BOTHELL — When Ron deQuilettes came home from missionary work overseas, his suitcases had strange, foreign smells and held little more than gifts for his four children and his wife.
“He’d leave with full suitcases, and he’d come back with only the clothes he was wearing, because he’d given everything away,” said his son, Arie deQuilettes.
An electrician by trade, Ron was a very hands-on person. Working overseas with orphans and others in need gave him the opportunity to put his Christianity into practice.
“He loved to help others,” said his wife, La Rae deQuilettes.
Ron also loved to work, and he was a perfectionist. He wouldn’t stop until a job was completed to his high standards, she said.
The 52-year-old Bothell man was working at a home owned by Larry and Sandy Miller, of Everett, the morning of March 22. The Millers also died in the slide.
“When he left, I said, ‘I love you. Be safe. And text me when you get there,’” La Rae recalled. “He said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be bringing money home tonight.’”
The family has struggled since the recession and they lost several real estate investments.
As with any challenge they encountered in the 31 years they were married, their faith carried them through their financial troubles.
Ron texted La Rae at about 8:30 a.m. to say he’d arrived at the Millers’ home. “I’m here starting to work.”
When he didn’t come home and she learned that a landslide had buried the neighborhood he was working in, La Rae turned to her faith.
She and the couple’s oldest daughter, Ashlee Staub, had gone to an emergency shelter in Arlington after the Oso mudslide because it was “better than sitting at home,” La Rae said.
Emergency officials had no news for them, though, and Ron’s family was left to “wait, hope, try not to lose faith,” she said.
Days turned to weeks as hundreds of searchers scoured the area looking for the bodies of the 41 people killed in the landslide. But it was weeks before officials had news for the deQuilettes family.
Ron was born in Onstwedde, Netherlands. His family moved to the U.S. when he was about seven years old.
To learn English, he would sit with his sister, two brothers and parents around a table in their new home, listening to English-language tapes.
He lost his Dutch accent, but he never lost the Dutch-Indonesian culture he grew up in.
“I married Ron and a new culture,” La Rae said.
He shared his cultural background with their children. Every Dec. 6, they celebrated the arrival of Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, who leaves candy in the shoes of children who’ve been good.
“What you tried to do was put out the biggest shoes, so we borrowed Dad’s (size 14) shoes,” Ashlee said.
The visit of Sinterklaas early in the month made it easier for the family to focus more on the religious meaning of Christmas.
To make ends meet, the family earned extra income selling Christmas trees. They had a lot near the intersection of 214th Street and the Bothell-Everett Highway, and every year Ron would set up an elaborate nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ.
“That was probably his favorite part of Christmas, building those nativity scenes for everyone to see,” Arie said.
Ron was a deeply devoted father, making it to nearly every single soccer and basketball game. But he could sometimes be strict and intensely focused, family members said.
“I probably went to him more for advice in the last year than I had in my entire life before that,” Arie said.
He said he found himself dropping by his parents’ home at night just to say hello.
Ron softened when his youngest, Audra, 16, was born. And again with the birth of his first grandchild, Aiden.
Now 7-years-old, Aiden had a special relationship with his “Opa” — Dutch for grandfather. The two could play for hours building elaborate fantasy islands with volcanoes, oceans and jungles.
When his kids were younger, deQuilettes would help them build elaborate, multi-level tree forts with ziplines.
He loved working with his hands. And he had a richly creative mind, never short of ideas for new gadgets or ways to improve on existing systems.
When he had a particularly good idea, he would document it, put it in a manila envelope that he would seal with a notarized date. That way he could prove he thought of the idea if he ever tried to patent it.
Daughter Allyn deQuilettes inherited his creative mind, and keeps a notebook for jotting down her own inventions.
Like her siblings, she spent a lot of time on construction sites growing up.
“Every nail you find, you’d get a penny,” Allyn said.
Ron insisted they all knew their way around construction tools.
“All of us can build something with a hammer and nails,” Ashlee said.
She recently worked with her father setting up and running displays at local home and garden shows.
For the first time, they were working as partners, not as a parent and child. They had a lot of time to talk, and sometimes the conversation strayed to very personal topics, including how he wanted to be buried — in a casket beside La Rae at a cemetery outside Port Angeles, where she grew up. Their plot overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“You can see Canada on a clear day,” La Rae said.
After the slide, the family struggled with nagging doubt: Would they have a body to bury?
La Rae went to Arlington nearly every day, hoping to get any new information. She became a familiar face to many of the emergency response officials.
On April 16, a chaplain arrived at La Rae’s and Ron’s home. Her husband was found.
“His clothes, his wallet, his wedding ring, they found all of it with him,” La Rae said.
His funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Christian Faith Center in Everett. A memorial also will be held from 3-5 p.m. Sunday at Bethany Pentecostal Church in Port Angeles.
He is survived by his wife, La Rae, 51; children, Ashlee Staub, 29, Allyn, 27, Arie, 23, and Audra, 16; grandsons Aiden and Dylan Staub; his parents, Frits and Gerda, of Phoenix; a sister and two brothers.
The weekend before the slide, about 30 friends and family members crammed into Ashlee’s apartment in Seattle for Aiden’s birthday.
“He told me he was proud of me, and he told everyone there how proud he was of all his children,” Ashlee said.