Shawn Vestal: Obituaries paint portrait of the Inland Northwest
One obituary is a portrait of an individual. Several are a portrait of a place.
The obituaries of recent weeks told a tale of the Inland Northwest that included schoolteachers and nurses, sign-makers and window-dressers, pageant winners and championship wrestlers.
Here, summarized from recent obituaries and one eulogy, are some of them:
Gerald Dan Holt was born into one of the original homestead farm families in the Rock Creek Valley near Fairfield. At Washington State College, he walked on to the wrestling team and became a champion, winning the Pacific Coast title at 117 pounds in 1952. He married Sally Ann Dyer in 1954, and they raised four sons. Valentine’s Day would have marked their 60th anniversary. He taught school in small towns around the region and later took over the family farm, working past his 80th birthday. He died recently at age 84.
Catherine Diener Simpson’s career as an educator took her all over the world, starting in a one-room schoolhouse at Duley Lake in north-central Washington. Born on the family farm near Wilbur, she met her husband of 63 years, Claude, while they were fellow students at the Cheney Normal School in the early 1930s. They moved around a lot, teaching all over the region, until she returned to Washington State to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She founded a kindergarten in Pullman after graduation in 1962 and taught there until she retired in 1970, though she worked with student teachers in Australia after that. She and Claude returned to Priest Lake, where she was a founder of the library, located in a former one-room schoolhouse. She died Jan. 25 at age 101.
Robert E. Christensen was a well-traveled Kaiser worker – moving back and forth between plants over a 37-year career. Born in Rathdrum, he graduated from Reardan High in 1942. He met the love of his life, Maretta McMullen, at Kaiser; he retired in 1983, and he enjoyed working on cars in his shop and volunteering. He delivered Meals on Wheels up until 2011. He died Jan. 20 at age 89.
Gary Ayers moved to Spokane after he was honorably discharged from the Navy. He worked as a window designer at The Crescent department store, and his animated corner display every Christmas was well-known. He also lived in Sandpoint, working at the Alpine Lodge at Schweitzer Mountain and becoming an accomplished skier. He spent 40 years with his partner, Derald Drinkard, who died in 2011. Gary died Jan. 20 at age 85.
Evalyn Georgia Kendrick was born in Denver, and her father worked in a garage where organized crime types, “dressed fit to kill,” transferred cars, according to her son’s eulogy. The second of seven children, she was raised in the Ione/Newport area, where she met her future husband at a dance. They were married in St. Maries in 1939, and they had two sons. Evalyn always loved the outdoors, riding horses and helping her husband log. She could still stand on her head at age 50. Evalyn died Jan. 8 at age 94.
Nancy Ruth (Gajafsky) Curry won the Miss Green Bay pageant in 1968 and was second runner-up in the Miss Wisconsin competition that same year. Born in Green Bay in 1950, Nancy came to Spokane to attend Whitworth College on a music scholarship. She met Bill Curry at Whitworth, and they were married in 1973. Their two sons were born in Spokane and raised in Redmond and Bellevue. A full-time mom and wife, Nancy played piano at various church and charity functions and taught lessons. She was diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer in 2009 on her 36th wedding anniversary. She died in Spokane on Jan. 22 at age 64.
Evelyn Holm Ericksen grew up in Idaho’s Silver Valley, graduating as class president from Kellogg High in 1939. She attended Eastern Washington College of Education in Cheney and Washington State College, beginning a career in nursing at the Shriner’s children’s hospital, and later going to work at the veterans hospital in Spokane. It was there that she met her husband after his discharge from the Navy. They married in 1960 and moved to San Diego, where she continued working as a nurse until her retirement in 1995. She died Jan. 15 at age 91.
Walter W. “Mike” Johnson served 23 years in the Army, including two tours in Vietnam. Upon his military retirement, he went to work for the city of Spokane’s water department, retiring from there in 1996. He was married to Maggie, who survives him, for 58 years. In retirement, he loved to golf, go RV camping, do woodworking and take care of his beloved 2004 Chevy pickup. He died Jan. 19 at age 79.
Victor B. Linden had a big year in 1946, marrying his wife, Ruth, and starting his company: Vic B. Linden & Sons Advertising. He became known throughout the region for his artistic abilities, from sign lettering to design innovation. His three sons now run the business, which has been going for 68 years. A lifelong member of St. Aloysius Catholic Church, Vic was also involved in many community organizations, from the United Way to the Knights of Columbus to the Greater Spokane Sports Association/Hall of Fame. Vic’s wife passed away Dec. 18 at age 89; he died Jan. 22 at age 91.