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Oso Landslide: A Community of Healing

September 22, 2014

Ron Thompson was known as the mayor of Steelhead Drive. He and his wife Gail lost their home and many neighbors in the Oso landslide. But they’ve decided to stay in Oso, and start over in a new home just four miles from the old one. They find hope in rebuilding their community while striving to find meaning in the disaster.

Six months after the devastating landslide that destroyed the neighborhood of Steelhead Drive, they share their story of healing and a new beginning.

Gail and Ron Thompson have been married for 44 years and had lived in their home on Steelhead Dr. for over 10 years until it was destroyed in the mudslide. Nicknamed the Mayor of Steelhead Dr., Ron was an integral part of his neighborhood.

“Yeah, that was a little nickname someone put on me,” Ron said. “I just like to be involved in my community.”

“Oh yes,” Gail added. “He would walk around and check on people, see what they need. Just a friendly good morning.”

In this tight knit community, neighbors cared for each other. From friendly greetings, to helping with house repairs, the people living on Steelhead Dr. took care of each other.

 “The night before the slide was probably the most beautiful night I’ve ever experienced there,” Gail remembers. “There was fresh snow on the hills and the sky was so blue, the sun was out.”

Now, all that remains of Steelhead Dr. is a dried, muddy riverbed.

“I remember the very first morning that we woke up. I go through the neighborhood and I say, ‘Good morning Lon, I love you. Good morning Shelly and Jerry, I love you.’ And just, every neighbor, I went through. And, somehow, that was just the way I was handling missing my neighbors,” Gail shared, through tears.

“We’ve both been reliving our neighborhood and saying goodbyes,” Ron added.

Gail and Ron Thompson currently live four miles from their old home where they hope to build another community. They understand that there needs to be a time of healing, but they are already looking forward to the future where laughter and sounds of life will fill their neighborhood again.

“I still have a love and desire to be in this community. I’m looking forward to seeing our kids here, having fun. I’m looking forward to grandkids, just playing games,” Ron said. “I want to be remembered as, not the community of disaster, but as the community of healing.”

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Aileen Imperial

Aileen Imperial is a multimedia and documentary producer with a commitment to thoughtful observation and engagement. Her work has aired nationally on the PBS American Masters series, PBS NewsHour, and she is a 3-time Emmy winner for feature videos in the Arts, Culture, and Human Interest. Find her on Twitter: @imperealize

More stories by Aileen Imperial

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Everyone in Oso knows what a fantastic couple this is. They have such a spirit of Love and service. They have been very instrumental in the healing process in our community - leading by their example. Thank you for highlighting them in your stories about Oso.

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