Smokey Point playground renovated in boys’ memory

SMOKEY POINT — They remembered two little boys Tuesday with love and generosity and the joyful noise of children at play.

Hunter and Wyatt Ruthven were among the youngest victims of the March 22 Oso mudslide. The brothers, 6 and 4, died along with their parents and two of their grandparents when the hill swept away their home along the banks of the North Fork Stillaguamish River.

At the Northwest Children’s School in Smokey Point, where the boys had attended preschool classes, surviving family and friends gathered Tuesday to dedicate a renovated playground in their memory.

There were tears, but also whoops of delight as children clambered over a new climbing cave and into a multi-story fort outfitted with a slide and bars.

“Seeing all these kids playing, it is like ‘Wow!’” said the boys’ grandmother, Karen Pszonka.

The idea for the memorial playground came during a talk over coffee one day a few months back, she said. It captivated many who knew the active Ruthven boys, including their grandfather, Tom Pszonka, a retired Snohomish County sheriff’s sergeant.

Education was important to the Pszonkas’ daughter, Katie Ruthven, and her husband, Shane, the crowd was told Tuesday.

Working with the teachers and others at the school to make the memorial happen has been a blessing, Tom Pszonka said.

“Our hearts go out to them. I appreciate them,” he said.

Visitors on Tuesday were told how the Ruthven boys loved to balance on the sidewall of a giant truck tire set in the playground’s wood chips. They scooted about in circles.

The tire was still there Tuesday. Just feet away sat a new bench inscribed with the message: “In memory of Hunter and Wyatt Ruthven. Forever in our hearts. 3-22-14.”

Students have struggled to understand what happened to the boys, school owner and director Kathy Ruesken said.

“They were both very loving,” she said. “They were the kind of kids everyone wanted to play with.”

Money for the memorial playground was raised through donations. A total of $12,943 in costs were covered using funds gathered for Oso slide relief by United Way of Snohomish County. In addition, United Way has earmarked $5,000 for a scholarship in Katie Ruthven’s memory at the University of Washington. It will go to students from Mill Creek and Arlington, where she grew up and became a mom running a business with her husband.

At the dedication ceremony Tuesday, the Rev. Tim Sauer of Immaculate Conception Church in Arlington asked adults to place their hands atop the heads of young people in attendance. He thanked God for children and their teachers, and the years the Ruthven boys had with their family and friends.

He asked that the playground be blessed as a place of happiness and fun and he offered gratitude for those who had turned grief into acts of generosity that will benefit children for years to come.

Sauer and Catholic Church congregations in Arlington and Darrington have taken lead roles in helping families who lost people to the slide. After Tuesday’s ceremony, he reflected on how for many months, the community has “been engulfed in death.”

He watched the children play.

It is good to see the energy of life again, he said.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews

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