The Last Alarm was sounded for Ross Bischoff, following the benediction from Pastor Heinz Malon, on May 17. Pagers sounded from the belts of Key Peninsula firefighters stationed around the sanctuary of the Key Peninsula Lutheran Church. Loud-and-clear came the dispatcher’s voice, “The Key Peninsula Fire Department calls for the last alarm for firefighter Ross Bischoff. May his spirit continue to watch over us.”
The dispatcher’s microphone remained open for a few seconds, a routine procedure to allow for secondary instructions or a reply. When there was no reply, all pagers were clicked closed; the firefighters filed out and returned to duty. The Last Alarm is a traditional ceremony reserved for firefighters and is only used when the family is comfortable including it as part of the memorial. “In working with the family, they felt that it would be appropriate,” said Fire Chief Tom Lique whose father, Earl, served as a responder with Bischoff in the 1970s.
The sea of parked vehicles surrounding the Key Peninsula Lutheran Church were evidence of the love and esteem in which Bischoff was held by his many friends, neighbors, and family members. The community leader, who was friend and helper to so many, lost his battle with cancer on April 29. An estimated 250 people attended his celebration of life. The services were conducted by Malon in the church that Bischoff was instrumental in designing and building; he was a charter member there. The sanctuary was festooned with quilted and paper swarms of butterflies in memory of Bischoff’s annual Easter release of hundreds of the winged beauties.
Following services, those who had come to honor him gathered in the church’s McColley Hall, where memories of Bischoff’s life were shared over refreshments.
“The Key Peninsula has lost a great pioneer and a hands-on worker who did all he could to better serve his friends and neighbors in the community,” said friend Andy Isaksen.
Always ready to serve, Bischoff was elected to the Key Peninsula Parks and Recreation District’s Board of Commissioners and, when that body was replaced by the current Key Peninsula Metro Parks District, was again elected commissioner.
He and his wife, Joyce, who died in 2005, had a cider press in a building on Hoff Road in Home where they created fresh cider bearing Bischoff’s Lakebay Farm label. Their cider, honey, jams, jellies, and pies were coveted by many who snatched them up at farmers markets, the Key Peninsula Community Fair, the Renaissance Faire, and the Peninsula High School annual WinterFest. They conducted tours of the press room for students from Evergreen Elementary and every kid left with a free bottle of freshly squeezed cider.
For a time, they raised mink on their property on Hoff Road and earned the displeasure of some neighbors, who were not pleased with the odor of the beasts. “Their mink farming days came during the mid- to late-‘80s and I can’t imagine any of the neighbors along Hoff Road not remembering the awful smell the mink produced,” said his daughter, Carol Bischoff Larson.
Bischoff gave his time as a volunteer with several organizations, among them his church, the Peninsula High School’s Future Farmers of America, the 4-H, Key Peninsula Business Association, the Renaissance Faire, and was involved with a number of local farmers markets. He was a moving force in the creation of the Gig Harbor Farmers Market, served as a volunteer firefighter with the Key Peninsula Fire Department, and was interviewed for the department’s added commissioner position this year.
In 1981, Bischoff was one of two who survived a primary election for fire commissioner but did little to win the general election. On meeting the person who won the election, he asked, “Do you smoke?” He then explained he knew that the other two commissioners smoked, as did the chief, and that he figured he would live at least 10 years longer by staying out of the smoke-charged commissioners’ meetings, so he decided not to really seek the office.
Neighbor Lori Deacon Boll, who was a student of Bischoff’s at Peninsula High School, said, “He was the best teacher I ever had. He made me feel I could accomplish things that I might not even have attempted without his encouragement.”
Bischoff was an honorary member of the Stillaguamish Tribe. Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe and tribal fisheries manager, presented Larson a ceremonial blanket. He explained, “In our culture, gifting is an important part of our ceremonies and custom. Blankets are one of the gifts that are special. We wrap blankets on loved ones, guests, leaders, witnesses called at ceremonies, or honoring someone. Last year, at my parents’ annual barbecue, I wanted to share our culture and language of the Stillaguamish with the guests. I also wanted to honor Ross for his friendship, leadership, and as a very respected elder. I spoke of my appreciation for his help keeping me in school and graduating, his kindness, his love to teach. He helped me get interested in fisheries, where I have worked for several years.”
Yanity held the blanket and said, “I wanted to honor him and wrap him in this blanket. The blanket is medicine for him.”