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Sunday, May 27, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Inga Bardahl, helped shape Ballard business

Seattle Times science reporter

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From 1957 to 1969, a green boat out of Ballard made a name as the most successful hydroplane of all time. Fans called each version of the craft the "Green Dragon," but the big letters on the hull said "Miss Bardahl."

Watching, in one of her many straw hats, was Mrs. Bardahl, Inga. Her husband, Ole, built the Bardahl Manufacturing dynasty after immigrating from Norway with $32. But Mrs. Bardahl was the stalwart, not-always-silent partner in his success.

"She was always supportive and always there," said one of her two daughters, Lillian Wittrock of Eustis, Fla. "They were each one-half of a whole. They meshed perfectly. The old-fashioned word helpmate covers mother perfectly."

Mrs. Bardahl died last Sunday (May 20) at age 98 in her home above Golden Gardens Park in Seattle, three years to the day after suffering a stroke.

She met Ole Bardahl as a teenager in her hometown of Trondheim, Norway. He left for the United States in 1922, and she followed a year later, traveling alone by boat and train to Seattle.

By day, she worked as a maid on Capitol Hill. By night, she took English classes, also learning the language through a reading habit that included novels and three newspapers a day.

Ole Bardahl, after building a successful construction business that included housing for Boeing, bought a small chemical company in 1939 that produced soaps and an oil additive. With workers scarce during World War II, Mrs. Bardahl worked on the canning line.

In 1952, when Ole Bardahl and Frank Richard "Dick" McAbee chaired a fund drive to move the old Ballard General Hospital out of the Eagles Building and into new quarters, Mrs. Bardahl and her daughters went door-to-door, asking for donations. The drive raised $750,000 for what is now Swedish Medical Center/Ballard.

And as Ole Bardahl set up distributorships around the world for his myriad motor products, Mrs. Bardahl made her dinner table an informal U.N. General Assembly.

"She was the perfect wife as was known in those days," said Evelyn McNeil of Seattle, her other daughter and chairman of the family company, which is still based in Ballard. Condolence are coming in from more than three dozen countries, McNeil said.

Months after McNeil's husband, hydroplane racer Rex Manchester, died in the President's Cup on the Potomac River in 1966, Mrs. Bardahl persuaded her to put away the black clothes and stop mourning by buying her a red dress.

Mrs. Bardahl's cooking was legendary, producing lamb and cabbage, fish cakes, meatballs and an estimated 1 million Norwegian pancakes. McNeil remembers that her father could be in a business meeting, field a phone call and suddenly bolt from the room.

"Mother said the soup's on," he'd say. He died in 1989, a month after he and Mrs. Bardahl celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.

Mrs. Bardahl's survivors include her two daughters, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Family services will be private. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center, the Make-A-Wish Foundation or any charity.

Eric Sorensen can be reached at 206-464-8253 or esorensen@seattletimes.com.

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