Photo courtesy of the Sweeney family
Jim Sweeney, owner of Alki Lumber, seen here at the helm of his boat, died on Feb. 5, 2012. A vigil will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe (OLG) Catholic Church 7000 35th Avenue Southwest in Seattle on Saturday, February 11 at 7pm and funeral mass at OLG on Sunday, February 12 at 2pm. A reception celebrating Jim’s life and legacy will follow at the Hall at Fauntleroy. CLICK THE PHOTO ABOVE TO SEE MORE

West Seattle icon Jim Sweeney has passed away; Services set for Feb. 11

Family and employees of Alki Lumber shared their stories and memories of him

A West Seattle icon, Jim Sweeney, passed away on Sunday, February 5. He was 73. Sweeney was a fixture in West Seattle and owned Alki Lumber since 1959.
Friends and family gathered at the store at 4422 36th s.w. on Monday to plan services and recalled a man of strength, wisdom, loyalty and kindness.

Son-in-law Matt Pedersen, Sweeney's best friend Dean Boender and other employees talked about his life and their memories of him. Alki Lumber was founded in 1921 by Sweeney's grandfather, and then operated by his father Bill Sweeney, Boender recalled. Boender grew up with Sweeney in West Seattle, was born only four months apart, and remembers a bike race they were in together as kids.


"Hi-Yu used to have a race that started out at Duwamish Head and went around Beach Drive up Marine View Drive and into 35th s.w. Jim and I were at a disadvantage. We had one speed bikes, the guys who came in first second and third had three speed bikes. This was in about 1952. It was the middle of August and it was hot, so we stopped and went into a guys yard to get some water from his sprinkler and ended up coming in eighth and ninth."

Sweeney was small for his age Boender said but he was always a leader, and played quarterback for more than one club team, growing in stature as he grew older.

Boender continued, "I was his right hand guy for fifty years. If I ever needed money, he was the type of guy who'd give it to me without question. then you made sure you paid it back in a timely manner. We got to be good friends in High School and graduated in 1957. Three days out of high school Jim and I joined the army and they had a program back then with 6 months active duty and 3 1/2 years of reserve and your obligation was over.
Back then it was a good deal. Then if you went on to college, which we did, you didn't have to take ROTC."

In 1959 Jim, took over the business when his father died. "At the time he was training to be an Olympic skier, " said Pedersen, "but he gave that up and college too to come and run the business."

Boender said, "Jim and I were sophomores at University of Washington in 1959. His dad and mom had gone to Oregon to a Husky football game and Jim's dad had a heart attack. Jim quit school and took over the company in October."

Sweeney maintained his love of skiing and he and famous ski film maker Warren Miller became close friends too, Pedersen recalled. "They did a lot of crazy things together, living in their cars. They were ski bums and went to Sun Valley.
He was an excellent skier and that's what he loved. He and Judy lived in Sun Valley during the winter months. Skiing was their life."

Pedersen recalled Sweeney's sense of humor and time spent together. "He kept me laughing all the time. He was my go to guy. He was my friend and when his wife worked, she was a flight attendant for United Airlines, he'd always call Lynn, my wife and I and it was always Joe Banana's Pizza or the New Luck Toy. Jim had spots and he always went to his spots. It was a bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and good conversation." Pederson's five year old daughter told him, "I'm really going to miss Papa Jim calling me 'Sport'' and Pederson's son R.J. said, "I guess the one good thing is I get to raise my hand and say a special prayer for him."

Pedersen acknowledged Sweeney's well known staunch support for U.S. Troops and his strong patriotism. The location of Alki Lumber at the entry to West Seattle was a perfect place for him to display signage, or billboards declaring his belief in support of the military and conservative politics.

Another son in law John Guthrie, also a firefighter in West Seattle noted that when Judy worked for the airline it made it possible for the couple to travel extensively which they both enjoyed.

Guthrie and Pedersen both mentioned that Sweeney, a life long sports fan, maintained a well known football pool that hundreds of friends kept in touch with regardless of distance. "He would put one in for Judy and his dogs," Pedersen said with a chuckle, "I don't think he ever won." They also recalled that Sweeney never attended a game at Safeco Field despite having tickets, preferring instead to give them away.

15 year employee Jim Hunt said, "Jim was a great guy to work for. He's going to be greatly missed. I've been in the industry 28 years and he was the best guy to work for. The place we work is a hard working place and he was a hard working guy himself. He raised the level of people. When the owner climbs three piles of lumber you have to do it too."

Linda Gordon said. "I loved him. He was like a father figure to me," she said choking back tears.

Tom Krist said, "He was an awesome guy. Always there for you. I remember the first day I worked here. It was in the summer. It was like a hundred degrees and I'm hustling and he's hustling and I'm pouring down sweat and he's problem, even at 62 years old. He ran circles around me that day. He's always been there for me and helped me out quite a bit."

"Jim was a guy of second chances," recalled Dan Golden "there are a lot of guys here who had problems and he stood by them and helped them and got them back on the straight path again. To me he was as close to being a dad as anyone. When my dad passed away he stepped in. Jim and Judy were my parents at my wedding. When I was 13 here I was sweeping up the yard and I earned fifty bucks. He asked me 'What are you going to do with that?' and I didn't know so he put me in his car and we went to the bank and opened up my first account. Then he said, 'I tell you what. I'll match it.' He was also a wealth of knowledge on so many things. I can imagine there were thousands of people who asked him for advice. But he was humble about it. He was the man."

Here's the text of the obituary:
James Brandon Sweeney, 73, of West Seattle died peacefully with his family by his side on Sunday, February 5, 2012 at Swedish Hospital. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. Jim was born in Seattle on December 30, 1938 and grew up in West Seattle.

He graduated from West Seattle High School in 1957. He is survived by his by his wife of 47 years, Judy and their two daughters, Lisa (John Guthrie) and Lynn (Matt Pedersen), five grandchildren, his sister Karin (Don Boos) and many loving nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and a long list of friends. Jim owned and operated Alki Lumber for over 50 years.

The business was founded by his grandfather in 1921. He was an avid, expert skier and enjoyed traveling the world with Judy by his side. Among his greatest gifts, above all, were his generosity, patience and incredible wisdom that touched many lives.

A vigil will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe (OLG) Catholic Church 7000 35th Avenue Southwest in Seattle on Saturday, February 11 at 7pm and funeral mass at OLG on Sunday, February 12 at 2pm. A reception celebrating Jim’s life and legacy will follow at the Hall at Fauntleroy. In lieu of flowers the family suggests memorial contributions to the West Seattle Pee Wee Baseball or the Medic One Foundation.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.