Quinn family exemplifies history of community spirit

By: Nancy Hagman, Special to the Colfax Record
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Sterling examples of community spirit abound in Colfax. The stories behind the many plaques attest to this fact. On a lamppost found in Library Park, a piece of metal simply reads “The Quinn Family.” The Quinns’ story starts just up the hill. A native of the Oklahoma town of Beaver, Kenneth Quinn moved to Dutch Flat in 1925, at the age of 3, with his parents, Arthur and Pearl. There his father and uncles ran a grocery store and Quinn became a delivery boy. His driving skills and knowledge of the roads later brought him jobs as a bus driver for Placer High School in Auburn and driving ambulance. It was during his service in the latter role that he met Beth. A public health nurse, she had come to California from Kansas in 1941. They were married in 1951 and subsequently had three children: Kendall in 1952, Kelly in 1954 and Kerri in 1958. Francis E. West, son of the founder and owner of the local Colfax mortuary, sold the business to Ken and Beth Quinn on Aug. 6, 1954. They named their operation Quinn’s Sierra Chapel and Ambulance Service. In the early years, Ken Quinn would take as many as six ambulance calls a day, transporting mostly crash victims on the old Highway 40. As a solo medic, Quinn often solicited the help of tow-truck drivers and passing motorists to aid the injured and carry them to the ambulance. In addition to his lengthy career as a funeral director, he served on the Colfax City Council for two terms in the 1950s and 1960s. In his later years, Quinn seemed to have found the perfect antidote to the solemn and sometimes sullen nature of his work as a longtime funeral director. He dressed up as a clown. The disguise brought Quinn refreshing laughter and cheer each year as he worked the crowd in Colfax’s Independence Day parade. "He had the time of his life," his eldest son, Kendall Quinn, recalled. "He knew everybody in the audience and – at first - nobody knew who he was. He really saw what a joy it was to walk up to somebody and give them a hug. He was considered the town's ambassador of laughter and fun." Quinn’s legacy will be his clowning around. He entered his first town parade in the early 1970s and subsequently drafted several family members and relatives into costume. In 1996, the year he was named grand marshal of the parade, he had a troupe of 45 clowns known as the Quinn Family Klowns. In addition to her work as a nurse, Beth Quinn served as a partner with her husband, Kenneth, for 25 years in running the ambulance service and funeral home. A life member of Soroptimist International, she served as president of the Colfax chapter in 1968. "Never underestimate the power and 'can do' of a few women" was Mrs. Quinn's philosophy. Thanks in part to her "can do" spirit, the city of Colfax had a swimming pool and the caboose museum and the Colfax United Methodist Church enjoys its education wing. Beth Quinn was active with the Auburn Faith Hospital Foundation and shared her leadership skills as co-president of the Colfax High School parents organization and as a Camp Fire leader. Throughout her years of service to the community, Beth Quinn was a consummate fundraiser. According to daughter Kerri, she was the "veritable queen of rummage and raffle tickets." Among her many legacies are the Quinn Family Klowns. Throughout the years, she designed and created dozens of costumes for the troop. While in care July 4, 1998, the day before her passing, she had her toenails painted red, white and blue. Ken Quinn died Sept. 20, 2006 after a long illness at the age of 83. A Colfax resident for 53 years, Quinn connected to seemingly everyone in town. By then, family members said, anyone who knew Mr. Quinn knew his favorite saying: "You're never fully dressed without a smile." Today, Kendall is a pharmacist in Washington State, Kelly is a local artist who carries on the family tradition by helping out at the Sierra Vista Art Center, and Kerri Quinn Kuska is a sales representative in Carmichael.