by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & e've had a Last Word page since our very first edition, when Andrew Strickman, who moved from Boston to become our first arts editor, summed up his feelings about his new home this way: "What the hell is tire siping?"

As the years passed, we've tried to make this space a surprise each week. We've admitted to a Weather Channel addiction, mourned the passing of the Peanuts comic strip, advised you on how to name your baby and even, if necessary, how to keep your belly full on a dumpster diet.

So here we are on the last page of the issue -- the last word, if you will, on these past 15 years. I guess what sticks with me most, as I've spent the past few weeks thumbing through our stacks of old bound editions, is the people. The Inland Northwest is overflowing with great human stories.

Ed Tsutakawa had one of those great stories, and we featured him in a cover story back on Dec. 20, 2001. Despite being interned along with other Japanese-Americans during World War II, Tsutakawa became deeply patriotic and left a very big mark on the Inland Northwest, from the Japanese Garden at Manito Park to Mukogawa. Tsutakawa passed away five years after our interview, but as he looked back on his life and said, "I didn't want to let the grass grow under my feet," he offered a bit of wisdom we should all take to heart.

I'd put Tsutakawa in the "They Made a Difference" category, and there have been plenty more like him in our pages. We caught up with King Cole, for example, and heard all the improbable stories behind Spokane's landing of a World's Fair in 1974. Thanks, King! And there's Walt Worthy, who revived the dream of another Inland Northwest icon, Louis Davenport, by saving what may be the soul of the city, the Davenport Hotel. And since the start of the war in Iraq, we've tried to tell the stories of the men and women who have been sent there to fight, men like Kory Turnbow, who was featured in our May 25, 2006 cover story about the Idaho National Guard.

We've mined the rich veins of local history, too -- even back to Kennewick Man, who reappeared at the Tri Cities hydroplane races more than 9,000 years after he walked the Columbia Plateau. Of course we've recalled the best known of our local heroes, from Bing Crosby to Spokane Garry, who we just took a closer look at a few weeks back. Perhaps even more interesting have been the people who only intersected with the Inland Northwest briefly, but with monumental results. There was Dashiell Hammett, who once worked in Spokane and set a major scene of The Maltese Falcon here. And Woody Guthrie came through on the government's dime to write songs about public power and "the biggest thing that man has ever done" (aka the Grand Coulee Dam).

We've always had an affinity for the artists among us, and one of America's most successful authors, Kitty Kelley, grew up in Spokane. Back in 1995, I tracked her down to talk about growing up here in the 1950s. After weeks of phone tag, our interview happened -- but she wouldn't be able to write anything, she said, I'd just have to take notes. Furiously typing while she talked, stream-of-consciousness, for two hours, I finally pulled it all together late that night. The next morning, I found her completed draft on my fax machine. Artists. But you could tell my assignment got her thinking: "I hiked down the bluff to Hangman Creek followed by my dog," Kelley wrote. "I picked buttercups and took walks with my father, who never left the house without his shillelagh. I probably make Spokane sound like The Donna Reed Show, but I loved growing up there."

We put Coeur d'Alene's only Academy Award winner, Patty Duke, on the front cover when she joined a production at the Civic Theater, and I've always tried to give Gunther Schuller as much exposure as I could, to thank him for bringing such beautiful music here every year. Then we have Jess Walter, Tim Egan and Sherman Alexie, all proving that Spokane is a huge part of the literature of the Pacific Northwest. Bob and Joan Welch set a great example, too -- epitomizing the kind of effort it has always taken to bring the arts to local audiences. Bob and Joan founded the Interplayers Ensemble, which is still producing shows 28 years later; we profiled them as a "Dynamic Duo" in a 1998 cover story.

Finally, it's been the free spirits and oddballs we remember best. Everyone knew that Ronny Turiaf was special from the day he arrived on the Gonzaga campus from his Caribbean home. Today, his dramatic heart surgery and easygoing charm make him one of the NBA's most popular players. He had that same flair, despite still working on English as his fourth language, when our Michael Bowen first interviewed him, a few days after his 19th birthday back in 2002.

INLANDER: What about your play on the court?

Turiaf: On the court, I know I make some crazy play, 'cause I'm inn-air-jick [energetic], so I'm like a badger on the court. I just want to give my best, so could be happy to my teammates."

INLANDER: You already speak four languages. Why are you taking an Italian class?

TURIAF: I want to be able to speak what language when I travel. On my French team? I travel a lot, I meet the Japanese, Spain, Italian, Croatia, oh yeah. So I want to be able to go to the Italian and speak to the girls, "Como estas, BAY-bee!" [laughs], for a long time, and "Looka what I got!" I like that.

But the taker of the cake -- my all-time great interview -- had to be none other than Jimmy Marks, who came to visit me back in 2000 when I was writing about the film American Gypsy by the noted filmmaker Jasmine Dellal. He never jumped on my desk, but I thought he might -- he did pound on it with both fists, bellowing, "I'm not sittin' on da back of da bus no more!" And then with a sly grin: "Gypsy culture will survive. We're survivors of the Holocaust, the plague -- we're survivors of the world. And," he whispered, "we're survivors of Spokane."

And for 15 years now, we are, too.

Brews, Blues, BBQ & Blessings @ Spokane Tribe Casino

Sat., June 26, 12 p.m.
  • or