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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Karen and Jake Whitehead


The Whiteheads moved to Spokane Valley in October 2006 after the Department of Transportation decided to build an interchange on their Leavenworth property.
 (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)
The Whiteheads moved to Spokane Valley in October 2006 after the Department of Transportation decided to build an interchange on their Leavenworth property. (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)

Karen and Jake Whitehead had four good reasons to relocate to the Spokane Valley. All they needed was a little push to get them moving.

Why Spokane?

The state Department of Transportation gave the couple the nudge they needed in a letter detailing plans to build a highway interchange on their property outside Leavenworth, Wash.

“We just thought, ‘We don’t have any real reason to stay in Leavenworth,’ ” Karen said. “And we have two daughters and two grandsons in Spokane.”

The state’s letter arrived five years ago. At that time, the couple subdivided all but two acres of their 130-acre pear orchard and waited for the DOT to finalize its plans, Karen said.

“The check came from the state the same week we broke ground on our house” in Greenacres, she said, adding that working with the state was a “wonderful experience.” A crew came to their Leavenworth home to pack the Whitehead’s belongings and move them to Spokane. The state also paid to store their stuff while the home was being built.

Choosing real estate

The Whiteheads’ two daughters settled in Spokane Valley after graduating from Eastern Washington University. Eight years ago, in anticipation of retirement, the couple bought five acres in Greenacres.

“It was the right move for us,” Jake said. “We’re a pretty close family.”

On Oct. 1, the couple celebrated their one-year anniversary of living in the Valley.

Building a new life

Before starting construction on the house, the couple hired contractors to build a large garage with an upstairs apartment. The garage housed the Whitehead’s collection of antiques and old farm equipment, as well as Jake’s 1956 Chevy pickup. They lived in the apartment during the home’s construction, which was finished March 1.

The couple chose a home design that resembles an old farm house with a wrap-around porch, Jake said. The two-bedroom home has a basement, but everything they need is on the main floor. Doorways are wide to accommodate a wheelchair.

“We plan to retire here for a long time,” Jake said.

What do you miss?

Jake said he misses the trees.

“The openness is taking a while to get used to,” he said. “We lived in the middle of an orchard. We were surrounded by trees.”

Karen said she, too, misses the canopy of trees that sheltered their old home.

“I miss the yard that was established,” said the retired hairdresser. “I don’t miss the working part, but I miss some of my customers.”

Settling in

It can be hard to meet your neighbors in an area where people live on 5- to 10-acre plots with their llamas and miniature horses, Karen said. “I wanted to be able to wave at my neighbors when I was going down the road.”

Just recently, she hosted a neighborhood gathering attended by 10 ladies, she said. The women had so much fun they plan to host another before Christmas.

And she’s always busy. She gardens. She goes to yard sales and auctions. She refinishes furniture. She’s making plans to travel with her husband to Yuma, Ariz., and Hawaii.

“I don’t meet too many strangers,” she said. “I’m always ready to go.”

Jake spends his days building. So far, he’s added a retaining wall, a gardening shed with French doors and several raised vegetable beds.

The retired orchardist who also managed a fruit warehouse said he ends each day exhausted.

“It’s busy. I’m working harder physically than I did at my job,” he said. “I’m sore every day, in places that I didn’t know I had.”

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