Remembering Tom Andrak

Tom Andrak started his life as part of a good story on June 12, 1944 in Chicago, Illinois. His birth occurred in the back seat of a 1940 Ford in the front of his parent’s home! The future total car guy arrived in his own time on his own terms, a practice he would continue throughout his life.

His younger years included some school and then work in auto repair shops. Tom was a quick study and soon was building racecars and destroying and rebuilding parts at a pace that manufacturers could not comprehend. A factory sponsorship for his drag racing interest was soon in the works. He tested products from Ford in his racing efforts that benefitted the higher echelon teams of the day. The racing world took notice and soon he was working on cars for teams at the highest level of the sport working and driving for teams at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Daytona Beach, and Baja, California off-road races. He had a knack for speed and endurance.

He worked his way through the AAMCO repair chain and became one of their top talents and brand developers. This led him to his own repair shop. But at the age of 35, he retired from the automotive world, and a new beginning unfolded. He sold the shop and moved on to contracting his 4000-gallon water truck with the U.S. Forest Service to fight forest fires. He spent many months each year in Mexico during the off-season, sport fishing, among other things. He knew the Baja peninsula intimately from driving it countless times in various vehicles including pipe-cars he fabricated and Baja Bugs he adjusted to his own specifications. He drove from Milepost 1 on the Baja Peninsula to Milepost 1 in Homer, Alaska, relishing each pothole and speed bump of the ever-changing terrain. In later years, Alaska, in particular, held a special place in his heart.

Tom and Mary Jo moved to Washington State where they owned a mobile home park on Whidbey Island. Having met many fine friends they began to listen and learn about the wonders of the San Juan Islands and soon purchased property where they developed the land and built their home on Guemes Island. It was an experience in relationship building unlike any other in 51 years of marriage! The home and land reflects Tom in so many ways, from the custom paint and texture on the walls, to the beautiful grounds both groomed and wild.

Tom would host fireside chats in their outback where a gathering of friends would sit in one of the many Andrak Adirondak (AdirAndrak) chairs and listen intently. There were stories of his racing days, fishing stories both old and new, detailed accounts of the eagle he’d seen earlier that morning, or perhaps a description of his latest creation from a slab of locally milled wood, always detailing the impeccable grain, age, and soul of the wood. Some might have called these bullshit sessions, but nonetheless, those stories were the cornerstone of his being. He was the quintessential storyteller and could transport a crowd of people to the places he had been and right into the adventures he had experienced.

Tom enjoyed his paradise, seldom wishing to leave. He could be heard to say, “I don’t need to go to anywhere, because I didn’t leave anything there!” He tended their property with love and built trails to the top of Guemes Mountain to further enjoy the wonders of their island. Tom would walk almost daily to the top with a dog, a friend, or Mary Jo—sometimes he was tour guide, other times he was the local naturalist and, most importantly, he was always respectfully in awe of the beauty of the natural world around him.

We parted ways with Tom on August 31, when a bout of cancer became too much to bear, Tom passed peacefully, in the arms of his wife and surrounded by those who loved him, resting on the deck that overlooks the garden and orchard on their lovely Guemes property. He lived life his way and turned over the reins on his own terms when it was time to go.

He is survived by Mary Jo, his wife of 51 years, his two daughters, Dawnie (Tim Bailey) and Dana, two sisters, Marjorie Wolanik of Upland, CA and Susan Davis (Bob Davis) of Poway, CA, one brother, Noel Andrak of Grand Terrace, CA, many nieces and nephews and cousins, as well as countless friends that he loved as family.

There will be no memorial at this time but please think of Tom if you hike up the hill, hear an eagle cry, or take a drive around his beloved Guemes Island. He would also probably think it pretty cool if you made a point to sit in an Adirondack chair by a fire with friends playing music, laughing, drinking, and telling stories that probably have a semblance of truth but maybe not. And always have a kind word and a few pets for every dog you come across. And most importantly, share good food at a sturdy, well-built table that no matter how crowded always has room for one more friend.

Memorial donations can be made in Tom’s name to the Guemes Ferry Trail Project or Hospice North West.

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