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Larry Stuckart, advocate for the poor, dies at 65

Larry Stuckart pictured in 2011. (File)
Larry Stuckart pictured in 2011. (File)

Larry Stuckart, a champion for Spokane’s downtrodden who helped build the city’s most prominent nonprofit helping the poor, died after a 10-month struggle with cancer. He was 65.

For 20 years, Stuckart led SNAP, the private, nonprofit social services organization that aimed to lift people out of poverty. He helped the organization grow from a nine-person outfit administering about $125,000 in grants to, at one point, an institution with 180 employees and an annual budget of almost $25 million.

“SNAP is such a successful community organization. At its heart and soul is where Larry is. The true caring and compassion he had for every single person, whoever he met, or worked with, or helped – that just expresses his incredible connection to every single person as another human being,” said Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton, who knew Stuckart for more than 20 years. “Larry was just the quintessential human.”

Stuckart graduated from Gonzaga University in 1971 with his future wife, Mary Anne, who worked for Spokane Public Schools for many years before becoming a principal in Bellingham. The two remained married and had two sons, Ben and Nick. Their eldest, Ben, is the president of the Spokane City Council.

“The way I think about things is because of my dad,” said Ben Stuckart, adding that his work in politics and for nonprofit organizations is inspired by his father. “Everything he did he did for the poor.”

Stuckart first worked for the organization that would become SNAP in 1972, when he was a student intern at the East Side Neighborhood Center. In 1981, he was named assistant director of the Neighborhood Center programs.

In 1991, about five years after the organization spun off from its founding groups, Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul, Stuckart was named executive director of the agency. When he stepped down in 2011, the agency provided social services to more than 47,000 people. Stuckart retired in 2013.

Vic Forni, who was the chief executive officer for the United Way in Spokane County before he retired in 2007, worked with Stuckart in SNAP’s early days.

“If you took the long view of SNAP, you’d see programs dotted along the way,” Forni said, noting that the agency does more than energy assistance. Most of the programs, focused on housing and even teaching people “the classics” at Gonzaga, were the work of Stuckart trying to help people achieve “economic self-sufficiency.”

“Larry wasn’t just about service delivery: paying their energy bill or getting their house insulated, both of which are very important,” Forni said. “He wanted to realize more concrete support. The goal really was self-sufficiency. He wanted them to see they can start earning money for themselves – that really will help pull them out of poverty.”

Marilee Roloff, president and CEO of Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, echoed Forni.

“Larry never took his eye off the goal, which was to help lift people out of poverty,” she said. “He had a giant heart for people, and just as big a smile. He just left his mark everywhere.”

Julie Honekamp, who took over SNAP when Stuckart stepped down, called Stuckart “a great mentor and a wonderful listener.”

Aside from his family, alma mater and passion for his work, Honekamp said Stuckart “loved dark chocolate. Dark chocolate candy bars and Irish whiskey. He talked about that a lot.”

She said she visited Stuckart recently in the hospital, and up to the end he was concerned about SNAP’s activities.

“He was still a champion for SNAP up until the very end,” she said.

Dalton, who met Stuckart in Democratic Party circles before she was elected, said Stuckart’s impact won’t be forgotten.

“His legacy is SNAP and he’ll be remembered for a very long time to come,” she said.

“This is a huge loss for our community. But you know what? He did so much.”

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