Oso mudslide claimed couple who loved quiet life by the river

Jerry and Gloria Halstead, who spent their work lives at the Everett Boeing plant, took an RV to Alabama after retiring. Gloria Halstead’s daughter lives there with her family. The couple stayed down south until the specter of hurricanes sent them home to Snohomish County.

“The second hurricane season they were here, a couple hurricanes came pretty close. That was it — they were just going back. I don’t blame them,” said Sonja Rew, Gloria Halstead’s daughter.

The Halsteads died in the March 22 Oso mudslide.

“They really found a home, and loved it,” Rew said last week from Fairhope, Ala., a town on Mobile Bay near the Gulf Coast.

That beautiful place her mother and stepfather loved was on East Steelhead Drive, along the North Fork Stillaguamish River. Jerry Lee Halstead, 75, and Gloria Jean Halstead, 67, were staying in a mobile home. Rew said they had lived about five years on the river property, where at first they stayed in an RV.

After flooding occurred several years ago, Rew said the couple made a deal with the property owners to move into the mobile home, which was on higher ground.

“They were where they wanted to be, right on the river. They always talked about living on a river, from the time I was young and we went camping,” said Rew, 45, who grew up in Everett and attended Mariner High School.

The Halsteads had been married 32 years. Rew, who called Jerry Halstead “Dad,” said she was about 12 when the couple met. Within months of their meeting, they were married.

They loved the outdoors, and the quiet life at their riverside home, Rew said.

Jerry Halstead was a fisherman and hunter. “He just enjoyed the woods, and walking his dog,” Rew said. Their last dog she remembers was a dachshund named Oscar.

While Rew was growing up, the family took camping trips. A favorite destination was Jameson Lake “out in the boondocks of Eastern Washington,” Rew said. “Jerry loved to fish. Usually it was trout.”

As they got older, the Halsteads switched from tent camping to the comforts of an RV.

“My mom enjoyed jigsaw puzzles, bonfires by the river, drinking coffee out there, and walking through the woods,” Rew said.

Gloria Halstead was also an avid reader who liked mysteries and thrillers. “And playing cribbage — she was cutthroat. Play with her, you learned very quickly you had to pay attention,” Rew said.

She described the couple as quite opinionated. “My mom had her opinions, but she was very sweet. I chose not to debate too much with her,” Rew said. “She had strong political beliefs. We agreed to disagree.”

Rew has a brother, Manfred Key Jr. And she said Jerry Halstead is survived by four sons and a daughter. Together, the Halsteads had a dozen grandchildren, she said.

One grandson, 20-year-old Brandon Halstead of Arlington, used to ride a dirt bike on a trail between Oso and Darrington while visiting the couple.

On his Facebook page, he posted a picture of himself as a boy with his grandfather, his brother and two cousins. Jerry Halstead had taken the boys shooting. “We were target practicing. I never got the chance to go hunting with him. It’s one of the good memories I have,” he said, adding that the photo was recovered from the mudslide.

Brandon Halstead also said he tried to volunteer with the search effort. Soon after the disaster, he and some friends hiked from Lake Riley to Oso, but ended up at a roadblock. They weren’t allowed in the slide area.

Gloria Halstead was born in Germany, where her father was stationed in the military. Raised in the Seattle area and Tacoma, she attended a Catholic high school, her daughter said.

In her high school graduation portrait, Gloria Phelps is wearing 1960s cat-eye glasses and a string of pearls. “It was a picture that survived the mudslide,” Rew said.

On April 13, Rew joined the Halstead family in Arlington for a private memorial gathering. “It’s sad that it took something like that for all of us to get together. We were able to connect,” she said.

In an online comment, Rew wrote that the family had scattered the couple’s ashes. “You and Jerry would love the spot, it is everything you loved. The mountains and the water. Love you forever and always.”

When the disaster happened, she said, the couple “were where they really wanted to be.”

“If someone came up to tell them they needed to move because there was going to be a mudslide, I think they would have laughed,” she said. “That was their spot. The fact that they’re together, we can’t ask for more.”

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

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