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Updated Monday, November 26, 2012 at 07:46 PM

Victim of White Center house fire had traveled the world

By Jennifer Sullivan
Seattle Times staff reporter

Kay Trepanier pulled the sheets tightly around herself Monday morning, overwhelmed with exhaustion and heartbreak for the loss of her younger sister and best friend, Peggy Munsen.

Trepanier, 72, and Munsen, 71, had been virtually inseparable since birth. They talked every day, shared their proudest moments and traveled the world together.

Munsen died after an electrical fire broke out Saturday in her White Center home.

"The medical examiner said it appeared that she died of smoke inhalation and she was on her way to find the source (of the fire) or to get out the door," Trepanier said by phone from her Bremerton home. "He said it only took a couple of breaths and she died fairly instantly."

Trepanier said her sister had been living alone since her divorce more than 20 years ago.

Burien fire Lt. Ernie Brown said the blaze began in Munsen's living room and spread into the crawl space.

Brown said a fire crew was dispatched at 4:42 p.m. Saturday to investigate a report of smoke coming from the house in the 9800 block of 28th Avenue Southwest. Firefighters from Seattle, Burien and North Highline forces arrived a short time later. They extinguished the fire in about 15 minutes.

King County sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Cindi West said the fire has been ruled accidental and was caused by an electrical malfunction. West said Munsen's home wasn't equipped with smoke detectors.

"Right now I'm just hiding under the covers," Trepanier said. "It's like I've lost a part of me."

Growing up in Spokane, the Munsen girls performed tap-dance routines together in the driveway, mimicking their idol, actress Ginger Rogers. They cruised in their aunt's Chevrolet and provided comedic relief at Marycliff High School, much to the chagrin of the nuns at the all-girls Catholic high school.

"We went all over hell's bells! We went to Pullman, we went on adventure trips and to go see the world, which was small in our eyes. We always wanted to see the world," Trepanier said.

Soon after graduating from high school, the sisters moved to West Seattle and started working full time — Munsen for Greyhound Bus Lines and Trepanier for Boeing.

While only Trepanier had children, Munsen was always there for the youngest members of her family.

"She taught my grandkids to put black olives on their fingertips and eat them off their fingers," Trepanier said. "She had such a wonderful sense of humor. She really cared about people; that's probably our Catholic upbringing."

Over the years both women worked in a variety of jobs, but it wasn't until they discovered their love of cruises in the 1980s that they found their true calling. In the 1990s, Cruises by Kay was established. After a few years of helping her sister, Munsen started Peggy's Cruises and Tours.

"We would go all over the place, and we would each take groups. We went to Tahiti, Hawaii, Mexico, Bora Bora and Alaska," Trepanier said. "We liked to see things and marvel at all of the things that were out there in this world."

Trepanier acknowledges at first being angry at her younger sister for starting a competing company, but said she got over it quickly.

"We don't carry grudges," Trepanier said.

Trepanier said she last spoke with her sister Friday. She called her Saturday, but didn't reach her.

Then around 8 p.m. Saturday, Trepanier received a call from a firefighter telling her that her sister had died in a house fire.

"I'm just numb this morning. She was like my buddy, my best friend," Trepanier said.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.


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