Hundreds of mourners paid their respects in Darrington and Arlington on Saturday at memorial services for three people killed March 22 when a steep hillside gave way in Oso, swallowing up a neighborhood and a stretch of highway.
There were tributes and tears on both sides of the debris field that still divides the communities.
Honored Saturday were Linda McPherson, a retired Darrington librarian and longtime school board member; Summer Raffo, a hard-working young woman who loved caring for horses; and Joseph Miller, who cherished spending time in the outdoors with his father.
McPherson’s service was in the Darrington Community Center, the vintage gym that is “Home of the Loggers.”
“She was an amazing person,” said Eric McPherson, who described his mother as someone who cared deeply about children, education and her community.
McPherson, 69, was at home with her husband, Gary “Mac” McPherson, when the mudslide destroyed their home and sent him to the hospital.
Raffo, 36, had roots in Darrington but lived in Concrete. She was driving on Highway 530 to a job shoeing horses when the slide took her.
A small graveside service at Arlington Municipal Cemetery honored Miller, 47. The Oso man was home alone along Steelhead Drive. He had lived for many years with his father, Reed Miller. Together, they enjoyed fishing in the North Fork Stillaguamish River. When the slide hit, Reed Miller was in town buying groceries. His family described the younger Miller as “a very gentle, caring person.”
A generous spirit
Mac McPherson was among the large contingent of family and friends to honor Linda McPherson.
Toward the end of the service, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, who represents the 1st Congressional District, handed Mac McPherson a tightly folded U.S. flag that had flown over the Capitol.
Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory, executive director of Sno-Isle Libraries, said “Linda’s friends, co-workers and family have one thing in common. We saw her as one of us. And because of her large spirit, there was room for all of us.
“I am a better person for knowing and working with our friend Linda,” Woolf-Ivory said. McPherson had retired as branch manager of the Darrington Library in 2011 after working 28 years for Sno-Isle.
Pete Selvig, who served on the Darrington School Board with McPherson, said she accomplished things “by the book.”
She touched thousands of lives, inspiring children to read.
Selvig said McPherson never missed a day of school in her four years at Darrington High. At the University of Washington, she had hoped to study architecture, but Selvig said her adviser at the time told her women were not allowed in that program. She chose oceanography instead.
She met her husband in Nome, Alaska, while working on a research ship. After they married in 1969, they settled in Darrington to raise their children, Eric and Kate.
Eric McPherson said his mother began her library work as a volunteer in the Arlington Library. “She had a playpen in the back there so we wouldn’t have to go to day care,” he said.
Nephew Ira Mahlum recalled visiting his Aunt Linda at the place near Darrington that the family called “the farm.”
“I was 5 or 6, and I remember there were some pretty good fishing places there,” Mahlum said. He remembered his aunt telling him the best places to find worms — under “cowpies” in the pasture.
“She took time to listen and to share,” said Mahlum, who also recalled his aunt’s love of gardening. “She would work in the dirt and be at peace. She was at home with family, working in her yard.”
Amanda Klett said her great aunt was like a grandmother to her two young children. She said she would sometimes drop her little boy off for a visit with Linda and not get him back for several days. “She was like a grandma to me,” Klett said.
Selvig spoke for Linda McPherson’s husband, thanking the searchers who saved him.
Selvig then reminded McPherson’s children that their mother was by their father’s side on the day of the slide.
“Love him with all your hearts,” he said.
Harpists Mary Frank and Susan McLain, of the Seattle Music Association, played “The Rose,” “Danny Boy” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Robert McPherson, who is not related to the family, concluded the service with “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.
During the music, a video photo display showed Linda McPherson’s life, from school days and early years on the farm to her wedding and career.
Eric McPherson said many photographs were recovered from the slide debris. “The sacrifice of people in this room got those for us,” he said.
A happy tomboy
Across the debris fields two hours later and 31 miles away, more than 450 mourners gathered at the Gleneagle Country Club in Arlington to remember Raffo. The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Arlington was simply too small a venue.
On some level, the large turnout surprised her family. Summer had been a shy girl growing up. Even a yellow lab puppy named Buddy had to work his way into her good graces before the little girl would accept him as her friend. As she grew older, Raffo made friends in many circles, through church, her love of horses and working at a mill, on farms and in the schools.
A big bouquet of blue balloons filled a corner of the large meeting room where Scriptures and memories were shared Saturday afternoon. Blue was Raffo’s favorite color. It also was the color of her car that was buried in the mudslide and finally revealed itself five days later after a heavy rain. Raffo was the 17th victim to be recovered. Her brothers, surrounded by searchers, were allowed to remove her from the passenger seat and escort her to the helicopter.
Raffo was one of 13 children; biological and adopted. She learned early on how to hold her own with her older brothers Dayn and Jason Brunner. As a child, she shunned dolls and dressing up in favor of Tonka trucks, football and action figures.
“She was a major tomboy,” Jason Brunner said. “Everything my brother and I did, she had to do as well.”
As she grew older, her brothers tried to encourage her to be more girly. Jason went so far as to apply makeup to his own face to set an example. His sister was neither impressed nor swayed.
“Growing up with Summer, and meaning no disrespect, she was more like my little brother than my sister,” Jason said.
When it came to playing outdoors, Summer was always the first one to get dirty.
Several members of her family smartly dressed in suits and dresses wore Romeo slip-on work shoes in her honor Saturday.
Her mother, Rae Smith, hugged dozens of people who offered their condolences. Each embrace was long and heartfelt.
Afterwards she told the story of Raffo’s childhood interpretation of the Memorial, an annual day of observation in the Jehovah’s Witness faith. During that time, some followers partake of wine and unleavened bread.
Summer wanted her classmates to join her, but mixed up the details. Instead, she promised them whiskey and crackers.
“She invited her entire kindergarten class,” Smith said. “I always wondered what their parents must have been thinking when they heard about it.”
Outside the meeting room was a table covered in white cloth. On it was a box of Kleenex, a guest book, two flower pots and three framed photos of Raffo.
Behind the photos was a cardboard trifold that served as a scrapbook of her life.
Smith alternately smiled and welled up when she was asked about the different images.
There was a photo of a young Raffo innocently standing alongside a pig with her arm gently on its back. There was another of her, close to the same age, hugging a colt, dressed only in her underwear. Growing up on a farm, one didn’t have to dress up.
Smith paused on one photo in particular. It was taken on the day Raffo was brought home from the adoption agency. She was just a few months old.
Smith desperately had wanted a girl. She hadn’t slept the night before, her anticipation was so immense.
“Once they handed her to me, I just wanted to run because I was afraid they would want her back,” she said.
The baby she brought home that day became a hard-working and reliable young woman.
She remained Smith’s constant companion. In her entire 36 years, they were never apart for more than four days.
On the family farm in Darrington, Raffo helped raise Arabian horses and Yorkshire terriers. She split time between the farm and her husband, Joel Sundstrom, at their home in Concrete.
“I’m so sad,” Smith said. “But I need to remember that the entire community lost someone special, not just me.”