A new wrinkle developed last week in a House proposal to name U.S. Highway 395 in Washington the Thomas S. “Tom” Foley Memorial Highway.
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, proposed bifurcating the naming, with the stretch from Ritzville south to honor the former House speaker and ambassador and the stretch from Spokane to Ritzville to honor Sam Grashio, a local World War II veteran who survived the Bataan Death March and was one of the few to escape a Japanese prison camp. Both are local heroes, Baumgartner said, and there’s some nice symbolism in naming part for Grashio, who fought the Japanese in wartime and Foley who was the U.S. ambassador in peacetime.
That change will come up Wednesday when the Senate Transportation Committee holds a hearing on the original proposal, but there may be some pushback. For one thing, the Ritzville to Oregon section that would carry Foley’s moniker is mostly not in his old district, so picking that stretch alone could be a slap in the face to current or former representatives. For another, supporters have collected resolutions from cities along the route from Colville south as well as Ferry, Spokane and Lincoln counties, to name it for Foley. Some might be OK with Grashio, but they haven’t been asked.
Joe Tortorelli, a longtime advocate of transportation in Spokane as well as a member of the state Transportation Commission, said the idea originated with the State Good Roads Association. Roads and bridges are generally, although not exclusively, named for people who have been longtime advocates of transportation issues, he said. Foley would definitely qualify considering he found hundreds of millions of dollars to improve that highway, at one point tying it to NAFTA as a major trade corridor between Canada and Mexico.
“Sam was a great guy. He was loved by everyone,” Tortorelli added. But he’s not sure naming a stretch of highway is the best way to honor one of the city’s most prominent war heroes.
There’s an added twist to the proposed change, an only in Spokane situation Spokesman-Review reporters call “the vortex.” When told of Baumgartner’s proposal to name part of the highway for Grashio, Riccelli said he wasn’t familiar with the name and had never heard the story. He got a Cliff Notes version, with a promise for more info later from the newspaper’s files.
Grashio’s 1999 obituary mentioned that one of his daughters has the married name Riccelli. There aren’t many in Spokane, and they’re all related to the representative. Turns out Celene Grashio has been married to Antonio Riccelli, the representative’s father’s cousin, for nearly 25 years.
“No way,” the representative said when told. “I had no idea.”