Denny Ashlock spent his last moments on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
It was a place where he and his wife, Linda, often admired eagles as they flew by at window level. They enjoyed quiet afternoons in the living room, watching the churning waves below.
The Ocean Shores vacation home had been a dream of Denny’s and Linda’s, their place of respite. They’d talked about it for years. They found it just last April.
But even there, 500 miles from his home in Liberty Lake, Denny Ashlock never really forgot his obligations.
His fax machine hummed constantly, bringing messages about the Mirabeau Point project. The gears in his mind were constantly turning with new ideas, many of which benefitted the Spokane Valley.
“I don’t think he could have ever slowed down,” said Linda Ashlock, an active community volunteer herself. Denny, she said, had been planning to retire from his insurance business - but never from community projects.
His most recent passion, Mirabeau Point, suffered a major loss with his unexpected death last week. Ashlock, 59, died Dec. 30 at his vacation home of cardiac arrhythmia.
Ashlock had been promoter, planner and fund-raiser for the project, which will include a community resource center, senior center, YMCA gymnasium and aquatics center, amphitheater, ice rink, play fields and universally accessible park on the former site of the Walk in the Wild zoo.
“I just feel empty,” said Greg Bever, Ashlock’s partner in the Mirabeau Point project. “All of us looked to Denny to be our leader. I don’t know how we’re ever going to pick up the pieces.”
But with Mirabeau representing Ashlock’s final legacy in the Valley, friends and supporters say they’ll just have to work harder. Crews will break ground on the $33 million project this spring, Bever said. Non-profit Mirabeau Point Inc. will hire a project coordinator within the next few months.
“It breaks my heart to think he won’t see it finished,” said Norma Ventris, a Rotary member who is working on the new Mirabeau Point senior center. “He was really excited about having a community center, and opening it up to all ages, young and old and everyone.
“He just wanted things to be better for our community,” she said. “He liked to turn negatives into positives,” said his wife.
It delighted him to see people walking along the Centennial Trail, she said, a dream he helped turn into reality. He loved to see children splashing in Liberty Lake, a body of water he worked to clean up.”
Ashlock was a master fund-raiser for the Spokane Valley. Besides his work on the Centennial Trail, he helped pass numerous fire levies and bring a sewer system to Liberty Lake, and then to other parts of the Valley.
He also was a master dreamer who followed through with his visions.
“He didn’t let anything fly off his plate,” said county Commissioner Kate McCaslin. “You have to have enthusiasm and tenacity to get these big projects done.”
But Ashlock also had health problems: high blood pressure, an irregular heart beat and recent chest pains. His doctors had been monitoring his heart problems, Linda Ashlock said. He had yet another appointment set up for this week.
He died suddenly, shortly after asking Linda for an aspirin Tuesday.
“Everything was unfinished in Denny’s life,” said Bever, who knew his friend was continuing to push himself despite heart problems.
“The only thing Denny couldn’t control,” Bever said, “was his health.”
Despite his intense community involvement, Ashlock carved out a very private home life on Liberty Lake, where he lived for more than three decades. On weekdays, his fax and phone were continually going, but in the evening, he often unplugged his phone for a quiet candlelight dinner with Linda. He guarded his time alone with family, she said.
Ashlock loved to garden, hike and sit on his back porch, watching the birds soaring above Liberty Lake.
“In many ways,” Linda said, “we’re not very social.”
Ashlock avoided pomp and circumstance. Still, in public life, he stood firmly for what he thought was best for the Valley. His style earned him friends as well as enemies. “I learned it’s all right to be disliked sometimes,” he said in an interview last year. What’s important, he said, is knowing you’re doing the right thing.
Sewering Liberty Lake and the Spokane Valley were two of his more contentious projects.
“I don’t know if I could’ve stuck with it without people like him,” said Tom Gregory, who chaired Citizens for a Valley Sewer in the early 1980s. “At that time, you couldn’t find 14 people who would say clean water is important.”
Ashlock built support for sewers by coming up with innovative ways to cut the project’s cost, Gregory said.
He was also a tireless fund-raiser and problem solver for Mirabeau Point, which won $1.5 million in state money last year. So far, the project has more than $17 million in dedicated funds.
Road construction will begin this spring, along with site preparation for the community resource center. The YMCA will begin construction this spring also.
Supporters have overcome numerous obstructions so far, Bever said.
They now face their largest.
“It really hurts to lose him,” said Gregory, now a Valley Fire District commissioner. “His life in the Valley proved one thing. If you don’t care who gets the glory, you can accomplish anything.”
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