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Written by Dan Burwell, video by Nick Sucik

In our second installment of Bellebrities, meet Mark Allyn. He’s only lived in the City of Subdued Excitement for two years but is making an immediate impact on the Bellingham scene.

Mark sporting his new upcycled Goodwill towel jacket. Photo credit: Dan Burwell.

You’ll lay eyes on him about town. Always on a bike (he hasn’t owned a car since 1978), generally in bright clothing made from old towels and shirts found at Goodwill and light tubes found online. Never a suit and tie. You might find him at the Spark Museum repairing radios or electronics. You might find him at the Re-store, Ragfinery, Two Thimbles Quilt Shop or the Hub. Maybe you’ve stumbled across his website or Youtube Channel. Maybe you saw him at the Pickford Fashion Show last winter. Maybe you’ve seen him acting out his films at Cornwall Park or Boulevard Park.

While you might think this article will take away from his mystery, I think you’ll find we’re adding to it.

Mark was born in 1953 in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina and moved to Massachusetts as a young boy. In his childhood, he rebuilt old TV’s found at the town dump. For his ninth grade science fair project, he built an oscilloscope using old TV parts. No training or text books, just an insatiable interest and ability to fiddle.

In high school, Mark attended Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts. This was a boarding school, but Mark only attended during the day. In those days, the school headmaster rules were to control the commons room which housed the boarding students only access to a TV. Portable TV’s were starting to become available but unlike today’s phones, they weighed about 20 pounds and barely fit under a bed.

Mark started a business selling rebuilt portable TV’s only to be caught by the headmaster after his second sale. Mark was also in charge of the school’s sound system and maintaining the school’s Hammond B3 organs. Being just a kid, Mark was on edge after being caught. For months he waited for a sit-down meeting with his parents. Finally, the headmaster said, “It’s ok Mark,” and Mark knew what he meant. The Headmaster never called his parents to inform them of Mark’s lack of obedience as the headmaster was in a pickle. Get Mark in trouble, and he may leave. This would mean finding a new repair guy. While Mark was blissfully naive about his power saving the school money in repair costs, he was beginning to understand his abilities were unique.

Mark’s creations using etched glass, LEDs and re-purposed, welded bike parts. Photo credit: Dan Burwell.

After graduating from high school in 1972, Mark attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusettes. There he became director of the school’s 3,000-watt FM radio station, TV station and the electronically controlled school church chime system. As a sophomore, he was asked to repair the radio station which went off air for two months. In three months he had it back working. All these efforts were in addition to a full load of electrical engineering classes. When he graduated in 1976, the school would not let him leave campus until he gave two weeks’ training to three new staff members – one for each of his jobs.

Mark began his working career at a TV station in Lewiston, Maine. He left after one year as Lewiston at the time was not suitable for a gay man. Mark joined the Navy taking a job in San Francisco. In those Days, San Francisco was one of the few cities accepting of gay men. Mark described it as a refugee center for him. There he had a bad job with a great place to live. He decided to move to San Diego as he found a better position with the Navy repairing high power radios on ships. In 1984 he moved to Newport, Rhode Island to work for Raytheon. The job was great, but Newport had only one gay bar, so he continued to search for something different.

In 1985 he moved to Seattle and worked on website development. He also learned to sew which expanded his hobby repertoire. He bounced back to Boston, then Seattle and finally worked at Boeing before being laid off after 9/11.

From there he moved to Portland, learned Linux and eventually worked for Intel until 2016. He expanded his hobby list again, learning metal work and etched glass. He describes Portland as having an edge. “The police would setup stop sign stings in ill marked locations, stopping bicyclists who didn’t come to a complete stop. I haven’t seen that here, have you?” he asks.

With rent rising and Intel in a downturn, Mark researched where to go next. He was deciding between Burlington, Vermont; Ithaka, New York or Bellingham, Washington. He visited our City of Subdued Excitement, found the Spark Museum and immediately felt welcome.

He stopped by Coldwell Banker and within hours had an offer on a house near Cornwall Park. He moved here in a circuitous way. His first step was paying a friend to ship his belongings up via pickup truck and store them in his house’s garage while he finished out at Intel. He then got on his bike and travelled 360 miles up from Portland via Olympia, Port Townsend and Anacortes. Four days later, he arrived in Bellingham.

Mark shows off his workshop complete with welding table and equipment. Photo credit: Dan Burwell.

When asked why he stands out, he says. “I’ve never once been called out for wearing my colors in Bellingham. Bellingham is laid back. I’ve never had to wear a suit and tie anywhere in Bellingham, have you?”

Indeed not.

He attributes his ‘Mark-ness’ to being retired and “not having to work 60 hours a week.” He has a shop to work in with welding equipment. He has the Spark Museum to support and work in. He sings in the Unitarian Church choir. He also has a kayak at the ready in Bellingham Bay. Access to the outdoors is key for Mark and indeed many other Bellinghamsters. “Bellingham’s got art, music, the Whatcom Museum, the Pickford, Spark. The one thing that Bellingham doesn’t have?” He pauses. “The job market sucks.” Mark goes on to wonder, “Will Bellingham become more formal?” Both Nick and I wonder the same thing. We hope not, but with inevitably more people moving here, it’s likely.

What inspires Mark? “No boyfriend, no kids, no pro sports,” he says. “I bike and kayak.”

“Let yourself shine!” he proclaims. “Conformity is a prison,” he shouts as he goes on to describe his latest venture, a documentary with his own music and video of the annual Bellingham Naked Bike Ride.

Mark’s incredible work ethic is hard to describe. He’s so excited about what he’s doing, and it’s part of him – his life, his essence and his passion. Now that he’s older, he’s found himself and his place. And Bellingham has found him. As a Bellinghamster, I can say we’re lucky he’s here.

Got an idea for someone you’ve always wondered about? Maybe you already know them but think they deserve some limelight. I’m looking to get to know others that make our community a better place, a unique place, maybe even a stranger place. Drop me a line at submit@whatcomtalk.com.

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