BIG SMILES FOR BIG ACCOMLISHMENTS – Kurt Bassford and Holle Edwards were blanketed for receiving Swinomish sobriety awards. Bassford was recipient of the 2022 Swinomish Elders Inspirational Sobriety Recognition Award. Edwards received the 2022 Joe Dunn Memorial Inspirational Sobriety Recognition Award. Bassford received the Joe Dunn award in 2008.   – Photo courtesy of Taysha James-Sherman
BIG SMILES FOR BIG ACCOMLISHMENTS – Kurt Bassford and Holle Edwards were blanketed for receiving Swinomish sobriety awards. Bassford was recipient of the 2022 Swinomish Elders Inspirational Sobriety Recognition Award. Edwards received the 2022 Joe Dunn Memorial Inspirational Sobriety Recognition Award. Bassford received the Joe Dunn award in 2008. – Photo courtesy of Taysha James-Sherman

Kurt Bassford quietly goes about his business each day – whether at work, tending to family obligations or lending a hand to friends and relatives – but his example doesn’t go unnoticed at Swinomish or in La Conner.

A 1976 La Conner High School alum who works for Dunlap Towing and as a commercial fisherman, Bassford twice has received honors voted by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community for his commitment to maintaining a healthy and sober lifestyle. His plaques are displayed at the tribal gymnasium.

He was the initial recipient in 2008 of the Joe Dunn Memorial Inspirational Sobriety Recognition Award, named for the longtime Swinomish counselor who in 1977 founded the tribe’s wellness program.

This year Bassford was presented the Swinomish Elders Inspirational Sobriety Recognition Award. He is the only Swinomish Indian Tribal Community member whose name appears on both plaques.

“Kurt is one of the most respected elders in the community,” Swinomish Senator J.J. Wilbur said. “He’s a hard worker, great family man and generous with his time and talent. The list goes on and on.”

It has been nearly 40 years since Bassford last drank alcohol. He quit on his own without benefit of a program, instead redirecting his focus to work and family. He has not looked back. Instead, like Dunn before him, he looks for ways to help others.

“Kurt is so good at helping people with things,” said a Swinomish staff member. “He’s always willing to drop everything to help people out. He’s a great handyman, great at making repairs. He sees the need and fills it.”

In Dunn, Bassford found the ideal role model when it came to channeling energy into his job.

“I don’t think he ever took a vacation,” Bassford said of Dunn, a fixture on Swinomish Reservation from 1970-2004, having arrived here from his native Arkansas via Porterville (CA.) Junior College and Western Washington University.

Dunn conducted regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at Swinomish, early on addressing alcohol dependence in a non-judgmental manner, viewing it first and foremost as a health problem. 

Coincidentally, this year the award bearing Dunn’s name was presented to Bassford’s niece, Holle Edwards, who overcame a battle with addiction to become a certified substance abuse counselor at Didgwalic Wellness Center on March Point Road.

“Holle,” said Wilbur, “has been a great example with her journey. She helps so many people.”

At Didgwalic, Edwards advises patients who experience alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders and mental health and behavioral problems. She provides treatment and support to help clients achieve recovery.

Edwards is especially proud of the clean and sober lifestyle she is modeling as the mom of young children.  

She continues to draw inspiration from her uncle. The two were honored earlier this month at a brief blanketing ceremony outside the Swinomish social services building. 

The presentations normally would have been made during a formal community dinner program, complete with speeches and testimonials, but those large gatherings have been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite this, the event was significant. Nothing, after all, looms larger than life-changing decisions that also benefit others.