John E. Andrist, former Omak Chronicle owner-publisher and community leader, who in his final years inspired many by his determination to overcome severe disabilities after a stroke, died of respiratory failure at his home in Omak Sept. 25. He was 75.
Mr. Andrist was known among his journalism peers as a fearless, fair and effective newspaperman. He garnered many awards for his writing and photography. His personal column, “Walking Softly,” was one of the best-read features of the newspaper. But it was after he suffered a massive stroke at age 61 that he demonstrated his intense love for life in a never-ending struggle to overcome total paralysis and loss of speech.
In June 2000 he led friends, family and well-wishers in a victory parade across the one-mile spillway of Grand Coulee Dam. It had taken him six years of intensive therapy to independently steer his own wheelchair, and it was his goal to publicize the importance of on-going therapy for all stroke survivors.
Mr. Andrist was born Dec. 25, 1931, to John M. and Edna Mae Andrist in Santa Barbara, Calif. They moved to Cashmere when he was a boy and he was raised on their small ranch. He graduated from Eastern Washington State College in 1954 and taught for two years at Pateros High School before entering the news business.
He worked for newspapers in Cheney and the Tri-Cities, and then became news director for KHQ-TV in Spokane in1959. Two years later he became news editor for the Omak Chronicle. After taking four years out from 1966 to 1970 to work as a federal grants writer for school districts in Okanogan County, he returned to The Chronicle and eventually bought the newspaper.
He married Donna L. Rehpohl in 1953 in Wenatchee and the couple raised four children. They were divorced in 1979 and he later married journalist Mary Koch. They published The Chronicle until 1996, when they sold it to Eagle Newspapers.
Throughout his newspaper career he gave generously of his time, talent and treasure to serve the community in many areas, including education, the arts and economic development. He was deeply committed to excellence in journalism and served as president of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association from 1991-1992.
He cherished living in and exploring the Okanogan country and devoted many hours to photographing it while hiking, skiing, fishing, hunting and mushroom foraging. He particularly enjoyed performing with the Okanogan Valley Chorus and Village Green Marching Society.
He is survived by his wife, Mary of the home; sister Marjorie and her husband Dan Stewart of Cashmere; daughter Katie and her husband Rick Montanez, Malott; daughter Roberta Jean and her husband Mark Gustafson of Selah, their daughter Stacey and her daughter MacKenzie, Yakima; son John P. and his wife Becki of Omak, their sons Brandt, Tim and wife Yesica, and Phillip, all of Omak; and daughter Carolyn and her husband Rich Clos, their son Andrew and daughter Sydney, of Vancouver, Wash.
The family suggests memorials to the Omak Performing Arts Center Foundation, the Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus, or the Okanogan County Historical Society.
A memorial celebration was held at the Omak Presbyterian Church at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sep. 29, 2007 followed by an open house at the Andrist-Koch home.
Memorial Services were held Friday, Sept. 28 10:30 a.m., Holy Trinity Church, Pine Rd., reception followed and burial service was held on Monday, Oct. 1 11:30 a.m. at the Tahoma National Cemetery.