‘A TOWER OF STRENGTH’

Beloved Jamestown S’Klallam councilmember perishes in car crash

Posted 4/30/21

Kurt Grinnell, a longtime councilmember of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and head of the tribe’s Aquaculture Program, died Tuesday, April 20, in a car crash near Port Angeles.

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‘A TOWER OF STRENGTH’

Beloved Jamestown S’Klallam councilmember perishes in car crash

Posted

Kurt Grinnell, a longtime councilmember of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and head of the tribe’s Aquaculture Program, died Tuesday, April 20, in a car crash near Port Angeles.

Deputies from the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office responded to a single-vehicle crash in the 1400 block of Mount Pleasant Road around 4 p.m. and found Grinnell’s 2012 Toyota Camry had left the roadway, traveled through a fence and came to rest against a tree.

Grinnell was pronounced deceased at the scene and the Clallam County coroner has ruled the death as accidental.

The reason for Grinnell’s car drifting off the road remains a question as investigators continue to look for answers.

The sudden loss of Grinnell, has rocked the community to its core, said W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

“Shock is probably the best way to characterize it,” Allen said. “Everybody just wasn’t ready for this. He was only 57; he was in the middle of his life … You’re kind of in denial, you’re just waiting for him to show up.”

The loss of Grinnell, Allen said, has shown just how much of an impact he had in the Tribal community.

“It’s a huge loss — you don’t realize how important a person is to the Tribe and to the community until he’s gone,” the chairman said. “You don’t realize how important, emotionally he was. He was like family to everyone.”

Calling Grinnell the Tribe’s “point man on all natural resource issues,” Allen said if the council was handling anything to do with nature, it was often he and Grinnell who would be working in tandem to tackle it.

Grinnell, he added, was always ready to jump in and help whenever he was needed.

“[Natural resources] was an important agenda for both of us and we kind of had each other’s back,” Allen said. “More often than not, we were together. But we had so many things on our plate, we had to trade off. I’d say, ‘You got this meeting?’ and he’d say, ‘I’ve got this meeting.’”

“That’s the kind of personality he had, that’s the kind of leader he was,” Allen added. “He just was a great confidant … he was a great partner.”

Allen said despite Grinnell often volunteering to handle delegated authority, he always maintained a steady composure. Moreover, when a situation became tense, it was often Grinnell’s calm demeanor that brought tranquility to the situation.

“He was always so calm. Kurt was not a guy to get upset or get distracted, emotionally,” the chairman said. “He was always a tower of strength.”

“He definitely believed in our vision,” Allen said. “S’Klallam means ‘strong people’ and he was so strong, culturally — it was so deeply embedded in him through his family. He helped reinforce that vision of wanting to be able to be strong and self-reliant based upon traditional practices.”

Allen said he would continue to work toward’s Grinnell’s vision of an autonomous and self-reliant tribe in honor of his departed friend. 

Liz Mueller is the former director of social services for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe as well as the former vice chair of the Tribal council.

Mueller hired Grinnell in the early ’90s as an Indian child welfare counselor well before he was serving on the Tribal council.

Even early on, Mueller said Grinnell’s kindness was front and center. 

“What always comes to my mind, always with Kurt, is his kindness. He had just such a kindness about him,” Mueller said.

“When he came to work for me as an Indian child welfare worker, he had this passion about making sure that kids were OK.”

Caring for others, Mueller said, would become a theme for Grinnell in whatever he did.

Mueller served for 16 years beside Grinnell on the council and she recalled a moment while traveling that showed Grinnell’s character.

Shortly after arriving in Denver, Colorado, she got sick. Grinnell took it upon himself to tend to her and went out of his way to guarantee she made her way back home safe and sound.

Whenever one of the Tribe’s families lost a loved one, it was often Grinnell who was the first to their doorway to offer his condolences, Mueller said.

“That’s just the type of person he was; he just cared about people.”

Now in her late 70s, Mueller said Grinnell’s passing had, for her, as for everyone, come as a shock.

“I was expecting him to do the speech at my funeral.”

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