Bette Western lived through a nightmare Jan. 7 after the rising waters of the Puyallup River raced over a barricade of sandbags, destroyed her Sumner apartment and forced her to seek temporary shelter until a new residence could be located.
But thanks to a bucket brigade of help from her fellow Sumner city employees, the 86-year-old senior services assistant soon found a new place to call home.
That help arrived when concerns for her well-being prompted Senior Services Program Coordinator Linda Clagert and Trip Coordinator Denise Schultz to pass the first bucket over to Administrative Assistant Sally Abrams.
“I told Sally about Bette and that she couldn’t get into her place,” Clagert explained.
Abrams passed the second bucket on to Paul Rodgerson, director of community development, who quickly posted a citywide e-mail.
“When I sent out an e-mail asking for volunteers to help Bette I had five people and three trucks in 15 minutes,” he said. “People began appearing at my office door. The response we had from the city employees didn’t surprise me.”
While the city worked out plans to help move Western’s possessions, Schultz passed the third bucket when she discovered a duplex had recently become vacant and available for rent.
Finding a new residence Western might like and arranging for help in moving her possessions had to be planned on the sly, Clagert said.
“I told Paul that if we ask her, she won’t let us do it,” Clagert said. “He said, ‘how about if we just show up?’”
That was Jan. 12. The following morning, a group of volunteers arrived at Western’s front-door desk, ready to load up their trucks.
It took a little convincing from her co-workers, but once Western realized help had arrived and the volunteers were using their personal vacation time for the occasion, she obliged.
“Paul told her, ‘Bette, we have these men right here to help,’” Clagert said. “’How about if you get your car and I’ll follow you to your place and get this taken care of?’”
Western, the city’s oldest employee, looked surprised.
“They all came in – a whole bunch of them – and told me they had come to help me,” she said. That help included an offer by Rodgerson to show the vacant duplex to Western.
She liked it “in a blink of an eye,” she said, along with its location and friendly neighbors.
Soon the crew were hauling a lifetime of possessions into her new residence, not far from her place of employment but far enough from the threat of nearby rivers.
“They got there at 9 o’clock and finished at 1:30 p.m.,” Clagert said of the moving day. “And they each used their own personal vacation time to help out.”
The efforts of Sumner’s bucket brigade were not lost on Western, whose ground-level River Grove Apartment suffered extensive damage.
“They took time out of their busy schedules to help me,” she said of the volunteers’ help. “You oughta’ see them move a piano – ha!” She was grateful the piano hadn’t suffered damage from the flooding, although most of her bedroom possessions were destroyed.
“My daughter says it’s only material things, so I guess that’s the way it goes,” she said with a sigh. “Some got off worse than I did – they lost everything. Never in my life had I seen such flooding; that water went right over the sandbags. For three days we couldn’t get into the place and we had to leave so quickly, there wasn’t any chance to save things.” Her renter’s insurance did not cover flooding.
To add chaos to the event, Western suffered other inconveniences simultaneously.
“I’d had a very bad week – my cell phone broke, my car broke down and I had a backache,” she said. “Then the flood hit. Isn’t that amazing?”
But the harshness of those events were cushioned when the community extended yet additional buckets of help.
“Sally Abrams took up donations and Lake Tapps Community Church sent me $100 to use for rent,” she said.
Western she said she’ll never be able to adequately thank the city and community members for their generosity.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “I could’ve cried – I can cry now when I think of it. That Paul Rodgerson is a gem. They’re wonderful – the city is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I’m just thankful!”
Reach Judy Halone at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-802-8210.