Gary Schimmels, described by many as one of Spokane Valley’s founding fathers, died unexpectedly Wednesday at his home.
A longtime construction worker and locksmith who in later years immersed himself in utility issues, Schimmels was among the city’s first seven council members and would become one of its biggest boosters despite the fact that he’d initially opposed incorporation. He served as deputy mayor until last month following his November re-election defeat.
“He was pretty even-keeled, didn’t get riled up too much,” recalled Mike DeVleming, who was the city’s first mayor and credited Schimmels with getting the fledgling city off to a solid start following its 2003 inception. “Even when there was a lot going on, he was always steady at the helm.”
The city of Spokane Valley said Schimmels, 75, died “in his sleep.” Emergency dispatch records indicate paramedics were sent to the family home at 4:07 a.m. following a report of cardiac arrest.
Former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite recalled how she wondered what kind of city leader Schimmels would be when she heard he was going to seek one of the first council seats after his initial opposition to creating the city. .
“But once he jumped in, he became a big supporter,” Wilhite said. “He saw the value that citizens were getting from the city compared to the county. And I think he was very pleased with what we had done.”
Wilhite also remembers that he was ever the statesman.
“We might have disagreed on issues at times, but we were still friends,” she said. “We liked each other and were respectful of each other. There was always this recognition that you could still work together even if you might not agree on every single issue. He realized it came down to what’s best for the city.”
Many in Spokane Valley compared Schimmels to an uncle who seems to know everyone in town.
In an interview last month with The Spokesman-Review, he talked openly of his efforts to oppose cityhood and noted he still had anti-incorporation signs and T-shirts in his garage, but called his years on the council rewarding. “If you can’t lick them, join them,” he said.
Schimmels’ wife, Myrna, said he “enjoyed every minute” of his time with the city.
Spokane Valley Mayor Dean Grafos said Schimmels will always have a special place in Spokane Valley’s history.
Schimmels lost his council seat to Ed Pace in November in a tough race that pitted conservative Republicans against each other.
Former City Councilman Bill Gothmann, who served on the council with Schimmels in the early years, said the city will miss his leadership.
“I remember when I met him thinking, ‘Here is an honest man,’ ” said Gothmann. “He’s one of these guys you can trust, and he’s going to be sorely missed in this entire community.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.