Jack with daughter Nancy.

I want to wish one of The Chronicle’s loyal readers, Jack Connolly, a very happy 92nd birthday. Jack is the father of my wife, Nancy, her two sisters, Deb and Joan, and a man whose life has taken him around the world and into the lives of many. He is lively of mind, fit of body, and he likes ice cream and coffee.

Jack graduated high school from St. Martin’s in Olympia, Washington, then attended Washington State College before doing his bit for Uncle Sam in Korea. In 1954, he married his wife of 42 years, Lucille, and together they had Deb, Nancy, and Joan. He had three full siblings, and seven stepsisters and brothers from his mother’s two other husbands. The Connolly/Bordeaux/Meechan/Precht/Hanigan/O’Brian extended clan is as tight as a beehive in the winter. Family reunions are legendary and a whole lot of fun with Jack, historically, serving excellent coffee and utilizing his meat-carving skills portioning out finely barbequed slices from a full baron of beef. Jack enjoys a party.

Growing up in Washington, he instilled a love of hiking and climbing into his daughters. On his 80th and 85th birthdays, a large group of friends and family performed a birthday pilgrimage to Mt. Elinor, a straight-up one-mile climb in the Olympic Mountains. He has also climbed the defining mountains of Washington – Mt. Rainier and Mt. Olympus.

Jack and his brother, Jim, ran the family slaughterhouse in Shelton, AKA, Christmas Town USA, the longtime center for the legendary Simpson Timber Company. The family left Shelton in 1967 for Des Moines, a little town south of Seattle, and Jack became part owner of ROMAC Industries, a waterworks specialty parts industry. In 1976, Jack and Lu left Des Moines, moved to Sultan, where Jack oversaw ROMAC’s Sultan foundry operation. In Sultan, he became a city council member, Community Transit Board Member, Gravel Pit Owner, Industrial Park developer, and established himself in the center of the town’s public life.

Years ago, he ventured to Guatemala with a friend to look at buying a sawmill. The mill didn’t pan out, but Jack did not come home empty-handed. An avid drinker of coffee, Jack purchased a Finca, a small coffee plantation in the mountains at the end of a dirt road village, Tzunutz. Arriving home, he told his wife, Lucille, a public health nurse, about the Finca, and one can only imagine her reaction from a woman who planned to retire and have tea parties with her grandchildren. Still, Lucille was game, and so began Jack and Lu’s 25-year relationship with Guatemala. They eventually built a home on the Finca, learned the ins and outs of growing coffee, and divided their lives between the Tzunutz and Washington.

He explored Guatemala and often took friends and relatives on journeys throughout the country. He didn’t speak Spanish, but that was not a severe obstacle in this Central American country. There are scores of other languages, and almost everybody speaks Spanish as a second language. Jack had one word that carried him well: Posible? Posible means, “Is it possible?” That sums up Jack pretty well because, with Jack, anything is possible!

After fifty-two years of marriage (Jack’s immediate siblings all had fifty-year marriages), Lucille passed away in 2006. Jack took a road trip to sort himself out. Stopping to visit an old friend of the family in Arizona, a spark brought him into his second marriage, to Tuey. Soon enough, they were living in Arizona, and Jack began exploring new terrain.

Two additional qualities Jack has, deserve mention. First, his legendary projects involving concrete. Jack pours concrete as other people breathe. One time, a close friend seeing Jack pour and pour and pour concrete for a new foundation on his home in Olympia said, “Why do you do this?” Jack’s reply, “Well, you like to play golf to relax, right?” “Yes,” said the friend. “Well, this is my golf.” 

The second quality is his prodigious ability to drive. Jack loves road trips; he gets up early, goes hard, and then stops for exploration and rest and dinner. Jack has driven dozens of times from Washington to Guatemala, the same for Mexico, the Canadian Maritimes, The Arctic Circle in Alaska, and almost every part of the United States and Newfoundland in Canada. Jack doesn’t like extended visits and often will call on his way to and fro, saying he was in Phoenix, or Texas, or Southern California, or Montana, or somewhere else that seemed two to three days away, only to have him arrive the next day. He told Lucille he wanted to take her to visit her ancestral home. Lucille, of Norwegian heritage, was excited for a trip to Norway. Jack had another idea; they drove to Spencer, South Dakota, which Lucille’s family left when she was seven. Arriving in Spencer, they discovered the town, obliterated by a series of tornadoes, to which Lucille said, “I’m glad we left.” Besides logging miles, Jack gives detailed accounts of where they stopped, where they stayed, what they ate, and whom they met. In a word: amazing!

Jack is a natural storyteller with an impressive mind for detail. Relatives young and old seek him out on family occasions. He is both the torchbearer and chronicler of all things Connolly and his birthday is August 1. To my father-in-law, Jack, friend to many, father of my wife and her two sisters, husband to two great women, Lucille and Tuey, grandfather and cherished in the lives of many others, a fine and noble man, happy birthday.  

Write to Joey Blum at [email protected]