South Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, WA

"So many hometown heroes"

Named a Finalist Because: The nation could use a lesson from this opinionated island community, where combatants leave even the most fiery political disputes still friends.

From the Editors: If you see two cars stopped on a road in South Whidbey, the drivers are probably arguing. But don’t call it road rage. In this small community of 15,000 on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound, discussing local issues like zoning, taxation, hunting, or something as minute as the policies of the teen shelter is a way of life. “Don’t bother to honk your horn,” said Susan Knickerbocker, the local resident who nominated South Whidbey. “When they’re done, they’ll be done. So you just wait it out.”

It’s what happens next, though, that makes South South Whidbey special. The area’s residents are a mix of farmers, artists, commuters, and retirees, of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Christians, atheists and people of other faiths. Initiative and opinions are not in short supply. But when the dust on the debate of the moment settles, and the island has come to a collective decision about what to do, people go back to being friends, neighbors and fellow islanders. “We argue passionately of where we want our community to go, but at the end of the day we’ll all say hi and shake hands at the farmer’s market on the weekend,” said Justin Burnett, who writes for the South Whidbey Record.

On an island, you can’t escape your issues, but people in South Whidbey don’t let the issues come between them. “There’s a lot of forgiveness,” said Knickerbocker. “People move on.” These days, that’s something all Americans can learn from.

Read Susan Knickerbocker’s entry below to learn more about why South Whidbey might just be the Nicest Place in America.

—The Editors

Folks come from as far as Seattle to see the fireworks and mingle with the locals during South Whidbey’s famous July 3 celebration. (Credit: Susan Knickerbocker)

If someone needs help, they get it. South Whidbey has the best food bank, best senior center and child care — many of these free. Best homeless care, free home help for repairs. If a group needs help, they got it. South Whidbey people love animals and the environment.

There is a series called Hometown Heroes in the local South Whidbey Record newspaper. It began in 1995, a monthly article of 2,500 to 3,000 words about a person every month. There are so many nominations — this series will out live the writer. There is no place like South Whidbey.

South Whidbey is a place of everyday kindnesses.

When abused horses were found in another county, South Whidbey volunteers drove to pick the dying horses up and brought them all back to life.

When a family’s home was burned, South Whidbey people stepped up opened a bank account, garnishing enough moneys for them to rent another place and have rent paid for a year. Also they were taken shopping to replace items they had lost.

When a work party to clean a park (for instance) is put in the newspaper, more people than needed show up to help, tools in hand. When a need is realized, a group will step up to find a solution. For example, starting a foundation to help with people’s medical bills and free vet service for those who cannot afford it for their pets. Programs for free car oil changes, gas for cars. Sponsors for those who need free counseling, tutoring, medical help.

South Whidbey Island welcomes locals and visitors alike for its annual July 3 tradition. (Credit: Susan Knickerbocker)
South Whidbey has been a magical place to live for many years. (Credit: Susan Knickerbocker)
South Whidbey is home to many hometown heroes who make it a nice place to live. A book has been written about them. (Credit: Susan Knickerbocker)

More about South Whidbey

Hometown Hero Margaret Andersen: Recognizing, moving past our fears

South Whidbey Nourishes, a non-profit devoted to preparing meals for those in need