Loss

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My aunt, Ruth Wolfe was the person I most closely resembled. She was my dad, Allen Spencer’s sister, and for most of my life, I didn’t really know that I resembled her. Nevertheless, I am built like she was. I laugh like she did, something I found out after she passed away, and I laughed, but when I did, I heard her laughing. I thought, “How could that be?” I had never noticed that I laughed like her before. I began to wonder how I hadn’t noticed it before. Whatever the reason, I did and do laugh like her, and these days, it is a pleasant reminder of her, and the memories are very sweet.

I always loved Aunt Ruth…and her husband, Uncle Jim too. They lived what seemed like such an exciting life. When they moved away from Casper, Wyoming, they moved to Reno, Nevada, and later to Vallejo, California, and finally to Newport, Washington. While Washington was rather a calm place, almost a retirement of sorts, Reno and Vallejo seemed like an exciting, party kind of place…and maybe it was. People go through different phases in life, and maybe they were in a phase of looking for some excitement. A small town, like Casper, Wyoming, while not tiny, is certainly not as exciting as a place like Reno, Nevada or Vallejo, California. Still, Newport, Washington, and especially the mountain top property they purchased, was certainly more like the places she lived when she was growing up. It was almost like going back to her roots.

I think that some of the happiest times in Aunt Ruth’s life were when she and Uncle Jim were on the road, traveling. They liked to see the world around them, and they loved showing up unannounced to surprise us. I don’t think they ever thought about the fact that they might find us out of town, and to my knowledge, they never did…or at least if they did, they never told us about it. I suppose if they had told us they were coming, it would have ruined the adventure of things. I don’t think any of us ever minded the surprises that came with their unexpected visits. My parents were always happy that they were there. It was like running into a favorite old friend…but they were old friends, even more so than some siblings are. Aunt Ruth and my dad were just 19 months apart. They were the youngest of my grandparents four children, and in many ways, that did make them close, even though they were brother and sister, and not brother/friends, like my dad and their older brother, my Uncle Bill. Today would have been my Aunt Ruth’s 97th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Aunt Ruth. We love and miss you very much.

Whenever our aunt, Pearl Hein talked about her husband, our uncle, Eddie Hein, she always called him Big Ed. It was her “pet name” for him…kind of like saying he was her superhero. That is truly how Pearl felt about Eddie. Theirs was a long-standing marriage of 52 years at the time of Eddie’s graduation to Heaven. He was her superhero, and she was his too. It was always fun to watch them, because their personalities were very similar, and yet each was unique.

I first met them on my first trip to Forsyth, Montana to visit my husband, Bob Schulenberg’s family, and the trip was so much fun that for many years we went for a visit every summer. I loved all of the Forsyth family and looked forward to it every year. Eddie and Pearl lived at the edge of town beside the dike that held the Yellowstone River back from the town. Eddie and Pearl always had a vegetable garden, and they canned lots of their food. Eddie transformed their house from the original mobile home to a house and decorated it in various places with river rock. The fireplace was a beautiful focal point.

Eddie, and Pearl too, had what I call a smiling face. Their whole face smiled with they smiled, and that is a very cool kind of face to have. I think it is a sign of a really happy person too. They loved to entertain, and they loved to laugh and joke. Some of my fondest memories are when they were picking on my husband, Bob. He had long hair back then, but everyone in the hippy generation did, so he wasn’t alone. Eddie was always threatening to give him a buzz cut, and one time went after him with the shears, but of course, they weren’t plugged in. Nevertheless, it was funny, and unless you looked closely, you might think they were plugged in. The picture is funny anyway. It’s funny stuff like that that I think I miss the most about Eddie. There was really never a dull moment when we were over at their house.

Eddie went home to be with the Lord on October 16, 2019, and I still can’t believe he is gone. He had a stroke a few years earlier, and fought his way back, with much help from Pearl, who was his “rock” during those days. I think one of his happiest moments after the stroke, was when he was able to walk his daughter Kim down the aisle when she married Michael Arani on October 7, 2017. I don’t think he thought he would be able to do it, but Eddie was a strong man, and he was determined. I’m so happy that he got to see that day. Today would have been Eddie’s 79th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Eddie. We love and miss you very much.

