By Dave Kiffer
March 04, 2008
It was an announcement that I was about to get an audience with Helen Finney.
I don't mean to make it sound like Helen Finney was the "queen" of Ketchikan. Far from it. She was much more of a down to earth, roll your sleeves up and "get cracking" kind of person. But she certainly was a "grand dame" of Ketchikan.
When I think of Helen - something I have been doing all week since I heard she had finally succumbed to leukemia - I think of a variation on that famous Robert Kennedy quote "There are those that look at things the way they are and ask 'why' and "I dream things that never were and ask 'why not.'"
For Helen, the next step would be to immediately say "and what I can I do about it?" Then she would add "and how can I get you to help me?"
Which was usually what Helen had in mind when she would "accost" me in public.
Inevitably, she had an idea for something, something that would clearly be a good thing for the community, but would require some work to bring to fruition.
Something like expansion of local beaches or better athletic facilities or even re-beautifying Ketchikan's Downtown.
"Hey Youngster," she would say, even long after I had passed the youngster stage. "I've been thinking about something."
Then she would launch into a passionate explication of whatever it was she had on her mind.
I would listen patiently. And then - since I have been a curmudgeon since my teens - I would list all the reasons why it would be difficult to accomplish the mission.
She would listen patiently, the smile never leaving her face.
"Well, then we better get to work on it now," she would add and I knew the only course of action would be to nod my agreement and get to work, doing what I could to make it happen.
Usually, I am not happy when people come up with more things for me to do.
I am the living embodiment of the "a body at rest will stay at rest" maxim of Newtonian physics. Lord knows, I prefer to "stay at rest" as much as possible.
Yet, it was impossible to resist Helen Finney's "outside force."
Maybe it was her persistence.
Weeks later, when I would hear "Hey, youngster" again in a store it would be followed by "How are we doing on the (whatever issue she had previously raised)?"
Since I didn't want to appear ineffectual or unconcerned, I had to be prepared with an answer just in case.
Therefore, I had to have taken some action. Hopefully, I would have resolved the issue. Or at least be moving toward a resolution. Or at least be moving. Staying at rest on something Helen was concerned about was not an option.
But saying that makes it seem like Helen's persistence was the stick rather than the carrot.
The truth is, it was really her inevitable good cheer about it all that made me want to help her in whatever mission she devised.
As much as I usually don't like to be accosted while I am grocery shopping, every run in with Helen ended with me feeling better than I did before I heard "Hey, youngster."
We would talk about whatever was on her mind and then we would talk about Ketchikan in general. And no matter how down I had been feeling about this, that or the other thing, I would walk away from our little chats feeling much better about "Our Fair Salmon City."
It was virtually impossible to feel down in the dumps about Ketchikan after talking to Helen because she never seemed to feel that way. She was the most positive person in the world when it came to Ketchikan. She was its greatest booster to anyone who would listen.
Long before it became fashionable, she was a one-woman greeting committee to new residents and visitors alike. She was better than the Visitors Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce combined.
She was happy to talk up Ketchikan with anyone, at anytime. Ketchikan was a great place to be. It was a great place to live.
But it would be even better if we could just fix one more thing.
And that's where I (and quite a few other folks on her radar) came in handy..
I was in the store the other morning and things were pretty quiet.
There was only a handful of folks going quietly about their twenty-first century "hunting and gathering."
I doubt any one of them was thinking about how to make Ketchikan a better place.
I would loved to have heard
"Hey, youngster" just one more time.
Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org
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