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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Shawn Vestal: A portrait of community emerges from recent obituaries

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 memorials in The Spokesman-Review tell the stories of a school principal and a cattle rancher, a police officer and a ham radio operator, a square-dance caller and a cardiac care nurse.

The following summaries are drawn from those obituaries.

Mary Alice Huneywell was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1921 and came to Spokane with her family when she was 3. She later studied at the Eastern State College of Education (which became Eastern Washington University) and became a schoolteacher, working in Fairfield, Richland and Spokane until she married Seth Huneywell in 1947. They raised four children in Spokane. She died May 23, three months short of her 100th birthday, several weeks after she fell and broke a shoulder.

Robert A. Kuehl loved baseball, playing for North Central High and Eastern Washington State College – and then for the Air Force team while stationed in Japan during the Korean War. Later, he played in Spokane’s semipro league and worked refereeing high school and college basketball. Born in Spokane, Bob married Margaret Johnsen in 1954 and they raised five children. He had a long career as an educator, including several teaching and administrative roles around the region that led to his final position as principal at Cheney High School, from where he retired in 1984. A devout Christian, he could be heard singing hymns and praying from his hospital bed in his final days. He died May 19 at age 90.

Having raised eight children, Imelda Marie Hammel Patterson decided to return to school – at Spokane Community College and then Gonzaga University – and become a nurse. She then spent 20 years doing a job she loved, as a cardiac care nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center. Born in Dufur, Oregon, Imelda was married to her husband, Walt, for 70 years. She was involved in many charitable pursuits, and she ran in more than 25 Bloomsday races. She died May 15 at age 94.

Born in Spokane, David Allen Keene discovered his lifelong passions while attending North Central High, where he began playing in swing bands and earned his amateur license as a ham radio operator. He went on to a 31-year career with AT&T and eventually earned the extra-class classification, the highest level of ham radio licensing. He played for years in swing bands around Spokane, including with the Order of the Eagles Club Band and his own “Gentlemen of Note,” a 17-piece band he founded in 1967. He met his future wife, Barb, at The Spot social club and they married in 1956. They had three sons. Dave died May 12 at age 87.

Marjorie K. Kloster was born in Davenport, and spent her life farming and ranching in Lincoln County. She graduated from Davenport High, then married Glenn Kloster in 1944. They had two sons and lived on the Kloster family wheat and cattle farm near Harrington for 62 years, until Glenn died, when Marjorie took over management of the farm. They were active in the Lincoln County Cattleman’s Association and members of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. She also worked at the Davenport Livestock Auction. She died May 23 at age 95.

Born in Picher, Oklahoma, Isaac Ray Gimlen came with his mother and brother to the Spokane area when he was young. He served in the Coast Guard and the Navy during World War II, and then began a career with the Spokane Police Department. Over more than 25 years, he worked as a motorcycle patrol officer, investigator, sergeant and finally a lieutenant, retiring in 1980. In retirement, he loved traveling, racing hydroplanes and doing mechanical work. He was a member of the Spangle Masonic Lodge for 60 years, as well as several other fraternal organizations. He died May 17 at age 94.

Christine Ann Larson was born in Colfax in 1948. She graduated from Pullman High and Pacific Lutheran University, and then earned a degree in physical therapy from the U.S. Army Medical Field Service School. She had a long and distinguished career in physical therapy, and was named P.T. of the Year for Washington state in 1996. In 1997, she began working at Washington State University in researching ways to recruit and retain rural doctors, and she finished her career in the Washington, D.C., area, working as director of professional standards for the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. After her retirement in 2007, she moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to be with her lifelong partner, Catherine Henze. They were married in 2017. She died May 22 at age 72.

Jack Raymond Blood spent 34 years as a square-dancing caller – the same number of years he worked at Kaiser Aluminum. Born in Clagstone, Idaho, Jack was one of 13 children. He wed Jeanette in 1957, and they were married for 64 years and raised three children. He enjoyed camping, hunting, fishing, bowling and baseball, and was an exceptional woodworker. He died April 9 at age 86.

Born in Helena, Joanne Blixt Kassa lost both of her parents to tuberculosis when she was just a child. She was raised by an aunt and uncle on a Montana ranch, and she attended Helena High until moving to Spokane during her senior year, where she graduated from Rogers High. She married Virgil Kassa in 1959, and they raised five children in north Spokane, where St. Thomas More Catholic Church played a central role in their lives. She lived the last two years of her life at Fairwood Memory Care, where she died May 10, at age 83, surrounded by her children.

Melvin Leroy “Lee” Bratcher served as a ski patroller at Mount Spokane for more than 40 years, and he was instrumental in starting the annual Mount Spokane Ski Swap. He never missed a swap in 56 years, and the event named a service award in honor of Lee and his wife, Jacquelyn. He served in the Army in Germany during the early 1960s, and then worked as an automotive mechanic for Sears and Camp Subaru, while building his home in Deer Park. He enjoyed flying glider planes, and was a member of the Spokane Soaring Society and Open Door Congregational Church. He died May 27 at age 82.

Contact the writer at or (509) 459-5431.

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