Best Of

Best Of 2013: People

BEST Local Celebrity


John Stockton made plenty of headlines in his long career, but it’s his shunning of the spotlight these days that earned votes from readers like John Helwich of Hayden. Helwich grew up in Salt Lake City watching Stockton play for the Utah Jazz and trying to model his own game after Stockton’s. He calls the legend “a man who earned respect without resorting to chest-thumping, clownish theatrics or whining.” (HG)

2nd PLACE: Jess Walter; 3rd PLACE: Mark Rypien; NORTH IDAHO’S BEST: Patty Duke



Voters gave lots of reasons why they chose Spokane Mayor David Condon: his efforts to improve public safety, his work for small business, even his good vocabulary. Joe Lobb, who lives outside the city limits but owns businesses in town, says he was a fan of Condon’s 100-Day Action Plan, which “puts emphasis on streamlining services.” Says Lobb: “I want a mayor who will respect our public employees and spend the taxpayers’ money wisely.” (HG)

2nd PLACE: Kevin Parker; 3rd PLACE: Ben Stuckart; NORTH IDAHO’S BEST: Ben Wolfinger



More than 6,000 people “like” KHQ’s Stephanie Vigil on her Facebook page and it’s easy to see why. She loves funny videos and tearjerking stories; plus she lets people submit their “rants and raves” for her to read on the air that night. Spokane Valley’s Tom Jacoby says he appreciates that personal connection she has with viewers. “She has a sense of humor but you know she really cares about the story and the people it touches,” he says. “Plus my wife always wants to see what outfit she has on.” (HG)

2nd PLACE: Nadine Woodward, KXLY; 3rd PLACE: Shelly Monahan, KHQ



Sure, every station in town has its weatherperson, but there’s only one who’s nearing his 20th “Best Of” win. Tom Sherry has been giving you the weather for more than two decades, hosting charity events and racking up awards along the way. “There is nobody in the Inland Northwest who is as excited about the weather as Tom Sherry,” says Carol Byrnes from the Emerson-Garfield neighborhood. “He also gives back, donating his time to special events and charities in the area. And who doesn’t love a guy who’d name his dog Doppler?” (HG)

2nd PLACE: Kris Crocker, KXLY; 3rd PLACE: Leslie Lowe, KHQ



With experience covering everything from the Mariners and Zags to Bloomsday and Hoopfest, Dennis Patchin has only gained fans on his road from TV to radio and back again. Mary Farley from the Valley liked Patchin’s “Are You Kidding Me?” series, which ran on KXLY until this January. “Dennis makes you feel like you are visiting with your neighbor about the local sports scene,” Farley says. “He has a great announcer’s voice, also.” (HG)

2nd PLACE: Sam Adams, KHQ; 3rd PLACE: Darnay Tripp, KREM



Walt Worthy’s projects are hard to miss in Spokane, and locals like it that way. Carol DeMuth from the South Hill says she came to appreciate Worthy after a Davenport documentary screened on KSPS. “I worked downtown for a number of years and was sad to see the changes that seemed to take away its character,” she says. “Walt seems to be able to maintain that balance with restoration and new structures that don’t take away from what we have, and in doing so is helping to revive our downtown economy.” (HG)

2nd PLACE: Thomas Hammer; 3rd PLACE: Ron Wells; NORTH IDAHO’S BEST: Duane Hagadone



With Gonzaga’s massive success this season, maybe this one shouldn’t come as a surprise, even if it initially shocked some fans to see a player who sat out all of last year return as an NBA prospect. But readers say there’s plenty to like about Olynyk besides just the fact that he’s a Bulldog. They praised his willingness to help his teammates, his hooting and, of course, the hair. Teresa Lukens from the Indian Trail Neighborhood had one sentence to sum up her vote: “He looks like Jesus and plays like Jabbar.” (HG)

2nd PLACE: Kevin Pangos; 3rd PLACE: Elias Harris



Dave McKenna knows what it takes to make a winning football team that fits the Gonzaga tradition — and as a G-Prep and Gonzaga alum, he should. South Hill resident Sean Bailey says he voted for McKenna because he’s a family man who knows the right balance between work and play: He’s tough, but still fosters an environment of fun among his players. “He’s doing what he loves and it shows,” Bailey says. (HG)

2nd PLACE: Matty McIntyre, G-Prep Basketball; 3rd PLACE: Jon Knight, North Central Cross Country



Letter carrier Mark Ward can credit his victory to supporters of Jason’s Barbershop, where he stops on his regular north-side route. Ward always has a story to tell when he comes by, says shop owner Jason McDonnell. “He’s a kick in the pants,” he says. “He’s a heck of a nice guy.” (LW)

2nd PLACE: Jimmy Barker; 3rd PLACE: Mick Anderson



Long a Republican stronghold, the Gem State just doesn’t have much patience for those organic tofu-munching, free-sexing, tree-hugging, freedom-hating progressives. This is Idaho: Love it or leave it.

