OSO – On the four-year anniversary of the Oso Slide, many people gathered at the site at 10:37 a.m. to remember the 43 people who died that March 22.
But Ron Thompson, who used to live there with his wife, Gail, goes there to remember his neighbors almost daily. The Thompsons were two of the lucky ones. They left home that Saturday morning about 10 minutes before the slide.
Their names were called out as survivors of the slide, as were a few others. But that list was shorter than the 43 names announced as victims of the slide. Oso families have been working on a permanent memorial concept with Snohomish County parks. The county owns 13 acres there, of which four would be used for a $6 million memorial along part of the Whitehorse Trail.
But until a memorial is built, Ron precedes it by going to the site and talking to visitors. He keeps their memories alive by talking about them to anyone who will listen.
Now he is involved in collecting money for the new memorial. He encourages people to go to the website at www.slidememorial.com to donate.
Thompson also likes to hand out trinkets he has made to honor the people. He is a woodworker who made many of the signs that hang from a gate to the site just off Highway 530. A recent one he placed there says, “Highway of Hope.”
He and Gail have moved to Oso proper, living now behind the fire station, where his wood shop is. He makes crosses, yellow wooden daffodils and metal pieces with the inscription “Steelhead Drive Always in our Hearts Never Forgotten Never.”
He has made wooden nameplates for each of the victims and placed them at the bottom of trees planted in their memories: Steve, Hunter, Amanda and 40 more. Some of the trees are adorned with various items, such as pictures of the victims. One tree is full of empty beer cans made to look like tree ornaments.
Thompson shows pictures to visitors of Steelhead Drive before and after the slide. The remote community south of the Stillaguamish River was wiped out in a minute when the mountainside caved it due to too much moisture. Along with underground acquifers, Thompson said it had rained for 40 days, turning the land to mud. He explained that Highway 530 is 22 feet higher than it used to be because of the slide.
He tells stories of the families that lived there. How some people lived and some didn’t. How one man buried alive survived horrific injuries and now lives on the complete opposite side of the country in Florida.
So, if you go there and someone offers you trinkets he has made, please take them. Ask him to tell you stories. And consider donating to the memorial. Actually, please consider a donation even if you don’t go there.
It truly is a story we should never forget. And thanks to Ron, I know I won’t.
The Slide Memorial
Oso, Darrington & Arlington
Remembering the Lives, Response and Communities of the Oso Slide