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‘All the cliches are true’

Ordway Elementary School counselor Jeff McKinstry, in a photograph taken last week by the Bainbridge Island School District. - Courtesy of Bainbridge Island School District
Ordway Elementary School counselor Jeff McKinstry, in a photograph taken last week by the Bainbridge Island School District.
— image credit: Courtesy of Bainbridge Island School District

Students, colleagues eulogize slain Ordway school counselor

Jeff McKinstry.

They streamed across the darkening school yard under a steady rain Wednesday night, their paths dimly lit by the lime-green glow sticks they carried.

Ordway teachers, students and parents overflowed a covered basketball court behind the school and gathered close for a twilight vigil to reflect on the life of fallen counselor Jeffrey McKinstry, slain Oct. 11 at his Kingston home.

For adults, it was a somber lull in what had been an emotional week, and a chance to share memories and support.

But the children acted the way McKinstry would have liked to see them: happy, raucous and excited. They dashed to the playground to meet their friends and chased each other wielding glow sticks like light sabers.

It took the voice of their principal to bring them together with their parents as he called the crowd closer to a podium under a basketball hoop.

Ordway’s Bob Lewis told the gathering that students had remembered “Mr. McKinstry” through writing and art, and he read a few memories from their writing: “He always kept his promises” ... “He remembered our birthdays with Jolly Ranchers” ... “He cared about us” ... “He helped us solve our problems.”

Students knew McKinstry as a friend who was always there – at the door in the morning, in the lunch line, in the playground at recess – ready to help and have fun with them.

Paul Schuler, an Ordway parent and Cross Sound Church pastor, said his son Chad had come home bursting with excitement the week before because McKinstry had chosen him as a “Caring Kid.” Each month, the counselor rewarded good students by taking them out for pizza in his old jeep. He played games with them, joked and fed them penny candy on the drive home.

“There are hundreds of those memories right here,” Schuler told the crowd.

The pain is fading for many students, but it will last longer for friends and colleagues who were close to McKinstry. They remember “Jeff” as the supporting shoulder for the school community, a confidant who had counseled them all.

Bruce Colley, who worked with McKinstry for eight years as a principal first at Suquamish Elementary in the North Kitsap District and later at Ordway, remembered him as a hard working, “masterful” teacher at Suquamish who had a gift for building strong personal connections with his students.

When McKinstry earned a counseling endorsement and moved to the Bainbridge School District 12 years ago, Colley said he carried those qualities on to his new job.

As a counselor, he didn’t wait in his office for students to come to him, though they often did, and never settled with a quick fix when he knew a child was dealing with deeper issues at home.

“I happen to know that Jeff always kept a stash of food in his office, and if a student came to school without a breakfast he’d always make sure they got something to eat,” Colley said. “But if it became a regular problem he worked with the family to make sure they had the resources they needed; he’d make sure they got the help to have food in the house.”

McKinstry was particularly adept at helping families in crisis, parents dueling in messy divorces or distraught at the loss of a loved one. He helped them see their issues through the eyes of their children.

Even while counseling a school of more than 400 students and their families, McKinstry found time for a full life and was beginning a side career as an author.

His first book, “31st Street Saints,” was a children’s novel about four orphan detectives who are drawn in to a fanciful world of Catholic faith.

McKinstry drew on his own memories of growing up in the Magnolia neighborhood in Seattle, and his fascination with the tradition-rich world his Catholic friends were a part of.

He had recently finished a sequel to “31st Street Saints,” and was hoping to have a series published.

The books were another facet of a life devoted children.

On Wednesday the Ordway community was still measuring the depth of its loss and looking inward for strength. It was at times like this, times of sadness or turmoil, when they would have leaned McKinstry the most.

“It sounds trite to say, ‘he will be greatly missed,’” Colley said. “But you can bring out all the cliches. They’re all true.”

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In memoriam

A memorial service will be held for Jeffrey McKinstry at 2 p.m. today, Oct. 20, at Woodward Middle School. The McKinstry family has established a “Needy Kids” fund in Jeff’s honor, to help children in the community. Contributions can be made at American Marine Bank branches.

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