In Memory

Kurth Gustafsen


Assistant Metro Editor at The Ledger Kurth Gustafsen Dies. 

LAKELAND — Longtime Ledger editor Kurth Gustafsen died late Friday at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center after a long illness. He was 61.  Gustafsen, an assistant metro editor, began working for The Ledger in 1983 as a reporter and was promoted to editor in 1994.  “Kurth was one of the most caring human beings I know, from taking care of his mother for so many years to looking after reporters," said Ledger Editor Lenore Devore. "In my 22 years here, he also was one of the best editors I've worked with, and I always felt comfortable leaving the newsroom when he was here at night. He will be missed by many."  Gustafsen was born June 16, 1955, in Billings, Mont., to the late Dorothy Seeber Gustafsen and Clarence "Gus" Gustafsen, and spent his early childhood in South Dakota, moving to Spokane, Washington, at age 11.


My Time with  Kurth on Earth (Jon Rasmussen)

I first met Kurth on the basketball teams in junior high. Right off the bat (to mix sports), I noticed that he was a gifted athlete in the mold of Oscar Robertson, as in not particularly physically imposing, fast or tall, but extremely smooth and coordinated, always in calm control of his movements.

Along with both of us being part of assorted journalism classes, that was my only acquaintance with him throughout junior and high school, as he did not turn out for basketball in our high school years (when we had teams), and we didn’t socialize much, if at all.

After stints at SFCC and EWSC, I was able to transfer to UW as a junior, and September 1976 found me sitting at the rail of a nefarious dive bar near the campus. This joint was called the Blue Moon, and legend had it that Jack Kerouac had imbibed there, among other less known but equally disreputable bohemians.

This of course was enticing to a 21-year-old English major who was a prime candidate to be a bohemian. (But of course, all 21-year-olds are prime candidates to be a “bohemian,” because it’s pretty certain we are abjectly poor, and this label makes us feel cool rather than pitiful).

I was actually a little uneasy, my move from Spokane just completed (my 3 boxes unpacked) and the prospect of loneliness was starting to dawn on me, as I didn’t know a soul in Seattle. Suddenly I heard someone questioningly call out my name. It was Kurth.

I hadn’t spoken to him, nor by this time had even seen him for many years, and I’m still amazed at the coincidence. But this would not be the last time Kurth would make an amazing appearance in my life.

He was there under the almost identical circumstances as mine: just enrolled at UW, just arrived in Seattle, and with the same areas of study …although his was really focused on Journalism, whereas mine was Literature (and eventually Communications/Advertising). He was, of course, reading a newspaper, a lifelong love of his,  and I had to admit, a nice touch that made him appear far more bohemian than I.  We both smoked in those days, adding the appropriate hazy elan to the scene.

We spent the next couple of hours catching up and matching up our similar lives spent in the Mead school district and north Spokane/Eastern Washington regions and discovered our remarkably similar interests and viewpoints in sports, geopolitics, and music. He had the most eclectic music collection I had ever seen at that point. (And frankly, ever. It took me decades to reach his level of sophistication in music appreciation. And I was a musician!)

We became buddies. Then we became very good friends. We were even roommates in some of the ensuing, fabulously fun years spent in Seattle after we graduated. He became part of my last cohort of close friends made …the ones you collect in college… and was part of many adventures, Sonics games and golf matches through the rest of that decade and into the Eighties.

Kurth left Seattle for Florida in 1984. He started writing for the Lakeland Ledger very soon after he arrived.

Myself and 2 others from the aforementioned Seattle gang went down to visit him in ’86. Four of us crammed into his modest Toyota with no A/C and driving from Tampa/St. Pete all the way down to Key West. We listened to the Frank Sinatra songbook that looped in his cassette tape player, and once the vodka that we added to the fresh-squeezed orange and/or grapefruit we picked up at the hundreds of roadside stands along the way kicked in, boisterously sang along to it. Every one of us on that trip have listened to Frank ever since, and I will be forever grateful for Kurth turning us all on to him.

The last time I saw Kurth was in Seattle in 1999. I had already been in Hawaii for 10 years, and my girlfriend at the time and I were in town and on a city bus on our way to attend a Mariner game. I was playing tour guide as the bus meandered through all the neighborhoods I knew so well from the 13 years spent in Seattle.

At a midpoint stop in Fremont, I was pointing out the tavern that one of the members of the Florida caravan used to own, and of which Kurth and I were not only frequent patrons, but pinch-hitting bartenders when needed. Suddenly, to my amazement, out the tavern door popped Kurth, heading straight to the very bus we were sitting in. My jaw dropped further when he boarded, and my stunned speechlessness broke as he was about to pass us on his way to a seat further in back. I stammered out his name in the same way he uttered mine in a ramshackle dive bar nearly 25 years before.   

It was the Mariners’ first season in their new ballpark, and he had come up to check out a game and surprise old friends. The circumstances suddenly morphed into yet another delightful “road trip“ …to the game, and on into a weekend of great fun and camaraderie.

Kurth thrived at the Ledger, ultimately becoming Editor, and my career started to blossom as well, making us both too busy to travel as much as ones wishes they can. We continued to have periodic phone catchups in the ensuing years, usually one or two a year. The topics remained the same: sports and politics, but less so for music, as both of us phased out of nightlives filled with music.

Around 2016, I started thinking about making a trip to the east coast with a side trip to Florida to visit Kurth, but a shocking call to me that November informed me that I would not be making that trip, because he had passed.

I smile often now at his memory, which is always immediately brought to life with a Sinatra (or Wes Montgomery) tune, or a nowadays always brief and fluky Mariner winning streak.  I can very clearly remember his voice, laugh and other verbal affectations. In particular, I recall his calling my name in the Blue Moon Tavern those many, many years ago.  

He was tremendous guy with a superb mind and an exceptionally calm, smooth demeanor that was infused with a sly, dry wit and great kindness. I look forward to someday turn the tables and call his name out in a surprise greeting in the Great Beyond. 


The photo is of Jon Rasmussen, Craig Pierce and Kurth Gustafsen, 1987.

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06/13/23 11:00 PM #1    

Gerald Gemmill

Kurth was one of the most kind people I ever met.  Spent many nights shooting hoops in his driveway when he lived in the duplex right by Whitworth when we were kids.  A truly good person gone way to soon

06/14/23 11:44 AM #2    

Kyall McGee

  Kurth was one of my favorite people.  I too remember playing basketball with him at school and at his home near Whitworth College. I loved playing with him on my side.  Kurth was a good player, not unlike Dan Hultquist, both of whom were quiet, smooth, and a very accutate shooters.  There were a few times when Kurth got all wound up about something and morphed into an hilarious comedic rutine, his face turning red, and rambling on about one obserdity or another.  Every setting wherein he was involved, was a much more entertaining setting because of his quick wit and shockingly out-of-character delivery.....super different from his normal calm and quiet demeanor.

  I never quite felt that he was comfortable around me, though he was a guy for which I held in the highest regard. I now regret that I never made an effort to let him know that.  Many times in later years I had hoped to make contact with him... a hope that made the news of his passing even more sorrowful.

  Because of the flavors shared by Kurth and Jon, it makes me even more greatfuI that Jon will once again be among us this summer. I think that they have always been leaders among us, though they never demanded  such notoriety.

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