"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

They came in a school bus camper and stayed to make a life

By on May 28, 2019 in Uncategorized with 1 Comment
Mary and Pete Kostka stand in front of their bus just prior to leaving Illinois as newlyweds to head west.
A view of the little kitchen of the bus, with a propane tank running a generator for electricity.
They have snowmobiled for 30 years up and down their road since it is a primitive county road with no snow plowing.

By Mary Kostka

Yesterday, I was going through the mail and looked at the most recent issue of The Good Life and just smiled. 

I thought to myself, “Yes living here has really been the good life for the past 30 years.” 

I had returned home from a dinner out with my 20-year-old son, Nikolai. 

We had just spontaneously joined his preschool “teacher Linda” and her husband for dinner in Leavenworth. The evening was filled with laughter and joyous memories from his third and fourth year of life. 

He remembered her spring pussy willows brushed on the children’s soft cheeks with their eyes closed and the field trips to the art studio and Dairy Queen. 

She was sweet and patient with his need to ease in and take it all in at that young age. She was the first step in developing a confident man who loves public speaking. 

What really got me was the fact that we live in such an amazing community that an evening like this could take place. I never just ran into a past teacher of mine. 

I grew up in the suburbs of L.A. and Chicago and never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would have spent the past 30 years living in the beautiful Cascade Mountains just outside the small town of Leavenworth. 

My husband, Pete, and I ventured out here just after graduating Occupational Therapy school and our wedding in August 1988. We had been attending school in Michigan and knew we wanted to live in a beautiful place. 

Movies filmed in the Pacific Northwest like Harry and the Hendersons inspired our decision.

We lived in our school bus converted to a camper for five years while we built our home by hand on top of a mountain a couple of miles outside of Leavenworth with snowmobile-only access in the winters. (We were ahead of the times with the tiny house movement.)

People thought we were crazy. Living off grid was not easy. We had an outhouse for five years and only a makeshift shower — I had to heat up water in a canning pot and had a little electric pump to move it from the canning pot to the shower. Still, the experience was also pretty amazing.

Soon after we arrived, we were blown away when we went back to the bank and they remembered our names! We had never experienced that level of friendliness before. 

Now we can look back and see that our two boys got to grow up in nature in a loving small town. 

My oldest, Lukas, was recently supported by local friends and family to take advantage of an opportunity to attend an international zoo design conference in Poland. The support really moved me. 

Being able to stay here all these years has taken some creative twists and turns professionally. Pete became an electrician through the local program to fit a need in the community after working for Tree Top and Steven’s Pass. 

I spent a couple of years as a traveling fill-in occupational therapist for a national company — working from two weeks to three months at a time in hospitals, rehabilitation centers and skilled nursing facilities in the U.S. to keep us moving forward and then 10 years ago created my dream job by starting a pediatric private practice, ’Ohana Occupational Therapy after spending 17 years working in schools.

I also created a community activity center, which was another dream come true. 

Pete’s and Mary’s house as it looks now, with the original house on the left half. The larger part on the right is an addition added about 20 years ago to house Mary’s parents who moved here from Illinois.
The front porch has grapes Pete planted because they remind him of his grandfather who was saved in the war by eating grapes that he grew on his home in Czech Republic. The people are: back row 20-year-old son Nikolai and Mary’s mom Fran; front row Pete, his cousin Misa who was visiting from Czech Republic, Mary, and 22-year-old son Lukas.

 I think most people would be surprised to learn that Leavenworth has really diverse activities. I have enjoyed being part of the community through being part of a traditional hula halau (school) with Momi Palmieri for the past 15 years and have also had my own karate school, Dragon Mountain Martial Arts, for the past 13 years. Pete says if I don’t do both I get too grumpy. 

Another activity that keeps me happy is serving through our Leavenworth Rotary Club for the past 10 years.

I love being part of the Youth Exchange Program and spending time with teens from all around the world. The one thing they consistently say about their experience here is how friendly everyone is. 

Over the years, my family left Illinois and moved out here as well. This gave us the opportunity to create a multi-generational home like Pete had in the Czech republic when he was a young boy. 

We have carved out a wonderful life here in the Upper Valley and never take it for granted. 

We feel blessed to be part of this community and are so glad we made the journey west in our old bus.

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  1. Susan Hagan says:

    Wonderful story and photos. I love that you two found your way here by following beauty. Thank you Mary!

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