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Memorial bench honors town’s ‘hot dog lady’
The wooden bench is tucked beside the Island County Historical Museum with a view overlooking Front Street and Penn Cove.
It is the perfect spot for two friends, Vickie Chambers and Chuck Poust, to stop and reflect on the life of Charlotte Christensen, Coupeville’s beloved “hot dog lady.”
Christensen passed away in December 2010 at age 63 after a brief illness, and the bench was recently installed in her memory.
Charlotte and Maury Christensen had moved to Whidbey Island in 2001, planning to kick back and retire.
But once they settled in and began to develop friendships, they decided to become part of the scene on Coupeville’s Front Street. In 2002, they bought a vending cart and set up a hot dog business called Coupe’s Last Stand.
The cheerful red-and-yellow hot dog cart was initially located on Coveland Street before relocating to the foot of the Coupeville Wharf, so it made perfect sense to install the memorial bench near the same spot.
Chambers bought the business from Maury Christensen the year after Charlotte passed away.
“She was well loved,” Chambers said. “So very gracious.”
In the summer months, when Chambers tows the cart downtown behind her four-wheeler and sets up shop for the day, the bench will provide a place for people to sit and enjoy their hot dogs while they take in the view.
Charlotte Rose VanderWilt was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, in 1946 and Maury proudly recalled that she still holds the Iowa girls’ basketball free-throw record of 53 consecutive baskets.
When the couple first began spending time on Whidbey, the Captain Whidbey Inn was the first draw. After enough visits, they knew they’d found their next home.
“We always knew we wanted to end up there,” Maury said.
Once here, they immersed themselves in Coupeville’s small-town spirit. In addition to being Coupeville’s “hot dog lady,” Charlotte served as asubstitute teacher, worked for several catering companies, including Bayleaf, and became involved with organizations such as the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, the Coupeville Boys and Girls Club, and the Island County Historical Society. The pair opened their home on Madrona Way as a bed and breakfast with the tongue-in-cheek name, Coupe de Villa.
Charlotte was connected to the community in many different ways, said close friend Cindy Olson, who owns Aqua, a gift shop on Front Street.
In 2009, Charlotte and Maury hosted visitors to their home on the Holiday Home Tour fundraiser for the Island County Historical Society and Museum. That same year, Charlotte’s beautiful, old-fashioned gingerbread house won first prize in The Whidbey Examiner’s first Gingerbread Challenge.
“She was known for her dinner parties,” Olson said. “She was a gracious hostess to the whole town.”
“She was a sweetheart. Such a nice lady,” said Poust, whose business, Windjammer Gallery, is near the spot where Charlotte sold hot dogs each day during the summer.
The bench is intended to keep Charlotte’s memory in the heart of Coupeville.
Jim Short, Eric Daigneault and the Coupeville High School shop class helped design and build the bench. Friends and family contributed time and money to install the bench and stonework in front of it.
Contributions also came from friends and family in Utah, where Maury now resides and where he and Charlotte had once lived.
“She touched so many lives,” Olson said.
The Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association managed the fund for the project.
“Her radiant smile came directly from the depths of her heart and soul,” Maury said. “Our world will never be the same, but the 32 years were a blessing to be remembered.”