“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
— Albert Einstein
There are people who through their life’s work in a given community become indelibly woven into its social tapestry.
Mention the name Mark Twain, and I think Mississippi River. Mother Teresa and Calcutta. The Kennedy’s and Cape Cod. But, on a smaller stage, are the ordinary people who quietly go about the important work needed to be done within their own village, town or city. They find ways to make a difference. When I think about these “quiet heroes,” I can’t help but think of Snohomish’s Tuck Gionet.
Tuck Gionet was taken from us much too soon. He died after a courageous battle with cancer Aug. 8, 2015. And yet, the contributions this man made to the town of Snohomish extend far beyond his 55 years. Husband-father-teacher-coach: These were the hats Tuck wore; and — he wore them well.
“Tuck promoted family, school and athletics, in that order,” said Paul Nicoletti, head track and field coach at Snohomish High School. “He believed if you promoted family and school, athletic success would take care of itself. Integrity and character were important to him.”
During Tuck’s tenure at Snohomish High School, he took on many responsibilities. While teaching history and government, coaching football and track and field, he also found time to help with the Key Club, Sportsman’s Club, Panther Pals, ASB Judicial Board, Senior Community Service, summer student trips to Europe, and his Summer Institute, which offered educators master’s credits. For 30 years, he gave unselfishly of himself to family, friends, school and community.
His life’s lessons were simple common sense “Gionetisms”: “Respect others.” “Do great things.” “Make a difference.” “Do the right thing.” Oh, yes, and — “Don’t do anything stupid.” The legacies of Tuck Gionet are many; but, probably the most far-reaching is the Eason Invitational.
In 1989, Tuck, along with fellow Snohomish coaches Dan Parker and Lorna Martinson, started the Eason Track &Field Invitational in honor of long-time Snohomish coach Larry Eason. “The first year there were 26 schools and 321 athletes competing,” said Nicoletti. Over the years, the meet has grown to include over 60 teams and 1,500 athletes from Canada, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. In ‘89, a team even traveled from the East Coast. Today, (April 16) 50 teams and over 1,200 athletes will gather for the 28th annual Eason Track &Field Invitational at Snohomish High School.
“In the past, we’ve awarded a male/female ‘Athlete of the Meet’, and an ‘Academic Team Award,’” said Nicoletti. “This year we are starting something new — ‘The Tuck Gionet Citizenship Award.’ The recipients will be a male and female athlete who exemplify solid academics and exemplary community service. These were important to Tuck.”
Throughout Tuck’s battle with cancer, he continued to teach and coach. This couldn’t have been easy. Still, he quietly went about his work. He even found time to take friends fishing. Mark Twain would appreciate that.
Tuck’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. In 2014, he was honored as the state’s “Civic Teacher of the Year.” Also, in a touching ceremony in his home the morning before he passed away, Tuck Gionet was inducted into the Washington State Track &Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Those in attendance included a small gathering of family and friends. Tuck was the past president of the WST&F Coaches Association. He had also coached the Panthers to state track and field titles in 2001 and 2002.
Tuck Gionet’s memorial service on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in the gymnasium of Snohomish High School, was packed. People came from many walks of life. There were fond remembrances and tears shed by family and friends. It was very evident Tuck had touched many lives.
And so, as I make my way today from Everett toward Snohomish High School for the Eason Invitational, drop down Seattle Hill Road, travel the valley past farms and fields, I’ll take a moment and reflect upon the many contributions of Tuck Gionet.
Steve K. Bertrand is a teacher and coach at Cascade High School and lives in Mukilteo.