Drove the household over the mountain today
eight miles to Belfair Valley to join other family, friends and
neighbors in saying farewell to a dear family friend.
Toni died unexpectedly, prematurely, and
instantly of a heart attack after her daily morning walk early
last week. She was 57… a single lady with no family other than
her mother in distant Spokane. A life-long teacher and mentor of
young people, she taught English and French at the local rural
high school for over 3 decades. She was my
teacher-sister-in-law’s best friend, had taught my wife 11th
Grade English, and was an adopted member of our extended family.
Toni attended at every Thanksgiving and Christmas. My family
provided her building lot, and helped build her house. Toni was
our older sister.
Belfair is a blue-collar community on the
southern tip of Hood Canal. A third of its residents head north
every morning to the Bremerton Naval Shipyard, a fourth head
south to Shelton’s Simpson Lumber Mill, and a fourth head in all
directions on both Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas as loggers. The
others are nurserymen; farmers; quarrymen; brush pickers and
evergreen packers; tree farmers and merchants.
The largest church in the community was
overflowing today with people from far and wide and all walks of
life…their common theme being the impact Toni had on their
lives. The attendance at that church today was expected to
exceed the population of its town. Even I was surprised at the
number of families with two generations of Toni’s students
present…and at the number of young people present.
Toni’s loves were literature, theater, Scrabble
and sports…especially local college football and High School
sports…in that order. She had an unusual combination of
formidable intellect and the ability to make intellectual
pursuits joyful and fun. The tributes today in song and word
from family, friends, local officials and students reflected her
joy and warmth. But to me, the most moving was one from a
logger’s kid, now a graduate student. His tribute was that of
all his teachers through college and beyond, there were really
only two that had a profound, direct impact on his life. One
teacher told him he could become anyone or anything he wanted to
become…the other teacher told him he could not…
…and it was Toni who told him he could achieve
anything he wanted in life.
The final tribute was from a lumberman’s kid,
now a successful airline pilot of early middle age, president of
the local school board, and now the executor of Toni’s estate.
His parting tribute was to announce that a community theater for
the performing arts would be constructed in Toni’s memory.
And his tribute is no idle dream…I understand
he’s raised a million already with two more expected…and the
school district will match donations in kind with land,
construction and contracting support.
All this in a community where you’ll almost
never even see a Lexus, BMW, Mercedes or Jaguar, but older
four-wheel-drive rigs in their stead. Because although the
distant urban areas far outdistance communities like Belfair in
per capita income, they don’t come close in matching per capita
wealth, as rural communities contain the bulk of the state’s
small and medium land and timber owners…who are also not folks
given to idle talk. Belfair will build this theater…and the next
generation of blue-collar kids will enjoy plays from Shakespeare
to contemporary in Toni’s name and spiritual presence.
God’s speed to Toni and her kind everywhere.
TO SUCCEED IS TO ACHIEVE ONE'S GOAL
To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent persons
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest
Citizens and endure the betrayal
Of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one's self;
To leave the world a bit better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch, or a redeemed
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
And sung with exultation;
To know even one life has breathed Easier because you have
This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882