Out of hundreds of suggestions for how Democrats might try to survive within the conservative state, all three of the most popular recommendations focused on the alternative.

“Move,” bluntly suggested readers.

“Move to Washington,” came in second.

With a touch of urgency, the third most popular suggestion was “leave,” ranging from a polite “leave please” to “make like a tree.”

Basically, go pretty much anywhere else. Many voters offered more specific suggestions like Spokane or Seattle. Others recommended going farther, maybe Portland, or California.

“Get the hell out of there.”

If you can’t load up your Prius and vamoose, at least have the common decency to pretend you’re a Republican. Wear some flannel and a baseball cap. Buy yourself a gun — better yet, an assault rifle. Hunker down in a “gluten-free bunker.”

“Camo up. Shoot something. Use a picture of you and the fresh kill as your avatar.”

A few optimistic souls called for Democrats to hang in there and stick to their beliefs. Stay strong, they urged. Be patient and work toward compromise.

Others listed plenty of Demo-don’ts: Don’t make eye contact, don’t talk, don’t piss off the rednecks, don’t mess with the Second Amendment.

At least the booze is still cheap, they note. Maybe struggling Democrats should work toward a sort of libertarian cause like legalizing marijuana. Or just get back to nature.

“Smoke pot and enjoy a long hike.”

And if all else fails?



2nd PLACE: Move to Washington; 3rd PLACE: Leave



“Anything I’ve ever done is because someone told me ‘You can’t do this,’ ” says Andrea Poplawski. And as she recounts the events that brought her from rural Pennsylvania to Spokane, it becomes clear that refusal is the surest way to stoke her fire. “You tell me no, and I can figure out a way to make that a yes.”

Poplawski, 44, has a sparkling vivacity. Opposing lawyers might call it feistiness. Whatever term you use, it’s an energy that has sustained her personally and professionally. She became a single mother at the age of 22, and in her small hometown (pop. 2,700), women held to traditional standards. Choosing to remain unmarried, attending college with her toddler in her arms, or moving across America to enter law school at Gonzaga weren’t considered viable options. The experience helped shape her worldview.

“I’ve always felt like I’m the underdog,” she says with breathless, rapid-fire delivery. “So I always want people to get a break. I always cheer for the sports team that’s not supposed to win.”

Poplawski, who specializes in employment and family law, makes no secret of her antipathy toward retrograde attitudes or complacency inside and outside the courtroom. In her smart black outfit and leopard-print heels, she presents a distinct persona — chic, businesslike, but with a provocative flair. Her clients can tell at a glance that’s she’s not unused to challenges, and she won’t hesitate to rise to them.

In 2009, Poplawski met one daunting challenge head-on and took it to the Washington State Supreme Court. A protracted custody battle had returned a young Spokane woman’s son to his former foster parents in Montana. That decision had been reached despite the fact that his natural mother had been deemed fit. Adding insult to injury, she was forced to pay child support to the foster parents. Poplawski worked diligently to overturn the ruling, ultimately reuniting mother and son in a verdict that had wider implications.

High-profile cases as well as many smaller ones have earned Poplawski a reputation as a principled fighter. She sees it as life coming full circle. “I’ve always been a worker, [but] I’ve had help from people along the way. They’ve been able to push me to do what I needed to do. So why wouldn’t I help someone else?”


2nd PLACE: Priscilla Vaagen; 3rd PLACE: Breean Beggs



Firefighters have one very obvious job. They put out fires. The reality is that they do quite a bit more, both on and off the job. In recognition of that fact, Inlander readers voted firefighters the Best Unsung Heroes of 2013.

Don Waller, president of Spokane’s firefighters union, says that for him and others the job is all about supporting the community, whether it’s on or off the clock. “We realize that we are a part of the community. And we need to make the whole community stronger,” he says. “We practice and preach trying to shop local, spend your money locally, support local business. We just try to be a part of the community in every way that we can besides just when we’re working.”

The access that firefighters are given to citizens’ homes and personal lives is a responsibility that they take seriously, he says. That’s why many firefighters are compelled to help, even when they aren’t working.

Waller says that many members of the force have, on their own time, organized fundraisers and other charity events. This is all done out of a sense of civic pride and responsibility.

