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The Halls of Oso

September 25, 2014

A farm family in Oso is far away from the destruction of the landslide, but responds by putting their unique skills and talents in service to those who lost everything.

Oso, Washington - In the middle of the beautiful Stilliguamish Valley, in Oso, the Hall family operates a small farm and roadstand on Highway 530. It’s a family affair, but farming isn’t everything. In this family music is important too. Sarah and Aaron Hall, the children, are superb classical musicians whose talents are known throughout the NW.

When the landslide happened four miles up the road, the oldest son Isaac was among the first on the scene, saving a small boy. And right away, the entire family jumped in to help victims and affected families. Aaron built a web portal that helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. When continued closure of SR 530 threatened neighboring businesses as well as their own, the Halls worked tirelessly to get the highway reopened. And in a remarkable gift to the community, Sarah and Aaron performed benefit concerts and performed at memorials.

This is a story of a family helping others and finding greater community in return.

Stephen Hegg: A young boy, plucked from the mud and debris of the Oso landslide, and whisked to safety by Snohomish County’s Helicopter Rescue team. The photo of 4 year old Jacob Spillers became one of the iconic images of the tragedy.  The man who saved him was Isaac Hall.

Isaac Hall: I came around a big pile of dirt and I looked over sideways and the little kid was just sitting there, buried from here down, sitting there crying.

Hegg: It’s no surprise that Isaac was among the first at the scene of the disaster. And the story of Jacob’s rescue really starts long before the slide…with a remarkable family.  In the most beautiful part of the Stilliguamish Valley, you’ll find Fruitful Farm and its bountiful roadside stand. 

Aaron Hall: We grow nursery plants, flowers, vegetables, as well as eggs, pumpkin patch, winter squash and in the winter time I make wreaths.

Person: Right next to the stand, between the river and highway, is the home of the Hall family. A family where joy is found in faith, working together and reclaiming the best of rural life.

Aaron Hall: It’s a family farm, and everyone has a part in it, and we’re all good at different things.

Hegg: In fact, the business was started by the children, with parents Carla and Tom in solid support. Aaron is the farm manager and visionary.

Carla Hall: Aaron’s brought it to a whole new level, building the greenhouses and the road stand buildings, doing the website, which is something he’d never done before.

Hegg:  The oldest son Isaac has his own young family across the valley, but he stops in regularly.  Sarah’s the livestock manager, milking the cow, feeding the calf, the chickens and the pigs.

Tom Hall: She knows how to butcher and prepare foods, in the old ways. I tease them sometimes, I say you know you guys are born 100 years too late.

Hegg: And the proud parents? Carla is the facilitator, homemaker, idea generator. 

Carla Hall: I’m an architect too.

Hegg: Tom works off the farm.

Carla Hall: He’s an occupational therapist. 

Aaron Hall: Well, my Dad owns the land. He’s a major part of it though because he supports us by giving us a place to do it.

Hegg: If farming wasn’t enough, the halls have another passion that runs just as deep. Music. Almost everyone plays an instrument. Sarah is an accomplished violinist, Aaron is a cellist. Farm, family, music, a harmonious life - until that second day of spring.

Tom Hall:  It was a Saturday just like any Saturday.

Hegg: A troubling call came from Isaac, who was towing a truck to Darrington with a friend.

Sarah Hall: My brother called my sister in law who was with us and told her that the road was totally blocked, like the whole side of the mountain came down and was covering the road.

Isaac Hall: I said, this wiped out a lot. A whole lot.

Tom Hall: He said Skaglund Hill is gone and the whole neighborhood is gone.

Isaac Hall: Anyway, Cody, he came running down past us and went wading out walking across logs and sticks and said, ‘There’s people out here!’

Hegg: Isaac and his friend waded in.

Isaac Hall: Logs and trees, brush and mud, dirt, water, more mud. We had two pieces of roofing tin. We’d walk on one and then pull the next one up and walk on that. Just alternate.

Hegg: That’s when Isaac found Jacob, buried waist deep in the mud.

Isaac Hall:  I just stuck my hat on him, wrapped my shirt around him.

Hegg: A circling helicopter spotted them.

