Brenda Willis wraps her friend Karen Pszonka in a quilt that Pszonka commissioned her to create as part of the Oso memorial planning effort. Pszonka lost her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in the Oso mudslide. The quilt, made with T-shirts from the agencies involved in the rescue and recovery efforts is the centerpiece of a fundraiser auction Friday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Brenda Willis wraps her friend Karen Pszonka in a quilt that Pszonka commissioned her to create as part of the Oso memorial planning effort. Pszonka lost her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in the Oso mudslide. The quilt, made with T-shirts from the agencies involved in the rescue and recovery efforts is the centerpiece of a fundraiser auction Friday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Oso memorial fundraiser seeks to help build a place to heal

A family friend spent 122 hours making a quilt remembering 43 lives lost. It will be auctioned Friday.

OSO — Karen Pszonka cried when she saw the quilt.

The hearts moved her most, she said. There are 43 of them sewn on in pink fabric, one for each life lost in the 2014 Oso mudslide. Some of the hearts are smaller than others, for the children. Pszonka thinks of her grandsons, Hunter and Wyatt.

The quilt also includes panels of fabric from shirts that have been worn by first responders. At the center is a circular design with the number 43 set against a backdrop of mountains. It’s a symbol of the Oso Memorial effort.

The quilt was made to be auctioned off — along with a variety of gift baskets, certificates, tickets and other packages — during a fundraiser on Friday. The event goes from 5 to 9 p.m. at Rhodes River Ranch, 22016 Entsminger Road. Tickets are $30 and include a barbecue dinner. There will be live and silent auctions.

All of the money raised will go toward building a permanent memorial at the site of the mudslide. On March 22, 2014, the slide wiped out a neighborhood off Highway 530, between Arlington and Darrington. Earlier this year, on the four-year mark since the disaster, families announced plans for the memorial.

Those who lost loved ones have been working with Snohomish County Parks. The project is to be funded through donations. The memorial committee is made up of volunteers, and contributions go directly to the project, Pszonka said.

It will likely take upwards of $3 million to build the memorial, according to the project website. That includes design, permitting, prep work and construction.

Some pieces may be done sooner than others. One such detail is a planned sculpture of the mailboxes that once served as a landmark to turn off the highway into the Steelhead Haven neighborhood.

Brenda Willis (left) and Karen Pszonka fold out the quilt that Pszonka commissioned Willis to create as part of the Oso memorial planning effort. There are 43 hearts on the quilt representing each of victims. The small hearts represent the children. Pszonka lost her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in the Oso mudslide. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Brenda Willis (left) and Karen Pszonka fold out the quilt that Pszonka commissioned Willis to create as part of the Oso memorial planning effort. There are 43 hearts on the quilt representing each of victims. The small hearts represent the children. Pszonka lost her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in the Oso mudslide. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

When family and friends would gather at her daughter and son-in-law’s place, “we would tell everybody who was coming over, ‘Left at the mailboxes,’” Karen Pszonka said.

She and her husband, Tom, lost six people to the slide: their daughter, Katie, and son-in-law, Shane Ruthven; grandsons, Hunter and Wyatt; and Shane’s parents, Lou and JuDee Vandenburg.

“For our family personally, it will be nice to have Katie and Shane and the boys remembered at the memorial. They’re going to do plaques with their names,” Karen Pszonka said. “But the bigger section for us is the part devoted to the first responders … This is going to be our way of telling them how much we love them and appreciate them, especially those who haven’t healed yet, who saw things no human should have to see. Hopefully this will help them heal.”

There’s much work to be done to raise enough money, she said.

During the Evergreen State Fair this year, people could opt to pay a dollar extra on their tickets to go toward the memorial. There also was a “Pass the Boot” fundraiser at the Pro-West Rodeo. Combined, those brought in $8,725.

Rhodes River Ranch has hosted fundraisers for people affected by the mudslide, and was the clear choice for Friday’s event, Pszonka said.

“They’ve become like family,” she said.

Local businesses and individuals donated items for the auction. Among the prizes is a Silvertips basket that includes game tickets and an autographed hat and jersey. There also are: tickets for Seahawks games; gift cards for restaurants, stores and services; $1,000 in car care from Les Schwab; and a stay at a condo in Cabo San Lucas.

A tag on the back of the special quilt helps explain the unexplainable. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

A tag on the back of the special quilt helps explain the unexplainable. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Pszonka’s favorite item is the quilt. Her friend and former neighbor Brenda Willis spent 122 hours making it.

Willis carefully picked fabrics, including one with a pattern of American flags to outline the first responders’ shirts.

The 43 hearts are arranged as though drifting upward, toward the top of the quilt.

“To me, those 43 hearts are looking down and seeing the flags, seeing the shirts, seeing how all those people are coming together for them,” Willis said.

Friday’s auction is a chance for people to come together again for the memorial effort.

Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at brownpapertickets.com/event/3601515.

Additional donations can be made online at slidememorial.com. The committee also is looking for in-kind donations such as materials and services.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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