Bob DeYoung with his wife, Julie, worked long days at the site and said the community would never be the same.

Hero remembered for ‘bringing them home’ after Oso mudslide

Darrington’s Bob DeYoung was a family man, a former police officer, a logging company owner, a hunting guide and a race car driver. Many knew him as a giant teddy bear with a great smile.

His death on Feb. 24, a tragedy for his family and a big loss in his community, has stirred memories of the area’s most sorrowful time — the aftermath of the Oso mudslide. DeYoung, who died of a heart attack at age 50, is now being honored as a true hero.

As the owner-operator of DeYoung Logging &Tree Service in Darrington, he volunteered countless hours of labor and his equipment in the overwhelming task of searching the mudslide site. It took months for the last of the 43 victims to found. DeYoung was part of that recovery, and returned to families personal mementoes found in the mud.

Shortly after the killer slide, which occurred March 22, 2014, loggers were going into the mud and giving their all despite government agencies’ early efforts to stop them.

“We know the country and the guys that are blocking the roads don’t,” DeYoung told The New York Times in an article published several days after the slide. Herald writers told the community’s story in “The Rising,” a special section published that May.

Ian D’Ambrosia was part of the official response. He remembers DeYoung. A firefighter with Woodinville Fire &Rescue, D’Ambrosia is also on a Federal Emergency Management Agency urban search-and-rescue team. From early- to mid-April 2014, his FEMA team worked on the Darrington side of the slide.

“I had the honor of working with Bob on his excavator,” D’Ambrosia wrote in comments accompanying his donation to an online fund-raising effort to help the DeYoung family.

“Bob was up there from the very beginning,” D’Ambrosia said Friday. “It was the people of Oso and those equipment operators who were the absolutely true heroes of that whole thing. Bob DeYoung was one of them. He was humble, compassionate and generous.”

DeYoung, whose memorial service was Saturday in Darrington, is survived by his wife, Julie DeYoung; parents Bob and Kathy Gambill; sons Cory and Zack DeYoung; daughters Farrah Graesser, Emily and Elizabeth Kerner; brother Tracy DeYoung; sisters Chris Monroe and Tiffany Ketchum; and five grandchildren.

He made his home in Darrington, but had roots in the Everett area, a place people in the upper Stilly Valley call “Down below.” A 1983 graduate of Mariner High School, DeYoung’s first career was law enforcement. He served with the Arlington Police Department for about five years in the 1990s.

A hunting enthusiast, DeYoung owned High Lonesome Outfitters. Working with his son, Cory, he offered guided hunting trips in Wyoming.

Rhonda Lundquist, who lives near Arlington, went to school with DeYoung in Everett. After the mudslide, she helped at the Oso Fire Station gathering donations for volunteers. “He was a real happy guy, a teddy bear, and just really compassionate,” said Lundquist, whose husband raced with DeYoung at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe.

Doug Hobbs is the owner and president of Evergreen Speedway. DeYoung was known at the speedway as Bobby DeYoung. He drove in NASCAR mini stock races. His car’s number was 65.

“He was a bigger-than-life person,” Hobbs said. “We gave him the Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2014 for his work in the Oso mudslide.” As a tribute, Hobbs said, the annual speedway honor will now be called the Bobby DeYoung Humanitarian of the Year Award.

“He was a big-hearted, caring person,” Hobbs said. “He really enjoyed hunting and fishing. He was a great family man, someone who put a smile on your face.”

Shari Brewer, whose husband, Ron Brewer, owns an Arlington logging company, remembers when officials tried to keep the loggers out of the slide area. Told they could be arrested, Brewer said the loggers’ response was, “These are friends and family. We are going in.”

“Bob DeYoung is an example of every logger who was out there,” she said. “They love life. They love their families. I think it was unanimous among the loggers — we’re not leaving until we bring them all home.”

DeYoung said as much in a 2014 interview aired on “IN Close,” a KCTS-9 public affairs program. He and his wife questioned each other for the episode titled “Voices of the Oso Landslide: The Emotional Toll.”

Julie DeYoung asked her husband: “What do you want people to understand about what everyone’s been through here?” His answer was: “The biggest thing is what God has shown he can do in recovering every lost person. Eight survivors and 43 people have been recovered or found. What disaster do you know of where they find everybody? It doesn’t happen.”

In DeYoung, D’Ambrosia saw true heroism.

“I won’t forget it, and I won’t forget those operators,” he said. “As a firefighter, I’m bound by all these rules and regulations. They were putting it all on the line for their community. That’s how we should all treat each other.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

How to help

After Darrington’s Bob DeYoung died of a heart attack Feb. 24, an online fundraiser was started to help the family with expenses. Donations may be made at: www.gofundme.com/t7rgjebg

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