Kurt Grinnell, Jamestown Tribe council member, dies in car wreck

Longtime Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Council member Kurt Grinnell, a fisheries and aquaculture expert with deep familial roots on the North Olympic Peninsula, is being mourned this month after he died in a single-vehicle wreck off Mount Pleasant Road.

The 57-year-old Grinnell, CEO of Jamestown Seafood, died Tuesday, April 20.

Tribal Chairman Ron Allen said Grinnell, whom he had known for 40 years, was returning from a trip off the Olympic Peninsula and was about a mile from his Draper Road home when the crash occurred.

“It was so emotional for so many people when they heard he unexpectedly passed,” Allen said last week.

Grinnell was traveling southbound and left a straight portion of the roadway 1½ miles south of U.S. Highway 101 at about 4 p.m. on April 20, said Brian King, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy.

King said Grinnell’s 2012 Toyota Camry went through a fence and came to rest against a tree. He was pronounced deceased at the scene.

King said the crash remains under investigation. “It’s unexplained at this point,” King said.

Sheriff’s Office collision reconstructionist Josh Ley said on April 22 that Grinnell’s vehicle rolled to a stop about 30 feet from the road.

King said it does not appear drugs or alcohol were involved and that Grinnell was wearing a seat belt.

County Prosecuting Attorney-Coroner Mark Nichols said last week in a text message that an autopsy was conducted on April 22 and toxicology tests will be completed “in the normal course of business.”

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, May 1 (see box).

‘Tower of strength’

Allen said the personable 17-year council member led the tribe’s revival of oyster farming and oyster-seed production, pioneered its hatchery operations, piloted its overall aquaculture efforts — and was, put simply, a good guy.

“He was just a solid tower of strength for the tribe,” Allen said.

“He carried himself with such integrity, as such a strong character.

“He was a guy who always cared,” Allen added.

“He wanted to know about you and your family, what the interests were. That was one of the reasons people loved him. He never got personal, passionate or angry, if you will. That wasn’t his style.”

Grinnell is survived by his father Fred and his mother, internationally renowned storyteller and S’Klallam language speaker Elaine Grinnell; his wife, Terri, and daughters Loni Greninger and Jaiden Bosick.

He also is survived by a sister, Julie Borde; a brother, Jack Grinnell, three grandsons as well as “a ton of nephews and nieces,” Allen said.

Jack, who is five years Kurt’s senior, said he and Kurt as youths loved to ride dirt bikes — “as soon as we could get something to move under us,” Jack said this week — and that passion continued for years, as Kurt kept and rode a number of motorized dirt and road bikes.

“We lived in a rural area; that was our first mode of transportation,” Jack Grinnell said. “He always loved the open road.”

The pair also enjoyed fishing, and while Jack said he’ds given that up over the years Kurt kept at it, and that many of his brother’s fishing friends are broken up about his death.

“He was their voice of reason,” Jack said of Kurt.

Grinnell grew up graduated from Port Angeles High School in 1982, active in wrestling, football and motorcross.

After his attendance at Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Washington, he returned to the peninsula as an indian child welfare case worker and chemical dependency counselor.

Grinnell becoming acquainted with Allen in the early 1980s after the tribe became federally recognized and when Kurt, Jack and Elaine fished commercially.

“All the natural resources stuff, shellfish, all the natural resources issues, that was Kurt’s bailiwick, that was his niche,” Allen said.

“It’s a big deal for us. It’s so ingrained in the tribe’s cultural and traditional ways.”

Grinnell was also family-driven, which was apparent when he first started working for the tribe in the late 1980s and early 1990s and counseled Jamestown S’Klallam and Lower Elwha Klallam youth.

“That was really a big deal to him, helping youth mature and understand the world around them,” Allen said.

When Grinnell talked about tribal fisheries and aquaculture, an economic sector that, under his leadership, developed into a multi-million-dollar business, employing about 50 people, he always looked toward the future, Allen said.

“He took the name S’Klallam, strong people, very seriously when he talked to me about strong government and self-reliance and talked to me about that vision,” Allen said. “He always talked to me about how fisheries should be part of that vision.”

Jack Grinnell said he was impressed how over the years Kurt — a great grandson of S’Klallam Chief Chetzemoka, a signer of the landmark 1855 Point No Point Treaty who lived in the Port Townsend area, where a bluff-top city park bears his name —took on more and more leadership roles and responsibilities for the tribe.

“I don’t know when he became from my little brother to my big brother; he was such an intricate part of everything,” Jack Grinnell said.

“I became more and more proud of him and in awe (over the years).”

Kurt Grinnell was carrying forward that view on April 20 when he attended the quarterly board meeting of the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance at Trout Lodge in Sumner.

Grinnell, the board vice president, first stopped in Gig Harbor to pick up longtime friend and aquaculture industry colleague Jim Parsons, the board president and general manager of Pacific operations for Canadian-based Cooke Aquaculture Inc., with whom the tribe is partnering.

“The hard part about this is, it’s hard for me to talk about this in the work sense,” Parsons said last week.

“We talked all the way back from Trout Lodge to Gig Harbor about life in general, mostly, just as we always do,” Parsons recalled, saying goodbye to Grinnell with a see-you-later at about 2 p.m.

“Certainly, nothing seemed out of place at all,” Parsons said.

Jack Grinnell said he and other family members are shaken by the loss of his brother.

“Faith helps,” he said. “I can feel the prayers. I can feel the love for him.”

Celebration of life

A Celebration of Life service for Kurt Grinnell will be held outdoors at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 1, at Jamestown Beach, 1272 Jamestown Road. Because of the pandemic, family members and tribe have granted permission for a livestream option that will also be available and can be found on the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s website at jamestowntribe.org. Attendees are asked to respect the cultural traditions of the family and tribe — no photos or videography. All attendees are also asked to wear masks and dress appropriately for the weather. Adults and older children are invited.

Parking is available onsite at Jamestown Beach, and shuttle services will also be available for all who park at 7 Cedars Casino Hotel in Blyn and Sequim High School, 601 N. Sequim Ave., starting at 10 a.m.

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe citizens Kurt Grinnell and his daughter Loni Grinnell-Greninger in December 2018 open the North Olympic Salmon Coalition ribbon cutting ceremony at the 3 Crabs Nearshore and Estuarine Restoration Project with a special welcome. Kurt Grinnell died April 20 in a single-vehicle accident. Sequim Gazette file photo by Erin Hawkins

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe citizens Kurt Grinnell and his daughter Loni Grinnell-Greninger in December 2018 open the North Olympic Salmon Coalition ribbon cutting ceremony at the 3 Crabs Nearshore and Estuarine Restoration Project with a special welcome. Kurt Grinnell died April 20 in a single-vehicle accident. Sequim Gazette file photo by Erin Hawkins