by Chamidae Ford
On Sunday morning, South Seattle lost a beloved member of the community. Jean Veldwyk, 89, died peacefully in her sleep.
Veldwyk was a staple to the community, regarded as a determined and focused woman who broke many glass ceilings in her lifetime.
A Seattle native, Veldwyk graduated from Franklin High School and opted to stay in the area. In 1962 she founded her own real estate company, Jean VelDyke Realty.
In a video for Rainier Chamber of Commerce, Veldwyk mentions that when planning her business she thought to herself, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it the right way.”
Veldwyk then bought a vacant lot where she built the building that VelDyke Realty still occupies today. Veldwyk was one of the first women in the area to break into the real estate business, and many people doubted her abilities.
One of Veldwyk’s long-time friends, Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin, spoke to Veldwyk’s determination to prove others wrong.
“She would tell me her story of how she grew up and how she started her real estate business,” Cookie said. “She was one of the first — if not the first — woman to have her own real estate agency, when men were telling her, ‘You can’t do this. This is not a woman’s job. You need to stop this craziness.’ And so I remember her looking at me with a beautiful smile on her face and saying ‘Every opportunity I got, I would remind them that I made it and that I did it. I didn’t quit like they wanted me to.’”
Beyond her real estate business, Veldwyk had a dedication to improving her community. In 1995 she gathered the community together through the Southeast Seattle Senior Fund to buy the Brighton Apartments to provide seniors a safe and affordable place to live. In 1999, after massive fundraising efforts, that dream became a reality.
Curtis Brown, the executive director of the Southeast Seattle Senior Fund, worked closely with Veldwyk for years and spoke to the motivation behind this venture.
“Jean would say, ‘No, the community deserves a great place to live, a safe place to live, and affordable rents,’” Brown said. “So she literally called up everybody in this community and said, let’s buy this. She would never take credit for it … but she literally called everybody in the community. [She] called every politician from the mayor to former King County Executive Ron Sims. I mean, she got on the phone with everybody and said, ‘We need to buy this property for the community.’”
When the Brighton Apartments was purchased, there was a significant amount of crime in the neighborhood, and people felt unsafe being there. Veldwyk refurbished the apartments and brought in committed community members to live in the space. The area saw a 30% decrease in crime. She also co-founded the Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council. Her role in the council resulted in Veldwyk receiving an award from President Bush in 1990 for innovation and success at reducing crime. And while rent prices have skyrocketed through the city, the Brighton Apartments continues to provide the lowest rent prices in the city. Although Veldwyk is gone, the dedication and work she put into the Brighton Apartments will allow it to grow and flourish.
“Because of her work, we’re in a position now that we can take those six, eight acres and we’re going to put another couple of hundred units of housing there,” Brown said. “We’re talking about ownership things and how the Brighton can help reverse displacement. So that project is going to be a game-changer for [creating] the vision that she had.”
Beyond her business and community ventures, Veldwyk provided support and encouragement to the people around her.
“Jean is one of the smartest women and the strongest woman I have ever met,” Cookie said. “She is outstanding. I’ve learned so much from her. After being with her at community meetings and then developing a friendship with her over chess, we became good friends, and she became my mentor. She would mentor me in all kinds of events, not just about chess, but any life events that I needed to talk to someone about. She always had an ear to listen. You know, we would sit at her home, looking at the lake, just talking about various things.”
This supportive and caring behavior was translated to the workplace as well. Those who worked with her viewed Veldwyk as a determined, headstrong, but kind influence in the room, constantly encouraging those around her to push themselves.
“She had the ability to let you know that she appreciated you, that she had confidence in you. But if she disagreed with something, she lets you know, but it was always in just an amazing way,” Brown said. “She just had that amazing skill set about her.”
Veldywk has changed the area for the better while always prioritizing those around her.
“Jean was so proud, so proud of what I was doing, and not just what I was doing, but Jean was like that with the community,” Cookie said. “Jean made things happen in the community. She supported and funded a lot of these community festivals in Rainier Beach and Rainier Valley. She made these things possible, and we’ve had some fabulous events.”
Jean Veldywk has left a long-lasting impact on the South Seattle community and will be deeply missed.
“There are certain individuals that are not like other people; she’s one of those,” Brown said.
Jean Veldwyk is survived by her nieces Bonnie Veldwyk and Peggy Kelly (Jim). She is also survived by her many grand nieces and nephews Juliann, Justin, Nathan, Sunil, Philip, Nicole, Rachel, Kristin, and Sabra.
Chamidae Ford is currently a senior journalism major at the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. You can reach Chamidae Ford at IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
📸 Featured Image: Jean Veldwyk (photo courtesy of Linda Johnston)
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