Rev. Ron Vignec, a Tacoma Lutheran minister who brought hope to a broken city, died Sunday at age 70 following an illness.
Founder of the Salishan/Eastside Lutheran Mission in Tacoma, Vignec cast a large presence and was at ease among gang members and churchgoers, professors and politicians.
“I think of Ron as a weaver,” said Rev. David Alger, a Presbyterian minister and former director of Associated Ministries of Tacoma-Pierce County. “He brought together different people and different areas so that they could work together and be together. He could cross those lines.”
Nancy Davis, a member of Vignec’s congregation, said Vignec kept food in his vehicle to share with the hungry.
“He would get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and go down on Pacific Avenue and talk to whoever he ran into on the streets,” she said. “He not only saw the best in people, but he helped them see the best in themselves.”
Vignec looked at the drugs and violence that plagued his beloved East Side and saw not just sinners but potential saints. He worked with community members to lower the crime rate in Salishan -- a once rundown housing project that has been rebuilt into a mix of public and market-rate housing.
He sought to prevent bloodshed as gang problems exploded in Tacoma, and he reached out to comfort crime victims and rehabilitate law breakers. In 2007, Vignec was honored with the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize.
Vignec helped lead the Moments of Blessing, a ritual sponsored by Associated Ministries, in which victims of violence are commemorated at the scenes where they died.
Rev. Tandi Rogers, now a growth strategist for the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association, met Vignec through her work in Tacoma with Associated Ministries. When she decided to enter the seminary a few years ago, she chose Vignec as her mentor.
Although their theologies differed, Rogers said she and Vignec often talked about something he called “radical love,” about “loving people where they are.”
“He was not a saint,” Rogers said. “But he saw the divinity in everybody.”
Vignec’s sermons drew from both the spiritual and the practical.
“He would have a Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other,” said congregant Sarah Shenefield.
Vignec rarely donned a traditional clerical collar. He dressed in jeans, denim jacket and -- for special occasions -- a colorful ministerial stole.
Friend Norma Levingston once supplemented Vignec’s street-casual wardrobe with a T-shirt that read “Bishop of Salishan.”
“He stirred people up,” she said, recalling how Vignec convinced her to overcome her shyness and take a seat on a housing authority board. “He was a people magnet. And he just opened so many doors for so many people.”
Vignec retired from active Lutheran ministry in 2009. Asked then about his legacy, Vignec said: “I don’t have one program you could attribute to my ministry in 24 years. My program is the community.”
Known simply as Pastor Ron -- possibly so people could avoid mispronouncing his French last name (pronounced vin YECK) -- the Brooklyn native answered a calling in 1980 to be a campus chaplain at Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland.
“Students gravitated to Ron as someone with whom they could easily identify,” recalled Rev. Ron Tellefson, also a retired pastor from PLU.
After he left the university in 1985 to found the Salishan Mission, Vignec maintained close ties to the campus, mentoring students and helping them with service projects. PLU administrator Vicky Winters said that whenever traumatic events struck the college community, Vignec would show up, offering to counsel anyone in need.
“There was an open-arm kind of feeling you always got from him,” Winters said.
Vignec is survived by wife Nancy and two adult children.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 email@example.com @DebbieCafazzo