Bonnie Giron, the longtime matriarch of the Wiitamaki jewelry family, died early Friday afternoon at Grays Harbor Community Hospital. She was 84.
She will be remembered by many long after they walk miles in the slippers she knit for others every year. She lived by her favorite Finnish word, “sisu,” which loosely translates to determination and strength, her family said.
“Everybody was her friend,” said Linda Barre, a longtime employee of Wiitamaki’s jewelry store, which Giron’s parents opened in Aberdeen in 1926. Arlynn Lavois Wiitamaki was born two years later on Nov. 25, 1928, at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She was nicknamed “Bunny” by an aunt, which later became “Bonnie,” her son said.
She loved the business as does her family, her youngest son, Mike Giron, said Friday. His mother asked for an engraving machine when she was 16, before she graduated from J.M. Weatherwax High School in 1947. Giron started working for her mother and father’s jewelry store when she was in the seventh grade.
Tears and memories flowed as the afternoon waned at the store’s third location on Wishkah and I Street, where Wiitamaki’s has been since 1999.
Giron liked helping people and always remembered who everyone one was, where they lived, where they moved, down through generations of Harborites, the family said. She gave to many but did not want to take credit for any of the help she gave to others, her family and friends said.
She was active at the store, working there six days a week up until this past year when she endured two compression fractures.
Every year, she knit hundreds of slippers for the charitable Christmas “Mitten Tree” at Anchor Bank. She said they had a lifetime guarantee and often knit an adult pair to replace outgrown or worn-out pairs.
She was independent and “did things her way,” a walking example of the Finnish word that described her well, said employee Kathryn Kalenius, bringing out the coffee cups Giron had made. They bear the words: “Guts, determination, strength, willpower, guts, Sisu, the Finnish have it.” She proudly wore the word “sisu” pinned to her jacket.
She was “mom, dad and friend” to her four children, Peggy Klinger, Sherri Hughes, Frank Hermsen (from her first marriage), said Mike Giron, the youngest child of a second marriage. Her family photos adorn a pillar at the store.
Many stories spoke to how she helped people.
One day, a man down on his luck, asked if he could sell her his Bible. “She asked me to get $100 out of the till,” Mike Giron said. Though some doubted the Bible would be redeemed, the man paid her back and “to this day appreciates what she did for him … There are so many stories like that.”
She lived with each of her sons briefly after the first fracture. Though in pain, she finished the engraving orders she had before last Christmas. Knitting to the end, she filled their homes with yarn, some of which will be donated to the sixth-grade elementary students who have charity projects of their own.
After the second fracture, she moved into Pacific Care Center. She died after a short stay in the hospital. Both had to amend visitation rules because she had so many visitors, Giron said.
In addition to her children, she is survived by a sister, 12 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren. Services will likely be next week.
Arrangements are by the Harrison Family Mortuary in Aberdeen.