When I think of war and of the largest offensive in United States history, I don’t picture a battle in World War I. Nevertheless, I should. The Meuse–Argonne offensive, which was also called the Meuse River–Argonne Forest offensive, the Battles of the Meuse–Argonne, and the Meuse–Argonne campaign, depending on who you were, was a major part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire Western Front. The offensive ran for a total of 47 days, from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice of November 11, 1918, and it was the largest in United States military history, past or present.

The offensive involved 1.2 million American soldiers, and as battles go, it is the second deadliest in American history. During the course of the battle, there were over 350,000 casualties including 28,000 German lives, 26,277 American lives, and an unknown number of French lives. The losses involving the United States were compounded by the inexperience of many of the troops, the tactics used during the early phases of the operation, and in no small way…the widespread onset of the global influenza outbreak called the “Spanish flu.” The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, also known as the Great Influenza epidemic, was an exceptionally deadly global influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. The pandemic affected an estimated 500 million people, or approximately a third of the global population. It is estimated that 17 to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million people lost their lives, which probably increased the deaths during the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

The Meuse–Argonne was the principal engagement of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during World War I, and it was what finally brought the war to an end. It was the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the AEF. Nevertheless, by October 31, the Americans had advanced 9.3 miles and had cleared the Argonne Forest. The French advanced 19 miles to the left of the Americans, reaching the Aisne River. The American forces split into two armies at this point. General Liggett led the First Army and advanced to the Carignan-Sedan-Mezieres Railroad. Lieutenant General Robert L Bullard led the Second Army and was directed to move eastward toward Metz. The two United States armies faced portions of 31 German divisions during this phase. The American troops captured German defenses at Buzancy, allowing French troops to cross the Aisne River. There, they rushed forward, capturing Le Chesne, also known as the Battle of Chesne (French: Bataille du Chesne).

In the final days, the French forces conquered the immediate objective, Sedan and its critical railroad hub in a
battle known as the Advance to the Meuse (French: Poussée vers la Meuse), and on November 6, American forces captured surrounding hills. On November 11, news of the German armistice put a sudden end to the fighting. That was fortunate for the armies, but for my 1st cousin twice removed, William Henry Davis, it was six days too late. He lost his life on November 5, 1918, on the west bank of the Meuse during these battles. He was just 30 years old at the time.

When Chris Kirk married my grandniece, Siara, he became my grandnephew. One of the things that Chris and Siara have in common is a love of exercise. They both work very hard at their fitness goals, and they love to work out together. I am amazed at how strong they both are. In fact, when they began dating, some of the first pictures we saw of the two of them working out together. I was amazed at the abilities of both of them. Chris works hard at the gym too, and he is always trying for personal bests and trying to be in power lifting contests.

Chris is a hardworking man, who has moved up faster than anyone else who was hired at WL Plastics when he was. It is Chris’ goal to become a line operator, and he is moving quickly toward that goal. His work ethic is great, and as we all know, lots of people these days want a paycheck, but don’t really want to work. That idea couldn’t be further from Chris’ mind. When he takes on a job, Chris gives it his all. He is loyal to the people he works for, and they appreciate that. I’m sure that is why he is moving up so quickly. He will make a great line operator very soon.

When Siara lost her son, Alec Olsen, she was devastated, and after her first marriage broke up, she wasn’t sure she would ever get to be a mom again. Then Chris came along, and while they are not pregnant yet, Chris has wanted a family since he was 12 years old, so their goal to have a family is a common one for them. In an unusual twist, Chris and Alec share a birthday. That is something that Siara finds very sweet. Her two loves, her husband and her son share a common bond even though they have never met…yet anyway. They will in Heaven, and I think they will love each other very much. Since today is both of Siara’s boys’ birthdays, they have decided to spend the weekend in Denver as a little celebration of the lives of both of them. I can’t wait for Chris and Siara to start a family. Chris is such a loving man, and he has been such a great blessing to Siara. I know he will be a great dad, when that day comes…just as he has been a great husband to Siara. Today is Chris’ birthday. Happy birthday Chris!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

It has been a rough couple of years for my nephew, Tucker Schulenberg. On January 19, 2021, he lost his mother, Rachel Schulenberg to a stroke. It was an extremely difficult grieving process for a boy who was barely 13 years old at the time. Suddenly, he felt very alone, even though his dad, my brother-in-law Ron Schulenberg was there. The problem was that they were both grieving, and that makes it doubly hard. Then, when Covid hit, and school wasn’t in session, Tucker really became more of a recluse. It was a tough time.

