For these women, what started as an effort to get some exercise and social time has turned into years of friendship and entertainment for the community.
They call themselves The Coulon Park Walkers and they have been dressing the “Interface” sculpture at Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park for about 20 years in festive clothes for different holidays.
“This is a group of about 12 women of different ages, personalities and backgrounds, different career choices, and different hobbies and interests,” said Dolores Halstead, group member. “Yet, over time, we’ve developed this wonderful and caring friendship, which is important to all of us and goes beyond just dressing statues.”
The trips to the sculpture started in 1993, when three friends decided to do something festive for Halloween and dropped-off carved pumpkins at the bottom of the “Interface” sculpture.
Patty Raphael was the creative genius behind the trips to the sculpture, her friends said. She has since died, but her friends kept up the tradition of visiting the sculpture.
By 1998, the activity turned to dressing the sculpture of the three walkers in clothes to celebrate whatever holiday it was: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Apple Cup, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and others.
“We did it really simple with what we started with, but gradually it was just garage sales and that sort of thing,” said Halstead.
Eventually, the women decided to take turns hosting the visits to “Interface,” and they parceled out the different costumes to store at each of their homes.
After the missions to the park, the women meet for breakfast at Tommy’s Cafe in Renton. Some, because of age, can’t make it down to Coulon for the dressing, which happens even in inclement weather, but everyone tries to make it to Tommy’s. If you don’t make it to Tommy’s, you get talked about, said one group member, laughing.
“To me, the interesting thing is how the West Hill and the East Hill, how they mesh because you don’t know people from the other hill often,” said Mary Jo Primlani, group member.
Primlani was picked to be in the group because she was walking near the sculpture dressers and they needed someone tall to put the hats on “Interface.” The group has been added to over the years by instances like that or members bringing in new helpers.
“We may have brought somebody with us and got the group a little bit bigger, but…it’s like two different cities that kind of came together in the park,” she said.
The Coulon Park Walkers don’t call themselves a secret society, but say the activity is just something they do. The group even has the unofficial endorsement of Mayor Denis Law, who is a friend of a friend of one of the group members.
Although no one has complained, most of the ladies in the group wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. Their mission is always the same: go down to the park, get in, get out and hope nobody walked by to see you.
“It’s the mystique: suddenly they’re dressed!” said Halstead.
It may not be completely sanctioned, but officials look the other way because it’s fun.
“We have had a very thoughtful group who have dressed the art in Coulon to fit many celebrations,” said Terry Higashiyama, Renton Community Service administrator. “The visitors at the park love it and look forward to seeing the costumes.”