Friends will gather Sunday to celebrate the life of John Snyder, the long-serving Astoria finance expert and enthusiastic member of the North Coast music scene.
Snyder died Sept. 18 after having undergone a heart operation, come home, then succumbed after appearing to be in recovery.
At 77, he was still working for the city as a financial analyst, looking ahead to a December retirement.
He and Paul Benoit, a longtime Astoria city executive now based in California, worked together for almost 27 years.
“When John was focused on something, or had his mind made up, there was no stopping him,” Benoit recalled. “People might see his age and think, ‘Wow, he was still working for the city at 77!’
“When we first started working together, he told me that he would work until he was 76. As a 32-year-old, that was hard for me to fathom. But I knew he meant it — and I knew he’d stick to his plan.”
Snyder was born in 1941 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to parents Joseph and Catherine Snyder.
After his early schooling, he earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Marywood College, a Catholic liberal arts university in Scranton, Pennsylvania, studying and teaching there from 1967 to 1974.
That passion for philosophy featured throughout his life. In a tribute planned for Sunday, his widow, Janie Snyder, and family members will describe how he enjoyed embracing new concepts and studying spiritual teachers.
He gifted crystals to friends and family as a “manifestation of light” and shared T-shirts, magnets and bookmarks that featured inspirational sayings.
Always keen to break out of his comfort zone, Janie Snyder said her husband took dance lessons, tried kayaking and even climbed up on a zip line with his grandchildren about three years ago.
Dedicated to family
Snyder had come West with his first wife, Jane Garvin Reese, whose McGowan family were pioneers in Chinook, Washington. They had two children — Sarah, who lives in Chicago and is mother of two of his grown grandchildren, and Matthew, who died in a surfing accident off Fort Stevens in 1994.
Snyder gained his accounting credentials through Portland State University and first worked at a downtown Astoria CPA office. He joined the city in 1985 when Edith Henningsgaard was mayor and served the entire span of the Willis Van Dusen era.
He met his second wife, then Janie Ann Olds, in circumstances that still make her chuckle 30 years later. “I was working as a secretary for a computer consulting company on 10th Street and he came in to check about some inventory software for the city!” she laughed.
She already had three daughters, Sheri, Stephanie and Laurie, and there are now six grandchildren. Close family members include Donovan Duchene, father of their 12-year-old granddaughter, Mathena, whom the Snyders have helped raise.
Janie Snyder said her husband put family first. “He always said, ‘I have enough love for all of you.’”
Not really retired
Snyder worked as city finance director with several prior top executives, including Jim Flint, Benoit and Dan Bartlett. He “retired” as finance director in 2011, but continued working with the city as a financial analyst.
Benoit’s career with the city began as community development director in 1986, and he returned as city manager many years later.
“John was a unique individual — extremely dedicated and hardworking, someone who would do anything for a friend, a spiritual guy who read stacks of books on religion and religious history, someone who had all the attributes of a Boy Scout,” Benoit said.
City Hall staff recall decades of Christmas parties where Snyder would provide the music and everyone was expected to participate.
“John would show up with his guitar, a ream of handouts with all his favorite Christmas songs, and he would gather everyone together to sing with him,” Benoit said. “I hated singalongs and told him so. He just smiled and added an extra song or two, just for my benefit. That was his way.”
Music his passion
Performing folk music was his passion. When Unitarian minister Kit Ketcham recruited the North Coast folk crowd for an ambitious Pete Seeger 99th birthday party in April, Snyder stepped up.
Interviewed for a story promoting the concert, Snyder shared considerable admiration for the role of Seeger in modern American culture. “His vision, his connectivity with nature and the community was precious — and there’s some incredible music, too,” he said.
Snyder was recommended to participate by Mayor Arline LaMear, and Ketcham realized that he would be a perfect accompanist for Tom and Siv Barnum of Astoria and Long Beach Peninsula music talent Sandy Nielson.
“This is a guy I didn’t even know,” Ketcham said. “He was quiet about it. It wasn’t like he was overly bubbly. He was just enthusiastic in a quiet and competent way.”
When organizers narrowed the list of songs, Snyder told her he wanted to sing his favorite “Guantanamera,” the poignant Cuban song made famous by Seeger. Ketcham had hoped she would perform that classic, but Snyder’s enthusiasm triumphed.
“This guy has been so helpful,” she recalled her thought processes. “‘OK, John, you can sing whatever you want.’” The song features difficult lyrics in Spanish with some English translations. “He threw himself into it and worked to get the pronunciation right,” she said.
After the success of the concert, Ketcham asked performers to pitch in $20 to cover the cost of souvenir CDs. “John pledged $100 and told me, ‘I just want to make sure everyone who wants a copy can have a copy.’”
At the invitation of Snyder’s family, Ketcham and others will perform “Guantanamera” at Sunday’s celebration of life.
Janie Snyder will participate in an unorthodox tribute highlighting Snyder’s favorite sayings, including, “If one is good, more is better” and the French declaration, “No remorse! No regret!”
One that the family especially savors is, “Have a tiny rearview mirror and a huge windshield.”
Katie Frankowicz of The Daily Astorian contributed to this report.
A celebration of life will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Elks Lodge, 453 11th St.