Julie McDonald Commentary: Seeking Hope During a Season of Loss


September brought heartache and loss with the deaths of two prominent Southwest Washington politicians — Lewis County Commissioner Gary Stamper last week and state Sen. Dan Swecker Sept. 1.

I admired both these men who ran as Republicans for public office but served everyone. I didn’t always agree with their decisions, but that’s the nature of politics. However, I could disagree with their decisions and still love and respect them as leaders who sought the best for their communities.

During their weekslong illnesses, I prayed fervently for both men to recover and for their families to find comfort. I’m still praying for the latter.

The legacies they left remain in the children they fathered, the grandchildren they nurtured, the loved ones they cherished and the communities they called home.

Stamper, who was 67, died of COVID-19 Wednesday after five weeks in the intensive care unit of PeaceHealth Southwest in Vancouver. Voters elected Stamper, a Mossyrock High School graduate and longtime teacher and principal, as commissioner in 2014. Always friendly, he cared about his constituents and showed it in his willingness to fight on their behalf. When questioned, he always explained his decisions and why he thought the outcome best for the community.

Swecker, who was 74, served from 1966 to 1969 as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam, where he was shot down four times and wounded. He graciously shared his recollections with me for a column published in 2017. He and his wife, Debby, raised four children and operated the Swecker Salmon Farm in Rochester for two decades, and Dan served in the Washington State Senate from 1995 to 2013. His legacy as a devout Christian continues through Centralia Christian School, where he was a board member.

Last week, Toledo also lost a matriarch with the passing of Ruth Herren, 102, a longtime elementary school teacher who touched many students’ lives, a Rosie the Riveter during World War II, and a Cowlitz Prairie Grange member who for decades hosted the Threshing Bee with her husband, Robert. I met her three decades ago when planning my wedding at St. Francis Xavier Mission in Toledo and our reception at the Grange. She and her husband, who had two daughters, preserved local and national history through the decades.

They kept a historic map of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Cowlitz Farm and, for a while, the diary of the man who ran it, George B. Roberts. She also held onto an 1863 diary kept during the Civil War by a Union corporal in the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

I never met her, but my heart broke to read of the death of Jessica Kealoha Moniz-McFarlin, who left this world too early Sept. 22 at the age of 37 after a battle with cancer.

Her obituary described her as a devoted wife and mother with a faith and positive spirit that “inspired everyone who knew her.” She owned and operated Beauty Boutique & CryoSpa in Chehalis, supported Napavine youth sports and left behind a husband, son, parents, brothers, sisters and friends who are mourning her loss.

“Her strength and determination to live will not be forgotten,” her obituary states.

Neither will Noah Markstrom’s. I loved seeing photos of the bright yellow bench dubbed “Noah’s Buddy Bench” in memory of Noah Jon Markstrom whose valiant fight against brain cancer was celebrated in mid-September at Fords Prairie Elementary School in Centralia on Noah Markstrom Superhero Day. He died Nov. 6, 2019, surviving only six short years, but his legacy lives on.

No matter the age, we all die someday.

A season of loss provides time to reflect on who and what we’ll leave behind. What will our legacy be?


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.