Things are getting better now, after a long hard road. Tucker is in a new school, with smaller classrooms and it seems to be going a little better at now. This school has shown good success with other students, and now Tuckers grade are better too. I don’t know what Tucker would like to do as an adult, and I’m not sure he does either, but I’m sure that he will find his way. Ultimately, most kids do, and Tucker is a good kid.

Tucker really enjoys the monthly family dinners that our family does. He likes kids and it gives him a chance to play with his cousins, Reagan, Hattie, Bowen, and Maeve. When we go to their house, there is a lot to do. They have lots of farm animals, plenty of dogs, and a trampoline, which is always an attraction. Being around the cousins is a good thing for him. Since he is the only child at home, the only other social time he gets is at school, and as we all know, you shouldn’t really be socializing in class.

Tucker also has a brand-new nephew, which is very cool. Since his brother, Riley Birky and his partner Sierah Martin, live in Powell, Tucker doesn’t get to see a whole lot of them, but I imagine that this summer will give him the opportunity to go for a visit, and since Powell isn’t terribly far away, Tucker gets to visit every once in a while. Tucker is also going to be an uncle again, when his sister, Cassie Franklin and her partner Wesley Burr, have their new baby, coming in January 2023. Tucker is a good uncle, so I’m happy for him. So, for Tucker, there is a lot of new things going on. It is my hope that the new year will bring much healing of Tucker’s broken heart, and much joy as he sees these new babies in his life. Today is Tucker’s 15th birthday. Happy birthday Tucker!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

When I first met my nephew, Riley Birky, he was a little boy…just ten years old. At that time, his mom, Rachel Schulenberg was just dating my brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg. Riley officially joined our family when his mom and now stepdad got married on June 12, 2010. They became a blended family that day. Losing his mom to a stroke in January of 2021, was probably the hardest time in Riley’s life, and in the lives of his family. Riley is doing his best to be there for his family, and to make his mom proud of the man he has become.

Fast forward to the present day, and you will find that Riley is now a stepdad to his fiancée Sierah Martin’s son, Jace and a dad to their son, Ryder. Theirs is also a blended family with much love to go around. They started dating two and a half years ago, when Jace was about ten months old, but they have known each other for seven years now. Riley took to Jace as quickly and easily as he did to Sierah. They are best buddies, and I’m quite sure Jace thinks of Riley as his dad. I know Riley’s mom would be very proud of him, and she would absolutely love his family.

Riley is a hardworking man. Much of his working career has been in construction and maintenance. Growing up helping his grandparents with their rentals taught him the skills that would take him into the next chapter of his life. Riley isn’t afraid of hard work, and his main goal in life is to provide for his little family in the best way possible. In that, he has very much succeeded. Riley and his sweet little are very happy in the home they have made together. Now, with the joy of adding little Ryder, their family is complete.

Riley may be young, just 22 years old, but he has proven himself to be a good man, and the man that Sierah was looking for and needed in her life. Together, they will make a good home and life for their children, and I believe they will live happily ever after. They are focused on their family, and they are both going in the same direction. They both love to travel and have had a good time in their little trips over the past couple of years. Today is Riley’s 22nd birthday. Happy birthday Riley!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

I love to ride on the Ferry boats in Washington state. It’s especially cool to have your car right there with you at the end of your journey. You just get in and go off to the rest of your adventure. Of course, a Ferry boat is just that…a boat, and that always leaves the possibility of one sinking. That has happened on numerous occasions. It seems to me though that most of the time when they sink, it is in open waters, and not the inland waters, such as the Puget Sound.

