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McGhee changed landscape of Sequim

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by MICHAEL DASHIELL
Sequim Gazette

Helga McGhee says her husband, Jack, wasn’t crazy about the grunt work of real estate and commercial development, but fell in love with the creative part.

 

John “Jack” McGhee, whose creative visions made an impact on Sequim, died on June 2 at age 79, after a long battle with various illnesses.

 

A native of Montana, McGhee studied civil engineering at the University of Montana and Montana State University before a career of building banks, hospitals and other commercial properties in the San Diego area.

 

Following a move to be closer to Helga’s family in 1989, McGhee helped facilitate the building of several

Sequim structures, from seven luxury condominiums and the clubhouse in the Sunland development to the development at Heritage Square at Bell Street and Second Avenue.

 

According to Helga, Jack McGhee loved to dance, fish, cook, entertain and, being a Sunland resident, a little golf now and then, boasting two lifetime hole-in-one shots.

 

He also started and managed two of Sunland’s fantasy football leagues.

 

“I couldn’t talk to him on Sundays,” Helga recalls.

 

Says Aaron Elkins, a family friend of the McGhees, “I think he was more proud of fantasy football than moving half of Sequim.”

A small-town guy

Jack McGhee grew up in Lewistown, Mont., and served in the Marine Corps for four years after graduating high school. A keen basketball player and boxer, he went on to college on an athletic scholarship and once worked as a policeman and a teacher.

 

But his passion turned out to be civil engineering, and he took a job as a city engineer in Lewiston before a move to California.

 

Jack and Helga (née Minning) started ESCON Devel-opment Inc. in 1972, developing commercial properties in San Diego and nearby communities.

 

It was just their second date when Jack McGhee told Helga, “You’re going to marry me.”

 

Helga retorted, “You’re crazy.”

 

Jack made good on his word, as the two were married for 39 years.

 

Helga’s parents moved to a home on East Sequim Bay and the McGhees bought a home nearby.

 

“We just really loved it here,” Helga said, though, she noted, “I went kicking and screaming.”

 

McGhee oversaw restoration of old houses, including one that they turned into a gift shop, Cards ‘N’ Things, on Second Avenue in 1995. It’s now housing a home care business.

 

In late March of 1996, McGhee oversaw the downtown move of the former St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Jean’s Deli (now Lipperts’ restaurant), a 100-year-old building, to Heritage Square. The move, completed by Monroe Movers, necessitated a shutdown of several downtown streets and lifting of telephone wires to get the building through.

 

It was a similar story 10 years later when McGhee and company moved the red barn used as Sequim city hall and jail from Cedar Street to Heritage Square, where it’s now home to A Dropped Stitch.

 

Elkins became fast friends of the McGhees when he and his wife moved to Sequim in 2002.

 

“We just hit it off right from the beginning,” Elkins says. “He was genuinely a swell guy.”

 

Jack McGhee would have turned 80 on June 8.

 

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.

 

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