On one of the worst days of her life, Eva Weideli called 911 to report her adult son, Mike, had died in her Graham home.
An ambulance responded, as did a chaplain from the Pierce County Sheriff’s office and Deputy Kevin Fries.
“The EMTs took Mike’s body away, the chaplain stayed awhile and left, but Kevin sat down at our kitchen table,” Weideli said. “He asked about our family, and he listened to me cry.”
The tears were justified.
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She was 77 on that day in 2011. Mike had been her youngest son, one of three children for her and husband Pat.
All three were gone. Two – Mike and daughter Cindy – had died in her home after long illnesses. A third had committed suicide in 1974.
Weideli had waged and won a battle with breast cancer. In 2007, she told the deputy, Pat had been diagnosed with dementia. He still lived at home with her.
Fries was touched by her situation.
“I’ve been a deputy for 29 years,” he said. “I’ve gained enough maturity to know when people need a little more of your time than others, and Eva needed it that day.”
The deputy was a godsend for Weideli, who was about at the end of her reserves. She needed someone to talk to about her life.
Three and a half years later, a relationship that began in personal tragedy hasn’t ended. Weideli, now 80 and still living in a double-wide mobile home, has come to consider Fries a member of her family.
“Kevin has become my third son,” she said.
That makes him blush and sputter a bit. He’d be happy if their relationship remained out of the limelight. It was Weideli who broke the story with a two-page letter, single-spaced, to The News Tribune. Fries, she said, might be a tough guy most of the time, but he has a huge heart.
From the beginning, Fries said, it was obvious Weideli needed more than a couple of hours at the kitchen table. The next morning, Weideli remembered, the doorbell rang and when she answered, there was Fries – holding a potted plant for her.
“There were hanging baskets that arrived on Mother’s Day and occasional flowers throughout the year,” she said. “At Christmas, Kevin gave us gift cards to Applebee’s, because he knew Pat liked to go out.”
There were visits, Fries said, where he might fix a shower head or repair a sticky garage door opener.
“On one visit I was standing between the living room and kitchen and could look into a bathroom,” Fries said. “It looked like the ceiling was coming down. Eva said there was a leak. She’d gotten a bid to repair it that was $6,000.”
That would have been unaffordable for Weideli.
“My husband and I worked all our lives, but with health issues, unexpected losses and not planning enough ahead, we find ourselves living month to month,” she said.
Over his decades as a deputy, Fries had made contacts throughout the business community.
“I live in Roy, and I’ve had a lot of work done over the years,” Fries said. “If I spend a lot of money with someone, I get to know them.”
He reached out and touched a few contacts.
“I dragged a couple of buddies into this,” he said with a laugh.
Fries went to ProBuild in Graham, which had built much of his home a decade earlier, and general manager Barney Palmer offered to donate sheeting, siding and trim.
“I told him roofing wasn’t something we did, and suggested he talk to Glen Payne at Legends Roofing,” Palmer said.
Fries visited Payne and explained the problem. Payne said his company often finds ways to help people in such circumstances.
“He asked me, ‘What are you doing right now?’ and we drove over to Eva’s house, he throws a ladder up to the roof and up we go,” Fries recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, this roof is shot’ – and said he’d get it done without charge.”
When the project was done, everyone involved got a letter from Weideli.
“It made me glad I’d helped, though my end wasn’t all that much,” Palmer said.
In the months since her roof was fixed, Weideli remains close with Fries.
“He brought his girlfriend over so we could meet her,” she said. “Kevin has become a wonderful friend.”