OSO — Families of Oso mudslide victims describe their visions for a memorial in the following ways:
“A beautiful place.”
“For my brother’s legacy.”
“I want their stories to be told.”
And now, a permanent tribute off Highway 530 is one step closer to reality — nearly eight years after the slide killed 43 people on March 22, 2014.
Construction is to begin this summer, said Carol Ohlfs, principal park planner with Snohomish County Parks & Recreation and project manager for the memorial.
When complete, the memorial will honor the victims, survivors and first responders of the mudslide — one of the deadliest in U.S. history.
Dayn Brunner, who lost his sister, Summer Raffo, 36, in the slide, has been thinking about the memorial since day zero.
“I wanted to make sure and ensure that my sister’s legacy lives on,” he said. “I want the world to know who she was, what she stood for, and how much the family and community miss her.”
Since 2014, a tribute has been going up in pieces. That fall, 43 trees were planted, one for each victim. Later, a row of bronze mailboxes was installed to represent the Steelhead Haven neighborhood destroyed by a wall of mud.
Plans for a larger memorial have been in the works for years.
“We’ve had many, many, many meetings, yelling sessions, crying sessions, hugging sessions, and the design is going to be remarkable when it’s done,” said John Hadaway, whose brother, Steve Hadaway, 53, died in the slide.
After years of fundraising, the memorial got full funding from the Snohomish County Council last fall, which included $4.8 million.
The memorial will go up in phases, Ohlfs said.
Phase 1 will include site work: grading and drainage, as well as rock walls, a parking lot and foundations for four shelters honoring first responders and the slide’s 11 survivors.
In fall, the Timber Framers Guild plans to build the shelters, Ohlfs said.
Phase 2, set for summer 2023, will include the final paving and addition of art and interpretive signs, she said.
“The permanent memorial will be completed before the 10-year remembrance ceremony in 2024,” she said.
The county worked with the families to come up with preliminary designs and is looking to artists to further interpret them.
The beacon will be installed in the gathering area and “will be placed to cast a shadow on a focal point on March 22 at 10:37 a.m. each year.”
To the east, memorial panels will be made of “curved corten steel” and may include names, quotes, pictures and other personal touches.
Ohlfs said the goal is to come up with a theme and allow families to customize their panels. Three artist concepts will be selected for review by families.
John Hadaway said he doesn’t have a specific design in mind. His criteria is simple: “As long as it’s coming from the heart. … And as long as it’s beautiful.”
Several family members would like to continue the theme of butterflies. There are 43 butterflies etched on rocks on each side of the memorial gateways, arranged in the shape of the infinity symbol.
Jessica Pszonka lost six family members, including her sister, Katie Ruthven, 34, in the slide. She said she made a promise to her sister to follow through on the memorial. When the project was fully funded, “it was like a huge weight lifted off our shoulders,” she said.
“I’m so excited that we are able to fulfill this,” Pszonka said. “It will be a beautiful spot. It will be a place not only for family members to heal, but for first responders and survivors to gather and heal.”
Call to artists
Artist concepts are due Friday for the memorial beacon and March 25 for the memorial panels. For more information, visit snocoarts.org/jobs.