By Brock Hires
Matt Holmes – or as most residents call him, “Mr. Tonasket” – is proof that kindness is the key to happiness.
No, Holmes is not an elected official or royalty, but rather a mascot for the city of Tonasket and surrounding community.
Often wearing bright tangerine-colored clothing, Holmes is easy to spot working at Grants Market, a local grocery store. But often he’ll greet you before you even see him.
Addressing store customers with proper titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss, etc.), he asks customers how they’re doing, how their spouse is, what their kids are up to, and even how the family pets are.
“I try to help people as much as I can,” he said. “I try to know everybody.”
He said the small talk often makes the customers’ day. That, in itself, has landed him the title of “Mr. Tonasket.”
“A couple of our residents, Bob Penny and Chuck Gallup, gave me that title because I know everybody’s name,” he said. “I guess it kind of stuck.”
Initially Holmes laughed it off, but “I thought about it for a minute and then I was like, ‘Well, they are kind of right.'"
When asked if there's anyone in the 98855 he doesn't know, he said, "Yeah, there’s some, but I learn their names really quick.”
"Our customers all love him because he is genuinely kind all the time," said Rose Kuhlmann, who is Holmes' supervisor at Grant's Market. "He meets and greets everybody and they so much appreciate that. I feel blessed that we got him when we did years ago. He goes above and beyond."
A couple years ago, he was wearing rainbow-colored overalls and thought it would be fun to have a picture taken in front of the “Welcome to Tonasket” sign at the south entrance of town.
“I sent it to Stacey Kester at Lee Franks (Mercantile) and I said, ‘This would look good on a sticker,” he said.
“I thought some would sell, but I guess 250 sold the first year,” Holmes said.
"Matt is a treasure to our community," Kester said. "He greets you by name and passes on kind regards to each of your family members, mentioned by name.
"His fun fashion, primarily orange, makes him easy to spot."
Kester collaborated with Holmes and have released two editions of stickers.
They have been among our top selling stickers," Kester said. "We love Mr. Tonasket."
Former Mayor and Chamber of Commerce President Marylou Kriner agreed.
"I think him taking on the role of Mr. Tonasket is pretty dang awesome," she said noting he recently filled a vacant seat on the Tonasket Chamber board. "He cares about people."
Kriner said the chamber has vehicle magnets for honorees during the annual Founders' Day parade, and suggested it's time to add Mr. Tonasket's name to the list.
"I think we will get him a set (of magnets) so he can always be in the parade as Mr. Tonasket," she said. "He's a great guy."
Holmes said the Mr. Tonasket persona is increasing in popularity.
“I think it’s gaining momentum,” Holmes said. “People enjoy the stickers.”
Holmes said his ability to remember names and faces is a gift.
“When I was younger, my grandma and I used to go for a walk every day. And I used to do a state capital puzzle everyday,” he said. “Grandma would point and say, ‘What state is this.” And ever since then, I just have a really good memory.
Originally from Upstate New York, about five hours from New York City, Holmes said it took him a while to call Tonasket “home.”
“My brother lived out here at the time,” he said. “He was working at the (North Valley) Hospital as an occupational therapist.”
At his brother’s suggestion, Holmes decided to move out West.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you come out to Tonasket?” Holmes recalled. “I said, ‘Where is that?”
After pondering the move, his brother paid for a one-way train ticket and “I’ve been here ever since.
“Where I’m from, in New York, it’s a big town, so people don’t really know your name,” he said. “But here, people appreciate that kind of stuff. People tell me all the time it makes their day when I say hello and know their name. It means a lot to them."
Since moving to Tonasket, he met and married Jacqueline Widmer in 2016.
“She thinks it (Mr. Tonasket tile) fits me because I’m a people person,” he said. “She enjoys it, puts up with all my outfits.
Together, they have three dogs, three cats and four horses.
“I want to thank the community for all their support,” he said. “It’s not just buying stickers, but when people go to the parade and point out Mr. Tonasket…I think it’s cool.”
While Holmes is known as Mr. Tonasket, he hopes to leave a bigger legacy as “someone who did everything they could to help people, going the extra mile, being a nice person who’s always positive and bringing out the good in everything. ♦
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