SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



August 19, 2011

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska -
I wrote a couple of years ago about my old neighborhood on First Avenue between Jefferson and Madison. (See SITNEWS, “A Walk Down Memory Lane” Sept. 21, 2009). It was about how things change in Ketchikan, even though to some of us the pace seems only slightly less glacial than continental drift.
jpg Dave Kiffer

So I probably should note the recent passing of two people from those early years in the “West End.”

The boy who was once my best friend, Jeff Tinney, died in Montana in July.

He was only 51 and I have no idea what happened, I suspect it wasn’t good.

Jeff and his family lived at the other end of the block from me. Their old house is one of the few that remains as it was 40 years ago. His father was the harbor master and also owned Harbor Hardware on Stedman Street for a while. His mother was one of those endlessly entertaining women whom the grownups called “brassy” in those days.

Through much of grade school Jeff and I hung around together, playing sports, getting up to no good, avoiding the long arm of the law and the even longer arms of our parents. It was a good and typical childhood in the West End.

Then when we got into Junior High (no “Middle School” for us!) we drifted apart. Neither of us were really that good at sports and I drifted toward music and he drifted toward woodshop and auto mechanics. In high school, I have almost no memory of him, but that is partly because we were in different grades and there seemed to be less intra-gradal socializing them.

Anyway, the last time I really have a clear memory of him was three years after high school and we both ended up in a room in the State Office Building taking the entrance exam for the State Troopers.

At the time, I was at a loss about what to do with my life and the Trooper pay scale and state benefits seemed like a good idea. I was thinking on going into wildlife enforcement because I preferred to deal with angry bears rather than drunk humans.

Jeff and I kidded around a bit as we waited for the test. We fell easily back into that the grade school  boy “poking” and “snorting.”

We got a little more serious when the test started.

I have no idea how Jeff did on the test, but I failed miserably.

Probably the fact that I accidentally skipped one answer and then filled in the rest of the blanks “one off” for the rest of the test didn’t help. I noticed my error when I gave the test the once over and didn’t have time to fix it before the time expired.

Probably just as well because I am not the person you want making life and death decisions and having 24/7 access to a weapon of potentially mass destruction.

I moved to other things – like journalism. Jeff moved on to working for the borough airport and carpentry and other things.

A couple of years ago, I tried to track him down on the internet without success. Then he “friended”  me on Facebook (from Billings Montana) last year. As usual, I meant to use the new connection to find out what he was up to, but it never happened. Then I heard last month he had died.

That was a month after his former next door neighbor had passed on.

Tom Coyne lived next door to the Tinneys, in a house that was once owned by the family of Irvin Thompson, the Ketchikan boy who died at Pearl Harbor.

My first memory of Tom Coyne was sometime in the late 1960s when I got up to go to school and found him sitting on our porch in a drunken stupor. My Dad told me to help him to his house down the street which I did.

Tom had a substance abuse problem in those days and it wasn’t the only time he needed assistance. When he finally loosed the bonds of demon rum, he became a counselor for those still in trouble.

Later he became the long-time city councilmember that we all knew so well. Frequently truculent, but often more sensitive than he cared to let on.

Of course he and I disagreed on a great many things. But that was Tom, the only person ever to vote against “adjournment” of a city council meeting because he had voted against everything else that night and didn’t want to break his “streak.”

One time, he was giving me a pretty hard time about some issue or another during a council meeting. Unfortunately for him, the meeting was being televised and both my mother and her good friend, Jane Church, were watching. A couple of days later, they apparently lit into him at the Senior Center.

Needless to say, he treated me better – at least at city council meetings – after that.

“Kiffah,” he’d say in his broad “Downeaster” accent. “I cahn’t say anything. Your muthaw won’t let me!”

After the voters finally “retired” him from public life in 2007, I would often see him sitting in the coffee shop at A&P and I would sit with him for a while and listen to his stories. I wish more people could have seen him in that context.

After all those years and all those meetings, it seemed like he just wanted to talk, talk quietly and remember the good things in his life.

I know that every community needs a “town grump” and that Tom played that role for 30 years in Ketchikan. But there was more to him than that.

It also made me feel a little guilty about the times that Jeff and I would hassle him when we’d come across him “staggering” down the street in the morning.

Of course, since this was Ketchikan, we would also make sure he got home safely.

Then we’d TP his porch or put rocks in his mailbox.

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More Columns by Dave Kiffer

Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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