“We just feel like what we do is our job,” he says. “We don’t do anything special. So we’ve never been really good about tooting our own horn or making a big deal.”

Still, the recognition is nice. Knowing that they’re appreciated is an honor, he says.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize not only what we do on a day-to-day basis on our job, but how involved we are in the community, and how important we feel community is to us,” Waller says.


2nd PLACE: Teachers; 3rd PLACE: U.S. Military



Despite Best Of voters’ choices over the years, there’s no debating who really is the Best Athlete on this list — JOHN STOCKTON. He’s an Olympic champion (twice), he played an Ironman-like 19 NBA seasons (resulting in tons of records and a Hall of Fame membership) and always showed a work ethic every kid should emulate. Our voters have loved him, too, from that very first 1994 ballot. This year, he was voted Best Celebrity.

What Stockton doesn’t have yet is a local statue in his honor. Now of course he would never want one — he’s low-key that way — but this is civic malpractice, people! And back in 2000, we asked: Best Local Subject for a New Statue in Spokane. Resounding answer: John Stockton. C’mon, Mayor Condon, Salt Lake City has one. Make it happen!

Of course Stockton brought his family back home from Utah after he retired; you can see him watching his son David play in the Kennel or coaching his daughters.

Back in the day, Stockton, Mark Rypien and Ryne Sandberg so dominated this line of questioning that in 1999 we finally asked you to name the Best Local Athlete Not Named Stockton, Rypien or Sandberg. You gave us JAN-MICHAEL GAMBILL, the former tennis pro and Mead grad who made the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2000. Gambill is retired from the pro circuit and now lives in Hawaii, does a little coaching and plays some exhibition tennis for charity.

It’s great to have fellow Mead grad ADAM MORRISON back on the scene. He had a best-ever three-year run as Best Athlete. Morrison is back in the ’Kan and worked out with current Zags over the summer; he’s been spotted back in the Kennel, too.

But you’ve got to say the basketball gods are smiling on 2005 winner RONNY TURIAF. It didn’t look good at first: Drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers that spring, the team discovered he had a major heart problem. One successful open-heart surgery later, and Turiaf was off to a busy NBA career. (He’s already played for six teams.) Last year, he won an NBA ring playing alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade for Miami. This year he’s setting screens for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the high-flying Los Angeles Clippers. One of the most loved Zags ever, Turiaf takes life easy, but he’s for real — he’s played in the Olympics for France, speaks, like, five languages and even founded the Ronny Turiaf Heart to Heart Foundation. They say that good things happen to good people.




Back when The Inlander first started asking your opinion about elected officials, it was all about TOM FOLEY. It makes sense: As Speaker of the House, he had risen higher than any Washington state politician ever. The readers liked him so much, they even chose him Best the year after he was sent packing. Now 84, Foley still lives in the D.C. area; he was recently featured on a TV ad for Gonzaga University, where he went to college and taught in the School of Law.

The first really big controversy of the Inlander era was the River Park Square public financing battle, and STEVE EUGSTER was the lightning rod for it all, good and bad. In 1996, readers voted him Best Activist; in 2000, once he was a city councilman, he was voted both Best Person to Be Immortalized on a Pez Dispenser and Best Candidate for Strong Mayor.

Now 69, Eugster says he had to slow down: “I do not want to be in the public eye anymore, I’m just a lawyer.” But as the author of the city’s strong mayor form of government, he still follows local politics. “I like the way David Condon is using the strong mayor office in a positive way — he’s taking control, making decisions. That’s the way it should be.”

Eugster has been back in private practice since 2010, and also manages some downtown property he owns with his brothers.

In recent years, this category has become more of a “Who’s-the-mayor-this-year?” kind of thing, which is odd as we like to fire them first chance we get. And that thought brought us back to the first strong mayor, JOHN POWERS, who won three Best Ofs in a row between 2001-03. We caught up with Powers at his new job as executive director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance in Bremerton.

“Whenever I tell someone what I do, I say ‘I’m an economic developer, and I caught the bug while I was serving as mayor of Spokane,’ ” says Powers, who was hired as CEO of the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County just after losing his re-election campaign.

“One thing I am still proud of,” Powers adds, “is that on that same primary ballot was a measure to repeal the strong mayor system; unions wanted to get rid of it. But the people of Spokane stayed the course with strong mayor — that was really the most important election that year.

“Losing was bittersweet,” adds Powers. “It was a turning point, but it’s been a natural progression that Bonnie and I have been thankful for.”


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