Funeral home has lively history

By: Nancy Hagman, Colfax Record Correspondent
-A +A

A family legacy was carried on in Colfax.

Francis E. West – the son of funeral chapel owner George Edward West – was educated at the University of California, after attending public school in Placer County. After some business experience elsewhere, in August 1926 he moved back to Colfax to join his father in the management of the West mortuary in Colfax.

In December 1932, George West died one day before his 64th birthday and since that time the business had been operated by Francis West. Then on Sept. 22, 1936, Francis E. West was appointed coroner of Placer County. He was elected by an overwhelming majority in 1938 and reelected in 1942.

In addition to the funeral chapel, Francis West operated ambulance services maintained 24 hours day. The latest and most modern automotive equipment was used, including a 1942 Cadillac funeral coach. One noteworthy event took place on Feb. 3, 1938, when the West ambulance was called into action after the collapse of the Rising Sun Mine shaft. Coroner West dispatched Pep Star with the ambulance.

Another event happened in 1942 when an infamous murder occurred in Colfax. A 78-year-old woman, Ada Belle Turner, was found dead in the basement of her Auburn Street home. Coroner West took part in the investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of a local goat herder. Glenard Brown was found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty, which was carried out in the San Quentin gas chamber on February 15, 1944.

Francis West also served on the Colfax volunteer fire department. In 1942 it was decided badges would be assigned to members of the department, according to years of service. Number 5 was awarded to Francis West.

During World War II, an air raid blackout warning system was organized in Colfax with Francis West as chief air raid warden. In 1944, West and his ambulance crews responded to the Challenger train wreck in which nine people were killed and many injured just south of Colfax.

On the lighter side of West’s life was his love for baseball. An April 11, 1941 Colfax Record article said, “Peers throws a wicked fastball, if Coroner Westy (Francis West) doesn’t look out, he might strikeout. Imagine a doctor pitching to an undertaker.”

Upon Francis West’s retirement, Kenneth Quinn and his wife Beth purchased the operation and it became Quinn’s Sierra Chapel and Ambulance Service.

In the early years, starting in 1954, Quinn himself would take as many as six ambulance calls a day, assisting mostly crash victims on the old Highway 40. Later, Interstate 80 would add to these crash responses.

Quinn, a native of Beaver, Okla., had moved to Dutch Flat in 1925, there his father and uncles operated a grocery store. He was a Colfax resident for 53 years, served on the city council for two terms in the 1950s and 1960s, and died in 2006.

Quinn is also remembered for his Quinn Family Klowns, which he organized beginning in early 1970s. He was grand marshal for the Independence Day Parade in 1996; on that occasion he had a troupe of 45 clowns. The group still marches by the old mortuary building annually every July in Quinn’s honor.

The Quinns sold the funeral chapel in 1978 and it became Lassila’s Sierra Chapel. David Lassila eventually consolidated the Colfax mortuary with his Lassila’s Funeral Chapel in Auburn, closing the Colfax business in the mid-1990s.