One such maritime disaster in open waters, occurred on September 28, 1994, when a large car-and-passenger ferry…MS Estonia, sank in the Baltic Sea, killing 852 people. MS Estonia was a cruiseferry built in 1980 at the West German shipyard Meyer Werft in Papenburg. The ship was sold to Nordström and Thulin in 1993, for use on Estline’s Tallinn–Stockholm route. Estonia departed slightly behind schedule that night, departing at at 7:15pm on September 27. It was expected in Stockholm the next morning at about 9:00am. The ship was carrying 989 people, which included 803 passengers and 186 crew. The seas were rough that night, and it was determined by a 1997 investigation, that the ship’s bow door locks had failed during the storm. However, new underwater footage appears to show a previously unrecorded 13-foot hole in the ship’s hull. Given that information, many people think that it might have been a Russian torpedo that took down the MS Estonia. Whatever the case may be, the sinking of Estonia was one of the worst maritime disasters of the 20th century.

The main reason for the new theory is that Estonia was traveling on an overnight cruise from Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, to Stockholm, Sweden, when it sank off the coast of Finland. Estonia is a former Soviet republic that gained its independence in 1991, but the last Russian troops actually left in 1994. Tallinn was a popular and affordable travel destination for Swedes. The Estonia was a type of ferry known as a “ro-ro,” which featured a smorgasbord, live music, dancing and drinking, and allowed people to drive vehicles onto one end of the ship and drive off on the other end.

There is no doubt that the stormy weather played a part in the disaster, because in the storm, the waves reached an estimated 15 to 20 feet. The Estonia went down in the middle of the night. It went down so quickly, that many passengers were trapped inside the ship. Some were able to escape and managed to make it into lifeboats. Some of those later drowned in the frigid water or died from hypothermia. Out of the 989 souls on board Estonia, only 137 survived, most of those were rescued by helicopters.

Officially, a joint Swedish-Finnish-Estonian government committee ruled it an accident and blamed it on stormy weather that caused water to pour through an open bow door and into the Estonia’s car deck, destabilizing the ship and capsizing it in less than an hour. Nevertheless, there were others, including some family and friends of the Estonia victims, who believed the sinking was the result of a pre-existing hole caused by a collision or explosion. I don’t suppose that the full truth will ever be known, but the loss of life will forever be felt.

The year 2002 proved to be a really bad one for Hawkins and Powers Aviation of Greybull, Wyoming. Hawkins and Powers had a contract with the United States Forest Service (USFS), to drop fire retardant on wildfires across the country. That year, two large airtankers…a Lockheed C-130 Hercules and a Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer…crashed about a month apart while performing aerial firefighting operations. No one saw this coming, but the crashes resulted in a review of the maintenance and use of the entire US large airtanker fleet. Once the review started, they found enough problems that it ultimately brought about the grounding of the whole fleet, which was comprised of 33 aircraft in all. The grounding dramatically reduced the resources available to fight major wildfires. These planes were a vital part of the arsenal used by the forest service to contain wildfires without loss of life and structures. Nevertheless, the planes had to be safe.

The review was prompted by the wings of these planes actually folding up and coming off mid-flight, bringing the aircraft down instantly. One of the crashes was actually caught on camera when a tourist was filming the firefighting efforts and happened to be filming at exactly the moment the wings came off. I can only imagine the shock they must have felt when they saw that. I have only seen pictures, knowing full well what is about to happen, and it still gets to me. The thought they were filming an amazing firefighting event, only to find themselves filming a tragedy.

The first accident involved a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, on June 17, 2002, near Walker, California. The plane, registration N130HP, call sign Tanker 130, was flying against the Cannon Fire, which was located south of Lake Tahoe and north of Yosemite National Park. The Cannon Fire crossed the California State Line and burned northward into the Walker River area in Nevada. More than 1000 people were evacuated from homes and camps in the mountains near Walker River, and at least one home was destroyed. The fire nearly tripled in size that Monday, growing from 5,000 acres to just under 15,000. The C-130 Hercules that went down fighting the fire killed 3 people that day. The aircraft, “previously United States Air Force (USAF) Serial Number 56-0538, was one of the original C-130A production series and had been built and delivered to the USAF in 1957. It was retired from military service in 1986. In May 1988, the aircraft was acquired from the General Services Administration by the USFS, which in August that year sold it and five other C-130s it had acquired to Hemet Valley Flying Service, for conversion to an airtanker. Hemet then sold the C-130 to Hawkins and Powers. At the time of the crash, the aircraft had logged 21,863 flight hours.”

