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City council candidate Ken Toline a patriot, servant
October 23, 2017
Though his name is on the ballot for the November 7 election in the only contested race in the Bonners Ferry City Council election, Ken Toline is not a politician. He professes no political party affiliation. He is not, he confesses, a “local.”

He is, he said, a patriot, a servant.

Five days after graduating high school in 1968, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy; a chest full of medals earned through a storied military career as a Navy Corpsman gives credence to his claim as a patriot.

Retiring after 26 years, with three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a 90-percent disability from wounds sustained while treating and delivering “his” Marines to safety, and looking for something a bit less heart-wrenching than medicine, he was in his last semester at the University of Nebraska and within touching distance of a degree in education when his government again called on him to serve.

He wasn't at the federal building tending his duties as Officer in Charge of Alien Records at Immigration and Naturalization for the New York District on the morning of September 11, 2001, but he and his wife felt the impact deeply.

He met Brenda while she was tending his mother through the ravages of cancer as an oncology nurse.

He and Brenda, married for 23 years now, both wanted to be able to step away from careers that carried so high an emotional price, and they searched the United States for a place they could call “home,” a place they could feel safe and secure.

Brenda Toline
A place where they could give to their community, where they could be part of something bigger than themselves.

“My wife and I wanted to find a safe and secure place to live,” he said. “We found Bonners Ferry. We have been here for 14 years now, and have been active in assimilating into this community. I am the first to admit that I am not inherently connected to Bonners Ferry. I am not here for any other reason than a very conscious choice to be here. I have frequently had locals refer to me as an outsider.”

“After 26 years of serving this country, I believe I have earned the right to live anywhere within its borders and call it my home. I cannot change the fact that I was not born and raised here. All I can tell you is why I chose to come here and call this my home. The impact of 9/11 caused me to question a lot of things in my life and it solidified my belief that freedom isn’t free.

“I thought a lot about the 26 years that I served in the military to preserve and protect the American way of life and I wanted to find a place that allowed me to realize what it meant to truly live that life. Again, I call Bonners Ferry my home because it is a conscious choice for me to live here.”

He and his wife made a home, and opened a business they could work together. “All Gussied Up,” a store on David Thompson Way near Three Mile that offered up-cycled furniture and home décor, became too successful, requiring a greater commitment of time and energy than either wanted to give, and taking away from their ability to grow and give back to the community they adopted.

“Doc” Toline had also joined American Legion Post 55, and it wasn't long before he was chosen by his fellow Legionnaires as Vice Commander, then Commander, a post he now holds. He has been a regular presence at some of the community's most cherished events, especially Veteran's Day and Memorial Day.

He was hired to assist in coaching the Bonners Ferry Badgers football team, a position he was uniquely qualified for by disposition, experience and education. And like all who serve because of an unexplainable compulsion, he insists he received much more than he ever gave.

“I met many young men during that time who demonstrated some of the greatest potential I had not experienced since the military,” he said. “There was a 'we gotta win at all costs' mindset when I arrived. I didn't care what was on the scoreboard, but did my best to instill in the players that when they walked off the field, they walked off feeling good about what they gave and the person they are.”

A staunch advocate of his fellow veterans, he appreciates being able to assist them in any way he can. He serves them as the Chairman of the newly reestablished Boundary County Veterans Relations Board. This board focuses on the relationship of the veterans and their civilian counterparts, and places emphasis on the problems and concerns shared by both. The greatest concern at present is the staggering number of our veterans who commit suicide daily.

“I believe in taking care of our own,” he said. “We have to look out for one another. Sometimes, even our government lets us down.”

These add credence to his assertion that he is a servant.

“I have nothing but respect for my opponent,” he said. “No matter which one of us wins, the people of this community will be well served.”

That statement proves beyond a doubt that he is not a politician.

When he needed to fill a vacancy on the city council, Mayor David Sims recalled a conversation they had.

“Two or three years ago, we were talking and he mentioned an interest in serving,” he said. “Nothing specific, just a general statement. And he has a record of public service. The Navy, coaching, his work on behalf of veterans. Community service is part of what he is. I felt his commitment would benefit the city, and he has done an excellent job.”

When offered the nomination, Ken said, the first question he asked himself was “why me?”

“Nobody here knows me,” he said. “So I asked myself, 'Can I do the job? Can I serve?'”

Able to answer “yes” to both questions, he accepted the nomination, and Ken Toline took his seat on the Bonners Ferry City Council in January, to serve the remainder of the term held by Connie Wells. He is now running for a two year term against challenger Valerie Thompson.

“Even if I lose, I will still serve; my veterans especially,” he said. “What I bring to the table is an outside perspective, a great amount of life experience, leadership that has been proven time and time again, commitment and dedication to cause, devotion to duty, willingness to sacrifice, honesty and integrity, and the desire to continue to serve. I gave blood and bone to this great country, and I will give what is necessary to ensure the prosperity, the safety and the continued growth of this community.”

Ken said he appreciates Mayor Sims' approach to governance and that he has enjoyed being part of the process.

“Dave focuses on the community and its people,” he said. “No matter where you are, you need two things to feel at home; security and safety. In the City of Bonners Ferry, we have an excellent police department. We have an excellent water system and water department, we have the Moyie Dam to generate our electricity and an excellent electric department. We are committed to providing these basics so our people can depend on them and focus on themselves and their families and pursue their goals. In pursuing their goals and dreams, our citizens make our community stronger.”

What he likes about those who serve with him in conducting the business of the city is their forward thinking.

“We look ahead to where we will be in five years, in ten years and beyond,” he said. “What do we need to do to make sure we preserve the basic needs of our citizens, to promote their well-being? We are thinking about these things now.

“In the nine months since my appointment to the city council, I recognize the fact that our city has some significant issues that impact both our present and future way of life. I can see where some tough decisions will need to take precedence and we need a commitment to solutions that benefit the interest of the community as a whole. One thing I can assure you of is this; the military not only prepares you but it also requires you to make decisions that are for the highest good of the collective whole. You make tough decisions, often times they are life and death decisions, and they will impact your unit and possibly thousands of people.

“There is absolutely no place for self-serving decisions, nor do you make decisions that benefit a select few at the expense of the public’s higher good. I understand why people call me an outsider, but truly the advantage to the community is that it allows me to be impartial. I can serve as a city councilman in true service to the people and community as a whole.”

He can't help but see the shuttered shops and closed business when he walks around town, or notice all the skill and talent he came to appreciate so much while coaching the Badgers.

“It hurts seeing these talented kids having little choice but to leave our community to earn a living,” he said. “It's us older folks who are going to have to decide if we're going to stay as a bedroom community, a place to retire, or will we prosper? What kind of legacy are we going to leave for them?

“I chose to live in Bonners Ferry because I value the life that exists in this community. It is my desire to preserve and protect that way of life. While being true to this I am also open to ways that our lives can be enriched, and the potential for improved prosperity for all who live here. That is my purpose in running for city council.”
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