t may be a good thing Keith Stiles is no longer the volunteer editor for the Key Peninsula News, for if he were, this feature would never make print. During an interview over lunch, he always gave credit for his many successful projects to others — whether it was for the three years he headed the newspaper, or during the time he petitioned the Legislature to retain the original name of Joemma Beach, or any number of other differences he’s made but doesn’t easily acknowledge.
Anticipating his fourth retirement in 1975, Stiles bought a summer place on the beach south of Herron Island. He worked as Northwest district engineer for General Instrument Corp. in Bellevue. He had traveled to Hawaii; Alaska; and Los Alamos, N.M.
“I was on the road a lot,” he said. He had bought a newspaper business in Keizer, Ore., but lost it in a flood. He had an offer of radio station ownership in Seaside, Ore., “but it was too cold and wet” there, he said. He went to Ellensburg to try to buy a radio station there, but the wind blew for four straight days. “I found out the wind always blows there,” he said. “We bought radio property in Cottage Grove, Ore., and operated that for a few years until my wife was killed (in a train accident),” he said.
“I asked what he hoped to accomplish were he to have been elected and he told me he remembered once in a town in California they held an election and no one ran for office. ‘I thought no one had filed for KP commissioner election and didn’t want to visit that sort of humiliation on my new hometown,’ (Keith said)… Instant friendship.”
With his radio experience, in 1986 “Keith Stiles, Stan Rippon, Max Bice, and Milt Boyd poured their souls into the creation of radio station KGHP-FM on the campus of Peninsula High School,” McMillan said. Stiles explained, “I chose the call letters: K for Key, GH for Gig Harbor, and P for Peninsulas.”
KGHP is one of only 40 school-sponsored radio stations in the United States. McMillan said, “He involved me in an effort to scrounge used radio station equipment from a radio station owner friend of mine in Portland, and to assist with the fund-raising effort for the station. During the ice storm of 1996, which knocked out just about everybody’s power, Keith all but lived at the station, providing entertainment and emergency information as, for the first time, KGHP went 24/7. He still gives regularly of his time and talent to maintain the station as the vibrant asset it is to our Peninsula communities.
“Keith is the surviving member of the quartet who founded the station and is still active in guarding its interests against a commercial enterprise’s efforts to take over one of KGHP’s frequencies for commercial purposes. He again honored me by asking me to do whatever possible in securing the assistance and intervention of Sen. Maria Cantwell and Congressman Norm Dicks, which evolved into a successful two-plus year campaign to ensure the viability of not just KGHP but two other public school radio stations elsewhere in the state,” McMillan said.
Stiles participated in a project with Don and Sherry Masco to petition the state Legislature to widen and improve State Route 302. “It was very much improved when it was first done,” he said, “but it isn’t very long, with average speeds increasing and more traffic, that those improvements were subverted again.” He remains concerned about the safety of that stretch of road, saying, “There is no more state-owned land available to widen 302 any further.”
In 1988, Stiles was appointed and served on the board of the Peninsula School District for seven years, during which time it undertook “major bond issues to build and rebuild most of the schools in the system.
“Vaughn Elementary was mainly portables, and both Evergreen and KPMS needed enlarging. Minter needed more room. Those bond issues contained something for everybody,” he said. Also in 1988, he was named the Gig Harbor Citizen of the Year. “I was pretty pleased about the honor,” he said.
Stiles and the KGHP-FM radio station sponsors have been looking for a volunteer to take over as engineer, but no one has come forward. Of the future, he shared a sadness, saying, “Young people are headed off into the idea of pushing a button and something magically happens. They have become a group of users rather than builders.” He is a believer in the educational process. “The country can’t survive without it,” he said.
At age 81, Stiles isn’t slowing down. He is actively pursuing a project to document the history of how telephones came to the Key Peninsula. “There was a historic split. Everything south of 118th Street used to be long-distance,” he said. He is also researching a secret Navy lab that existed in Port Townsend during World War II. And he is still volunteering for the school district, as part of a committee studying school facility needs in a 20-year strategic plan.
These, among other projects, bear witness to Stiles as a driving force on the Key Peninsula. He served as president of the KP Historical Society, the Home Social Club, and of the Friends of the Library Association when the new library was built in Key Center. Though in his typical humble style, Stiles said, “All I did was turn over a shovel full of dirt.
“I was head of a committee that sponsored and investigated, and won the election for the four KP fire stations in the places they are now,” Stiles said, “but the committee did the work.”
“Keith is, and has long been, an active, energetic supporter of all good things for the Key Peninsula community. That’s just one of the reasons we like him very much,” McMillan added.