Former state Sen. Larry Vognild dies at 81

EVERETT — Larry Vognild, a former Democratic state Senator who served Everett-area constituents from the late 1970s into the 1990s, died Friday.

He was 81.

Vognild’s family, in an obituary notice, listed the cause of death as congestive heart failure.

During 16 years representing the state’s 38th Legislative District, Vognild, a retired Everett firefighter, developed a reputation as a pro-labor moderate. Along the way, he nurtured future generations of leaders.

County Councilman Brian Sullivan was inspired to enter politics after a working briefly in his early 20s as Vognild’s assistant. That was more than 30 years ago.

“He was the epitome of reaching across the aisle and working with Republicans and making things happen,” Sullivan said. “I wish we had a bunch of Larry Vognilds in Congress right now.”

Vognild won his first election in 1978.

The political newcomer surprised many that year by beating a fellow Democrat, the 38th District incumbent Sen. August Mardesich.

Mardesich was an attorney and commercial fisherman with a pro-business outlook. Vognild, with union backing, pulled off the upset.

In Olympia, Vognild rose steadily to chair the powerful senate transportation committee. He also served as senate majority leader.

“The best part about Larry was that he was so unassuming,” Sullivan said. “A lot of people underestimated him. He turned out to be a great policy-maker, a great strategist.”

Former state Sen. Gary Strannigan, an Everett Republican, won the 1994 election after Vognild announced his retirement.

“I really had a great appreciation for Larry,” Strannigan said. “He had a really great sense for the voters of Everett and Marysville and did a fine job of representing them in the senate and was really well regarded there. He could work with everybody and was a fine legislator by all accounts.”

In 2010, Vognild and Strannigan together denounced a dirty tricks campaign involving Moxie Media of Seattle that contributed to the primary-election ouster of former Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, in favor of a more liberal Democrat, Nick Harper.

Berkey, 74, died in August. Harper resigned abruptly from his 38th District senate seat in November, citing personal reasons. He’s since taken a job working for Seattle’s mayor.

After Berkey’s passing, Vognild described how they both entered politics in the 1960s, supporting Democratic causes.

“The kinds of things we did were the menial campaign work that needs to be done…if you’re going to help someone get elected — doorbelling and stuffing envelopes,” he said at the time.

Both worked on the presidential campaign of Everett’s Henry “Scoop” Jackson in 1972.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson knew Vognild throughout his career, dating back to Stephanson’s time as a city councilman in the 1980s. The mayor gave his condolences to Vognild’s wife, Dorothy, and other surviving family members.

“Larry has been an incredible community leader as well as a state leader for many years,” Stephanson said. “He was someone who I looked up to and I often sought his advice. He’s going to be deeply missed.”

Among Vognild’s contributions to the community, Stephanson noted, was a big role in getting Everett a full-fledged paramedic system, rather than relying on local ambulance services. After leaving the senate, Vognild served on the board of the Everett Medic One Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to improve local emergency medical services.

Everett Fire Chief Murray Gordon got to know Vognild when he joined the department in 1977. Vognild was his first battalion chief, and inspired confidence with his “great poise and composure.”

“He retired not long after I hired on, but I knew that while he was retired from the fire department, he wasn’t retired from serving our community,” Gordon said. “He truly was a public servant, someone who lived for an enjoyed serving others.”

In addition to his wife, Dorothy, Vognild’s survivors include his daughters, Valerie Vognild Kellogg and Margo Vognild-Fox. The family submitted a brief notice about his death, saying a full obituary would follow.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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