TONASKET — The Community Cultural Center was packed full with friends for a celebration of life for Claire Jeffko Thursday, Aug. 30.
Jeffko died in her home Saturday, Aug. 18. She was born July 7, 1943 in Chicago, Ill.
She and her late husband Ed owned the Riverview Mobile Home and RV Park along the river on Fourth Street, as well as the Riverview Mart.
During her many years living in Tonasket, Jeffko's contributions to her community included serving as a city council member, on the Tonasket NCRL Library Board, as the Parks Committee Chair Person, as an Airport Improvement Committee member, a Tree Board member, an Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus member, with the Omak PAC, an ACLU member and as a judge for Tonasket High School's Senior Project Program. She was also instrumental in getting the Fourth Street bridge installed and in the formation of the Tonasket EMS, as well as a supporter of the arts, literature and music.
Following a meet and greet and community potluck, many friends shared stories and memories of Jeffko at her Celebration of Life.
Longtime friend Leilani Kilpatrick, who helped organize the event, spoke of Jeffko's dedication as a judge of senior projects at Tonasket High School, and her involvement along with her husband on the EMS board.
“If she loved you, she loved you and if she didn't, she let you know,” said Kilpatrick. “She was very honest. I called her my little spitfire.”
Stories and tributes were shared with tears and laughter.
Mayor Dennis Brown recalled a time when the two were on their way to a city council meeting, and Jeffko told him, “If you don't do what I ask you to do, I'm going to kick your ass.” Brown, much taller than Jeffko, told her, “Claire, I can put my arm on top of your head.”
“Well,” Brown told the crowd, “She showed me she could kick that high.”
Tenants told stories of Jeffko making sure all their needs were met, as well as standing up to them when necessary, or comforting them after the loss of a spouse.
“Claire gave everyone a chance,” said Tonasket Choice HS Director Chelsea Freeman, who was twice a tenant at the trailer park. “When Jack and I first met her, we looked like ruffians, we were teenagers. And she gave us a place to live. I hope I can always be like her.”
“Claire was one of the kindest, most generous persons you would ever know. She got stuff done in this community,” said fellow artist Ephraim Brown. “She taught us that great love and dedication could come from unexpected places.” Brown said the question now was not “how do we go on without her,” but “how do we fill her shoes,” urging community members to honor Jeffko by “taking on doing what has to be done.”
“Nobody can fill these shoes, but we can all carry a bit of her light,” said fellow musician Sandy Vaughn.
Vaughn and Julie Ashmore were joined onstage by several friends from the audience as they sang songs Jeffko loved, including “Peace Tree.”
The Celebration of Life concluded with a Vigil Walk, with a line of people stretching from the CCC all the way to the Fourth Street bridge. There, a prayer was offered up by Sunny Lanigan. An eagle soared overhead as friends of Jeffko's tossed flowers into the Okanogan River, next to the home she had shared with her husband Ed.