Russian River residents mourn the loss of ‘mayor’ Nick Ballinger

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Resources to help

North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373

NAMI Sonoma County warmline: 707-527-6655

Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181

For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org

Nick Ballinger wasn’t really the mayor of Guerneville. But the seasoned bartender seemed to know all that was going on in and about the incorporated, mayorless lower Russian River town, and he seemed to like and be liked by everybody.

“He was irrepressible,” summed up his mother, Debbie Ballinger, formerly of west Sonoma County and now a resident of Lewiston, Idaho.

Longtime friend Amber Cooper echoed others close to Ballinger when she called him “a very sociable person. Outgoing. Super friendly.

“To know Nick was to like him,” added Cooper, a friend of Ballinger for a quarter of a century.

Word that Ballinger died May 29 from suicide at 40 broke hearts all along the lower river.

Pal since age 8, Drew Sheets wrote an ode to Ballinger that declares in part, “Nick was West County pure 100%” ... “if he loved you, he’d fight for you till no end” ... “to us he was family afflicted by demons” ... “We did what we could help cure his strife, I told him the struggle was the best part of life” ... “trust me when I say it was one hell of a ride.”

Hundreds of people caravaned from Ballinger’s old stomping grounds between Graton and Forestville for a high-spirited and emotional send-off to him June 1 at the Blue Heron bar and restaurant in Duncans Mills.

Ballinger had worked the bar there for a time, also at other watering holes along the river. Most recently he was at the Appy Room in Guerneville.

He was born in Santa Rosa on Sept. 12, 1978. The kids he hung out and traveled with called themselves the Graton Boys.

After graduating Forestville’s El Molino High School in 1996, Ballinger worked in construction and for heating and air-conditioning contractors. He began tending bar, and stuck with it.

Friends and relatives recall a personable, curious and passionate spirit who devoured novels from the likes of John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Lee Child.

“Reading was definitely a big thing,” said sister Deanna Davis, who lives in American Canyon.

Another of Ballinger’s qualities was the way he lit up around kids. Davis thinks he came by his affinity with youngsters through the years his mother provided daycare in their west county home.

“He always loved kids and every kid loved him,” Davis said.

Her brother was a lifelong fan, too, of Hollywood musicals. And he was wildly loyal to the San Francisco Giants, the Oakland Raiders, the Golden State Warriors, the San Jose Sharks and the Manchester United soccer club.

At the celebration of his life at the Blue Heron, friends showed off their pairs of his favorite shoe, the low-tip Converse Chuck Taylor sneaker.

In addition to his sister and his mother, Ballinger is survived by his father, Lynn Ballinger, of Lewiston, Idaho, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.

You can contact Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

Resources to help

North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373

NAMI Sonoma County warmline: 707-527-6655

Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181

For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org

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