Paul Tabafunda 'farmed' a family

Paul Tabafunda came to the United States to make a life as a farmer, but in the end his most beloved, enduring crop was his family: nine children whom he kept close to their Bainbridge Island home with get-togethers built around Filipino favorites like chicken adobo.

"He'd call everybody over to eat," son Gene Tabafunda says. "It made him happy."

Mr. Tabafunda died Jan. 16 in Deming, Whatcom County, where he'd received care in his later years. He was 90.

Mr. Tabafunda and his wife of 60 years, Virginia, had three sons and six daughters, who remember their father as both hardworking and easygoing, a generous person who rarely got angry with anyone.

Nine kids were a lot to keep track of, but daughter Marcie Tabafunda of Bainbridge Island remembers piling into the family station wagon for Sunday church services, where they took up two pews.

"That was the backbone of keeping us together," she says.

Four of them still live on a stretch of Bainbridge family land, within a football field's length of each other. These days it's Gene Tabafunda's house that has become the place where they carry on their father's open-door policy.

"He left that with all of us," Gene Tabafunda says. "That's Filipino culture — to bring the family together and have a good time. You never turn somebody away."

Even as Mr. Tabafunda took other jobs as a welder and cannery worker, he taught his kids to live off the land. When times were tough they dug clams or went crabbing, but farming was foremost.

The kids worked alongside their father, picking berries and learning his tricks, but some they didn't catch on to until later — for instance, all the times Mr. Tabafunda had them climb aboard his tractor to provide the extra weight needed to plow stubborn fields.

But as the kids got older and found their own callings, the farm paid the price. When Mr. Tabafunda suffered a stroke at age 80, he finally had to let the work go.

Son Gene Tabafunda tried to take over after that but found the work too difficult to manage with his own job as a crane operator.

"I've always known it to be hard, but I don't know how he did it," he says. "Even his compadres who immigrated here with him all had big 10-acre fields, and they did it on their own. You've got to have the time and the dedication. They had it in their hearts."

And Mr. Tabafunda pulled it off while working the swing shift as a shipyard welder.

"He'd get home at one in the morning, sleep until five, work the fields until 11, take a nap and then leave again at two for work," Gene Tabafunda says. "That was a routine every day. He lived a really hard, tough life."

Marcie Tabafunda says her father's hard work was focused on one thing: providing for his family here and abroad. When he did allow himself free time, she says, it was weekend bingo and dancing that gave him the most joy. At weddings or Filipino community center gatherings, her father was always first to hit the dance floor.

"He taught us all to dance, all six of us girls," Marcie Tabafunda says. "We used to watch Lawrence Welk, and we all had to do the polka. I remember standing on his feet and following him around dancing."

Though largely untended, his farmland remains, overrun with wild rabbits and deer that devour what's left of the strawberry leaves. Still, Randy Tabafunda imagines a day when he and his brothers will bring it back to life.

On summer days, he says, they'd step outside and look out at the fertile fields, and Mr. Tabafunda would remind his children that there'd be a day when they'd have to tend it in his absence.

"I'll think of him every day when I step outside the door here," Randy Tabafunda says. "This was his land. He really had it going on here for a while."

Mr. Tabafunda is also survived by son Florentino (Sonny) of Bainbridge Island; and daughters Patricia Flores and Barbara Schaeffer of Suquamish, Kitsap County; Carmen Voorhees of Poulsbo; Bernice Williams of Seattle; and Elina Tabafunda-Tageant of Canada; and 29 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.

Rosary will be said at 7 p.m. tomorrow with services at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Cecelia Catholic Church, 1310 Madison Ave. N., Bainbridge Island.