The second crash, also caused by structural failure, occurred on July 18, 2002, near Estes Park, Colorado. The structure failure in this case was in the wing’s spar adjacent to the left side of the fuselage. Tanker 123, by callsign, was loaded with 2,000 US gallons of fire retardant at the time of the accident. The plane had begun a left turn to line up for its eighth drop of the day on the Big Elk Fire, and while it was still in the 15–20° left bank, the witnesses on the ground and in another tanker saw the left wing separate from the aircraft and “fold upwards”, followed almost immediately by the initiation of a fire. Without its left wing, the aircraft continued to roll left, and crashed to the ground at a 45° nose down attitude. The impact started a large fire at the wreck site. Both crewmen were killed instantly.

The aircraft, “a Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer registered N7620C, was built during World War II. It had been delivered in July 1945 to the United States Navy, which used it for coastal patrol duties. In 1952, it was transferred to the United States Coast Guard, which operated it until it was retired in 1956. The aircraft was removed from storage and converted to an airtanker in 1958, then was flown by several different companies, the last being Hawkins and Powers. At the time of the crash, the airframe had logged 8,346.3 flight hours.” The Big Elk Fire burned approximately 4,348 acres.

We were watching the Denver Broncos in their huge (19-3) defeat of the Kansas City Chiefs. The game had really just gotten started (it had a 4:00pm start time) when the crash, that took the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, occurred in Paris at 12:23am (4:23pm Mountain Time). The news of the tragedy was aired shortly thereafter, and by 3:00am, Paris time, she was dead. That news was announced at 6:00am Paris time.

Diana was a distant cousin of mine…(specifically my 12th cousin 2 times removed), so the news held some significance to my family. There have been many questions concerning the crash that took Diana’s life, and while the powers that be say that they have all been answered, there are many people, including me, who still have questions. I’m sure that we will never have our questions fully answered, and I’m sure that is partly due to the fact that when it comes to Diana, we aren’t sure that the British Crown is telling us everything they know. The mere fact that Prince Charles and Princess Diana were divorced, and at that time, and to many people, his claim to the throne was in question, we naturally doubted the validity of the answers we were given. Nevertheless, no further answers will likely be forthcoming, so we will have to accept the answers we were given…or not accept them, as you please. After the divorce, Princess Diana became known as Diana, Princess of Wales, as a supposed concession by the crown.

Diana, affectionately known as “the People’s Princess,” was 36 years old at the time of her death. Her boyfriend, the Egyptian-born socialite Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the car, Henri Paul, died as well. The lone survivor of the crash was Diana’s bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, who was seriously injured. The car left the Ritz Paris just after midnight, intending to go to Dodi’s apartment on the Rue Arsène Houssaye. As soon as they departed the hotel, a swarm of paparazzi on motorcycles began aggressively tailing their car. About three minutes later, the driver lost control and crashed into a pillar at the entrance of the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. It was later decided that because the driver had alcohol and prescription drugs in his system, the paparazzi held no fault in the matter. That is where I disagree. While the driver had alcohol and prescription drugs in his system, he would not have felt the need to speed through the streets if the paparazzi had left them alone. As a retired insurance agent, I know contributory negligence when I see it. Nevertheless, a “formal investigation” concluded the paparazzi did not cause the collision. Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul, the driver, were pronounced dead at the scene. Diana was taken to the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital and officially declared dead at 6:00am. Diana’s former husband Prince Charles, as well as her sisters and other members of the Royal Family, arrived in Paris that morning. Diana’s body was then taken back to London.

Because Diana was one of the most popular public figures in the world, her death brought a massive outpouring of grief. Mourners began leaving bouquets of flowers at Kensington Palace immediately. The piles of flowers reached about 30 feet from the palace gate. As in her life, her death demanded the attention of the world. She was so loved, and many felt, so mistreated during her marriage. Following her funeral on September 6, 1997, an event that was watched by 2.5 billion people, she was laid to rest on an island at Althorp Estate, which is her childhood home, and is which is where her brother, Earl Charles Spencer lives to this day. The island is off limits, but the estate is open to the public during July and August each year.

Diana was survived by her two sons, Prince William, who was 15 at the time, and Prince Harry, who was 12. Today she has two daughters-in-law, Duchess Catherine and Duchess Meaghan, as well as five grandchildren, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis; as well as; Archie and Lillibet. Today marks 25 years since the passing of Princess Diana. Gone but not forgotten.

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