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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Professors and cowboys and nurses – obituaries tell community story

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 3, 2020

Shawn Vestal  (DAN PELLE)
Shawn Vestal (DAN PELLE)

One obituary is a portrait of a life. Several obituaries, taken together, form a portrait of a community.

Recent obituaries in The Spokesman-Review tell the stories of a custodian and a cowboy, an RN and an architecture professor, a Kaiser electrician and a mother of 11. The following summaries are drawn from those obituaries.

Patricia McCurdy grew up playing in Cannon Hill and Manito parks and attending Catholic schools in Spokane. She married Robert L. McCurdy in 1960, and they moved from base to base while he served in the Navy and Army; she worked as a registered nurse at several base hospitals. Robert died in 1970 in Vietnam, and Patty remained determined to raise their five children in Tekoa, Washington, as they had planned. A dedicated supporter of all of her children’s activities, she also was deeply involved in many community organizations and events, from Camp Fire Girls to the Slippery Gulch Parade. She died Sunday while listening to sports on her bedside radio, with her Bible next to her, at age 81.

Born and raised in the Egypt community north of Davenport, Donald Frederick Reinbold stayed there most of his life, raising six children on a ranch with his wife of 70 years, Nona. He was a cowboy at heart, and loved to work while riding his favorite horses, Major and Thunder. He also worked for the National Park Service, maintaining campgrounds around the region until his retirement in 1987. He was an original member of the Christ Lutheran Church in Egypt, and his family was among the German immigrants who founded the church. He and Nona moved to Davenport in 2012. He died Aug. 2 at age 93.

A mother of 11, Marguerite McCrow called everyone sweetheart. A lifelong Spokanite, she was educated at St. Francis of Assisi School and Rogers High School. She worked in food service at Gonzaga University for 30 years. She lost her oldest son, Samuel, in 2006. She had 42 grandchildren, 61 great-grandchildren (with five more on the way at the time of her passing) and three great-great-grandchildren. She died July 31 at age 88.

Faye Carol Krenkel tended an acre of flowers in her “wild and wonderful” yard, and was a quilter, knitter and crocheter who belonged to several groups that met regularly to work on their craft. She frequently made a gift of her crafts, especially knitted socks for newborns. She grew up on a dairy farm in Graham, Washington, and later, in Spokane, she worked with disabled high school students and then as a career counselor. She and her husband of 30 years, Rich, raised three children. She died July 26 at age 80.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Robert Francis “Bob” Gumminger joined the Marines at age 18 and served three tours in the Korean War. He then worked in construction in Florida and California, where he met his first wife, Judith Ann Miller. They had three children before her unexpected death, and he later married Ethel F. Davis, with whom he had another three children and lived in Ephrata, Washington. Among his many jobs was working as a custodian for the Soap Lake School District. He enjoyed gardening, woodworking and punctuality: “Being on time was very important to him, especially mealtimes,” his obituary said. He died July 30 at age 87.

Laurel Marie Reilly and her husband, Lloyd “Butch” Reilly, loved to travel the country, going on hot-rod runs and camping, exploring the Gulf Coast and Yellowstone National Park and more. “And after each trip,” her obituary said, “they were still talking to each other.” Born a twin in Spokane, she grew up to work as a medical technologist and then a teacher. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, and she became a devoted member, mentor, fundraiser and backer of Team Bosom Buddies support group and a mentor to women who were newly diagnosed with breast cancer. She died July 23 at age 72.

Born in Wilson, Oklahoma, Samuel Wayne Williams grew up in New Iberia, Lousiana, where he played the sousaphone and had a job sweeping up in a local drinking establishment – which years later he realized had a brothel upstairs. He served in the Navy during the Korean War and went on to study architecture at Oklahoma State University. He became a professor and moved to Pullman to teach at Washington State University in 1968; he retired in 1996. As a teacher, he was a purist who “colored outside the lines” in the classroom and sometimes chafed at the bureaucracy and administration. He and his wife of 46 years, Annette, raised seven children. He died July 8 at age 89.

Evelyn M. Gronning started working as a telephone operator in Spokane at age 17. She met her future husband at a Knights of Columbus dance, and they were married in 1954 – on live television. She and Gordon raised four children, and she held a variety of jobs, from selling Avon to working for the Census. She spent 25 years working with the nonprofit Lilac Services for the Blind, where she started as a volunteer and worked her way up to a position as a grant writer. She was born and lived most of her life in Spokane. She died in her daughter’s home July 30 at age 91.

Lanny Lee Ross worked 30 years as an electrician for Kaiser Aluminum, and after his retirement he drove a school bus for the Mead School District for another decade. Born in Spokane, he grew up with a love of cars and racing that landed him on the pit crew of Indianapolis 500 driver Jerry Sneva in the late 1970s; he was involved in racing and restoring cars for years, and was a member of the Street Tins and The Dukes car clubs. He and his longtime partner, Ella Donahoe, enjoyed spending the past 18 winters in Yuma, Arizona. He died Aug. 4 at age 79. A graveside vintage car parade is planned in his memory.

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