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 week after he died in a single-vehicle wreck off Mount Pleasant Road.
The 57-year-old Grinnell, CEO of Jamestown Seafood, died Tuesday afternoon.
Tribal Chairman Ron Allen said Grinnell, whom he had known for 40 years, was returning from a trip off the 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 Thursday.
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. Tuesday, Brian King, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy, said Thursday.
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,” he said.
Sheriff’s Office collision reconstructionist Josh Ley said Thursday 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 Thursday in a text message that an autopsy was conducted Thursday and toxicology tests will be completed “in the normal course of business.”
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 mother, internationally renowned storyteller and S’Klallam language speaker Elaine Grinnell; his father, Fred; his wife, Terri, and daughters Loni Greninger and Jaiden Bosick.
He also is survived by a sister, Julie Borde; a brother, Jack Grinnell, three grandchildren and “a ton of nephews and nieces,” Allen said.
Family members were not available for comment on Grinnell’s death on Thursday.
Grinnell was 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.
Grinnell, recalling Chief Chetzemoka’s legacy, gave a measure of himself at a Jan. 8 Bevan Series program, “Indigenous Voices: Racial Inequality and Natural Resources,” held at the University of Washington, available on YouTube.
He gave a graphic account of an extremely hostile greeting by S’Klallam people when Capt. George Vancouver made first contact with tribal members in 1792, and said that tribes at that time protected their land from all comers, including other tribes.
“One thing I’ve learned in my many years on this planet is people are people, nobody’s perfect, and all peoples throughout history have their darker sides as well as their wonderful, bright sides.”
Allen said Grinnell chaired the tribe’s natural resources committee and represented the Jamestown S’Klallam on the Point No Point Treaty Council and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
Grinnell grew up in Port Angeles and graduated from Port Angeles High School, 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 multimillion-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. He always talked to me about how fisheries should be part of that vision.”
Grinnell was carrying forward that view Tuesday 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 Thursday.
“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. Tuesday.
“Certainly, nothing seemed out of place at all.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at email@example.com.