
Henze said they would be attending both evenings of the rodeo, as well as the barbecue.
“We’ll go wherever they tell us to go,” he stated.
With excitement in her voice, Kaiser said her 90-year-old mother is coming to town for the parade and she is very excited as well. Henze’s father and step-father will also be at the parade.
“We’re going to have our own cheering section in wheel chairs, but they’ll be there,” she said. “We’re just hoping for good weather for the parade and rodeo. Good weather always makes it easier and more fun. I’m just really looking forward to it and I’m very grateful to all the parade and rodeo planners and the Chamber of Commerce who honored us.”