Family, friends remember Jim Morasch (w/ gallery)

PASCO -- After Jim Morasch's car was hit last month in north Franklin County, his family sat at his bedside and hoped for "a perfect ending."

But sadly, the longtime Tri-Cities Airport director couldn't overcome the severity of his injuries and died Feb. 3.

Saturday, his son Adam Morasch told about 400 family, friends and colleagues that his dad now "is in a better place." He described his father as "compassionate, caring, kind, generous, a little ornery at times but, most important, he was loving.

"One of the most painful things we have to do in life is letting go. ... We hold sadness inside and try to mask it with a show of happiness," Adam Morasch said while holding back tears. "Life is about not knowing, having to change, and taking the best and making the most of it."

A celebration of life was held for Jim Morasch, 68, in a new hangar just up the road from his office of 30 years.

Outside the large building, several members of ACES, or American Citizens Encouraging Support, stood in the parking lot with American flags. Inside, government officials and business and community leaders from across the Northwest gathered for the 45-minute service to recognize Morasch's many successes.

"We all counted Jim as a friend, and we're all here because we're fans of Jim," said friend and service organizer Mike Berriochoa. "The world is a better place for Jim having been here. I know that everything that was good in Jim will live on in the lives he touched."

The stories spanned decades: Morasch's childhood in Colfax and a failed attempt to fly off the garage roof with homemade wings; his days as a Dustoff pilot flying rescue missions in Vietnam; his career as an airport director helping Pasco's facility expand to meet the growing needs of travelers; and his volunteer work on community boards and organizations.

And through all that Morasch, with his wife, Launa, "built a beautiful family that is his lasting legacy," said Charles "Chip" Barclay, president of the American Association of Airport Executives.

Morasch is survived by Launa, sons Dave and Adam, daughter Jodi, and five grandchildren.

Morasch was headed to work Jan. 25 when his car was hit by a pickup on Taylor Flats Road, about a mile north of Selph Landing Road.

The truck's driver, Rafael Santiago-Cruz, 36, of Richland, apparently lost control on a patch of ice. He died at the scene of the head-on collision.

Morasch was taken to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, then transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment of his injuries, which included multiple broken bones. He died nine days later.

In addition to being with the Tri-Cities Airport since 1980, Morasch was a board member of Kadlec Health System and Kadlec Regional Medical Center and had held various offices, including chairman, with the American Association of Airport Executives.

"We knew Jim as the master of the airport," said Port of Pasco Commissioner Bill Clark. There wasn't a foot of wire, a screw, a bolt or a light that Morasch didn't know about at the facility, he said.

Morasch's amazing strength was his ability to think clearly in all levels of his life, along with his temperament, sense of decorum and nerves of steel, Clark said. Morasch got his pilot's license before his driver's license.

"I was envious of his flying career and knowledge of aviation," he said.

Rand Wortman, president and CEO of Kadlec Health System, shared some comments from people within the parent company and its subsidiaries. They described Morasch as a wise and genuine man who was confident in his leadership, had "a commitment to doing the right thing," and "worried about the hospital's finances like it was his own money."

"We already miss him," Wortman said.

Dave Parhalo was another Dustoff pilot who met Morasch in March 1967. He flew out from Florida for Saturday's service.

"Jim was a great person, a great friend and a great pilot and I will miss him," Parhalo told the crowd before he was overcome with emotion.

Barclay said there are 5,000 airport managers all over the country, and Morasch was one of only a handful who get to be elected chairman of the national association's board.

"Jim just has an openness about him and a gentleness about his being that made people want to be friends with him," Barclay said. He was impeccable in everything he did, wise in dealing with problems and had "unbreakable loyalty to people and institutions that were fortunate enough for him to pay attention to."

Berriochoa gave Launa Morasch a flag that his son, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dan Berriochoa with the Army, recently flew for 12 hours in Afghanistan in tribute to Jim Morasch.

Before taps was played and Army personnel presented an American flag to the family, Adam Morasch recalled his dad's favorite saying from the movie Madagascar.

"Just smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave," he quoted. "Dad, we are all smiling and looking back at you, buddy."

* Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com