Community, Enrich, Explore, Living Wenatchee

Terry Valdez, an artist who paints with his heart

Wenatchee artist and educator, Terry Valdez, has come full circle in his life in terms of South Wenatchee. It is where his family first settled in the 1950’s upon their move from New Mexico and after many a turn during his 70 years, it is again the part of the city Valdez embraces. 

Where is South Wenatchee?

The city of Wenatchee splits into its north and south sections at Orondo Avenue. However, the old and established South Wenatchee can be found around the Community Center area at 504 S. Chelan Avenue. It is a convenient place to park and to explore the neighborhoods on foot from there onwards.

You may want to look for such streets as Okanogan Avenue, Peachy Street, Ferry Street with its market and Crawford Avenue to make sure you are in South Wenatchee.

Walk through South Wenatchee for the experience

To truly experience it, a pedestrian tour is the best option. It allows for time to take in the details in the old buildings, admire the established yards with roses everywhere and to chat with residents out and about. 

One distinguishing feature in South Wenatchee are the roses, adorning just about every yard.

Just uphill form the Community Center is the Kiwanis Methow Park, a gathering place for the community. It is currently (June 2019) undergoing a major facelift, but will be a lovely place to gather or to pause to enjoy the view from the hillside extending all the way down to the Columbia River and beyond, onto the East Wenatchee slopes and the Waterville Plateau in the distance.

South Wenatchee has had a bit of a bad reputation in the past as a gang area, for one, with the ugly issues that generates. Many of the houses look run-down, the streets are in need of repair. All those things require money.

Art and Cooperation to Improve South Wenatchee

People who live in South Wenatchee may not all have a strong financial status, but they have a strong sense of community. That aspect may have been suppressed for decades due to biases and the bad influences that have been the focus. 

Things began to change in 2012 thanks to Terry Valdez and some other influential and good-hearted men of action, such as Steve King with the City and Rufus Woods with the newspaper, The Wenatchee World.  A group from the American Institute of Architects were visiting to explore the options in the valley and from there, South Wenatchee began its transformation. 

Terry Valdez embraces Wenatchee and beyond

Valdez’ contribution to the community comes in the form of art. He has had his heart in art since his school days. As a grown-up and traveler of many countries, such as Russia and Mexico, he brought his inspirations to Wenatchee schools first. Valdez’ own Jewish-Latino heritage is present in his work, as well. He taught art, theater and English at the YMCA, the Sterling Middle School and the Washington Elementary School. In addition, he has given numerous workshops at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, Pybus Public Market, The Grunewald Guild in Plain and many other locations in our area. 

Art bursts out of Valdez in many forms: paintings, sculpture, paper, metal – just give him a medium and he will create something delightful.  Expect strong colors and mischievous interpretations.

Valdez in pursuit of South Wenatchee changes

“I was a little apprehensive walking around the neighborhood,” Valdez said in an interview with Rufus Woods in July, 2018. 

This may sound strange from a man who in his childhood slept in an apple bin in South Wenatchee while his parents worked in the orchards. However, times change and so do neighborhoods.

Over the past several years, Valdez has put his artistic energies into creating a new kind of a South Wenatchee, a part of town that takes pride in itself. He is the South Wenatchee coordinator, delighted with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant of $100,000 towards the project.

Engaging the South Wenatchee community

Initially Valdez set up chalk story boards for the residents to express themselves in English or in Spanish, and the response was enthusiastic. The people occupying the South Wenatchee area began to feel somebody was listening. 

Valdez is an open person, relaxed and happy to chat with friends and strangers alike. His many years in teaching have made him an easily approachable man.

Valdez organized an art-infused event at the Community Center on June 16, 2-4 pm, to once again engage the residents in improving their part of the city. The focus is going to be on murals. There are already some in the area to embellish the gray concrete walls. He would like the area to take shape according to what its occupants want and need.

Together with Pastor Misael Fajardo-Perez and several other influential people, Valdez has been an instrumental part of making South Wenatchee a happier, safer and more self-respecting place. 

With the help of the Trust of Public Land, Valdez and Fajardo-Perez have worked on improving the Kiwanis Methow Park in South Wenatchee into a family-friendly gathering place. The group also created a “safety corridor” along South Chelan Avenue with lamp posts decorated with colorful silhouette signs.

Terry Valdez is enthusiastic about organizing community events through art. Creating an Open House at Kiwani’s Methow Park in South Wenatchee in 2018 was well attended and gave city planners a chance to chat with the residents.

The Community is Valdez’ Canvas

While Valdez continues to work in his studio (Terry Valdez Studios) as well as creating the main float for the Apple Blossom Parade every year, he has been focused on a much larger canvas lately: the community. He is grateful for the opportunities he has found in Wenatchee and keeps on creating them for future generations. 

It is well worth it to take a stroll through the streets of South Wenatchee to discover the old houses, stonewalls, unique yards, the people and the newly emerged art. 

You can find my series columns relating to South Wenatchee by searching “The Wenatchee World + Jaana Hatton”.

Jaana Hatton