Isaac Hall: Trying to pull him and you’re sinking, it’s just a bunch of soup. And then you got your rotor wash going and I’m trying to stay upright, and trying to dig his feet out, and it kept blowing me over, so Shane came right behind me and gave me a little push ahead, so that helped. The guy threw down a piece of rope so I could grab onto that and he helped pull me up. Got the kid up to him, handed Jacob up in the helicopter.

Hegg: Four year old Jacob Spillers lost everyone, except his mother, in the slide.

Carla Hall: By Monday, we were thinking, we’ve got to do something. We though we need to do a website and start getting donations for the help these people are going to need because they’ve lost everything. It’s a mess.

Aaron Hall: So that’s what I did. I built Oso mudslide relief.org.

Carla Hall: We just started sending it out to people we knew.

Aaron Hall: People started giving.

Carla Hall:  And it just multiplied.

Hegg: A few weeks into spring, recovery efforts continued at the landslide, but Fruitful Farm was still at a dead end of highway 530.   

Tom Hall: There was no traffic, comin’ or goin’ because there was no place to go.

Aaron Hall: The highway out here is the vital lifeline of the local economy and transportation out here. OK, if this doesn’t get opened soon, how are we going to make it through the season?

Hegg: The Halls joined neighbors to try to get the state to re-open Highway 530. It was a sensitive topic.

Carla Hall: The ones that were so deeply connected to losing someone to see, just, get the highway open, that’s like, no, I want to find my loved one out there. 

Hegg: Carla talked to Governor Inslee.

Carla Hall: I said, "Is there anything being done with the highway?"  Not knowing what’s going to happen with the highway is a big deal for what we’re doing here and for other businesses.

Hegg: On the morning of May 31st, after a moment of silence, the road was open again. If there was a greater service to the community from the Halls of Oso, it came from Sarah and Aaron, with their gift of music. A month after the disaster, a concert with the Skagit Symphony was dedicated to those affected by the slide. Then a benefit performance to raise money for families.

Aaron Hall: Music has a healing power for grieving hearts.

Hegg: Remembering a friend with their very special talents.

Sarah Hall: Brandy Lee Ward was one of the victims that was lost in the slide. It’s just really special to be able to use music touch people.

Hegg: As summer ends, much of life is back to normal for the Halls. The roadstand did well this summer, aided in part by people who made a special trip up the highway to support the Oso community. The website has tracked over $300,000 in donations for victims. 

Hegg: And the Halls have become more deeply tied to the community they love.

Carla Hall: You look at people differently.  Like, I’ll go hug the fire chief now, you know.

Tom Hall: A lot of people who don’t live here thought that Oso got completely wiped off the map and that’s not true. A big important part of Oso did, but there’s still some Oso dwellers here.

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Stephen Hegg

Stephen is a 25-year veteran of KCTS, producing a wide range of cultural and public affairs series, documentaries and arts programming.  His credits include PIE, Something in the Water  (PBS feature on Seattle’s indie music scene), the gala opening of Benaroya Hall, and documentaries on Asahel and Edward Curtis, Dan Sullivan and Doris Chase.  Seattle-born, Hegg is a graduate of Whitworth University and is also an accomplished violinist and avid cyclist.

More stories by Stephen Hegg

There are 6 comments

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Stephen, thank you for a great presentation of the Halls and their contribution to responding to the Oso mudslide. They are a precious family whom we love and highly respect, and you did a fabulous job of capturing their faith, spirit, devotion, and professionalism.

I know many fine people who give generously to their community day in and day out. The Halls certainly have perfected that art and that faith we all want to emulate. Good for them, and good for the people of Oso.

I am a survivor of the mudslide. I lost my husband Tom Durnell and so many dear friends that day. Tom and I stopped frequently at the fruit full farm! I became very fond of Aaron. I didn't have the pleasure of meeting his wonderful family. Watching this video was amazing, getting to know them and finding that special thing I admired in Aaron comes from a remarkable family. I appreciate all they have done for the victoms of the slide. I will go see them someday hopefully I can meet the family. It is difficult for me to revisit the slide area it still holds a lot of pain for me but getting a chance to visit with this family would ease that pain.

Thank you Stephen Hegg for creating this beautiful tribute to the Hall family and shedding more light on the details of rescue and recovery that took place in and around Oso Washington. Such an amazing family and community!

Great article about great people. So proud to have the Hall family as part of our Oso community!

Beautiful story Stephen and KCTS. Thank you for bringing it to us and congratulations on your new show.

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