“Mother Mary” Spafford grieves during the memorial service for Rudy Van Delden Thursday night at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Everett.

“Mother Mary” Spafford grieves during the memorial service for Rudy Van Delden Thursday night at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Everett.

Everett street people gather to bid farewell to a good friend

EVERETT — They gathered on a raw afternoon to say goodbye to a friend from the streets, a man they all knew as Rudy.

Bundled in heavy coats, alone and in groups, they walked in from the cold. They settled Thursday in the pews of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. They prayed, sang, shed tears and remembered.

At the close of the memorial service, one man raised a fist and his voice. His words filled the cavernous church: “No more pain, Rudy. You’re free!”

Rudy Van Delden died Jan. 10 at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. His death came several days after he suffered an apparent heart attack on a downtown Everett street. He was 58.

“He dealt with some demons, with alcohol and drugs,” said Deacon Dennis Kelly, a Catholic cleric who officiated at the memorial.

Kelly serves Everett’s Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes, and is campus minister at Archbishop Murphy High School. He led the memorial at the request of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

Thanks to that agency, Van Delden’s long history of homelessness ended two years ago. He had housing in Everett’s Casino Road area, but a roof over his head didn’t end the lure of the streets.

“He loved his people. He was loud and cantankerous, but he was very appreciative,” said Melissa Harvey, a Catholic Community Services housing case manager. She said Van Delden had been a large equipment operator before his addictions took over.

More than 50 people, many from the streets, attended the service, which was followed by a reception with coffee and snacks.

Born in The Netherlands in 1957, Van Delden came to the United States when he was a child. He was a U.S. military veteran who had served in the Army and the Navy.

Chuck Lacy, a benefits specialist with the state Department of Veterans Affairs, came forward during the service with a folded American flag. He said it would be sent to Van Delden’s grown daughters, twins Faith and Hope, who live in Montana.

“Our friend Rudy died with Christ and rose with Him to new life,” said Kelly, who read from the book of Isaiah: “The Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces.”

Tears did fall as friends rose, one by one, to talk about Van Delden.

“At least he’s blessed enough to have people wish him farewell,” said Randy Pedler, a tall man in a knitted cap. He said two of his other friends died on the streets. “They were there with Rudy, and they’re probably all together now. We all kind of took care of each other.”

Mary Spafford — some in Everett’s homeless community know her as “Mother Mary” — got to know Van Delden and many at the memorial during her 30 years as an Everett bartender. “They’re all buddy-buddy,” she said.

Mary McClurg remembered fishing with Van Delden. “He loved the outdoors,” she said. “I miss him. I know he’s in a better place.”

Valerie Hickok, a case manager with Catholic Community Services, helped Van Delden as a peer counselor and recovery specialist. Like many newly housed clients, she said, Van Delden had a hard time understanding why friends couldn’t stay with him. “He was housed, but still part of the street family,” she said.

She and Harvey arranged for the memorial service.

“When somebody dies on the streets, the people they know best don’t know what happened. They don’t know whether they moved or are in jail,” Hickok said. “It seemed quite important to those people, as it was to us. We got to say goodbye, too.”

Kelly offered prayer and a short eulogy. “Rudy would be the first to admit he was not a perfect man,” the deacon said. “He was a person who would give you the shirt off his back — or a sip off his bottle.”

Drinking was Van Delden’s favorite pastime, Harvey said. Court records, most from Everett Municipal Court, show he had been cited nearly 40 times for a variety of petty crimes and misdemeanors. His rap sheet here started with serious traffic offenses and drifted toward nuisance infractions: criminal trespass, smoking in a public place, crossing in the middle of the block.

Hickok said Catholic Community Services works to get people into housing even before addressing substance abuse issues. “Alcohol and drugs, a dual diagnosis, is pretty rampant out there,” she said.

During the service, it was clear that some were unaccustomed to the solemnity of the church setting. When Kimberlie Kilroy, principal of Immaculate Conception &Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, sang “Ave Maria,” her sublime vocals were answered with raucous applause. Yet as the memorial ended with the singing of “Amazing Grace,” everyone in the church knew the words.

“It was beautiful just to be part of sharing Rudy’s life,” Kelly said after the service. “To listen to them talk about their friend was a soul-enriching experience. It’s a lesson for us all to see the humanity of every person we encounter — including those who live on the streets.”

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

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