Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Orting rallies to support one of its own

What happened in Orting this week said as much about the community as about Stefanie Clement.

A 39-year-old learning-impaired woman who moved with her parents from Utah 12 years ago, Stefanie has become something of a city staple. Aboard a bright red adult tricycle bought in 2003, she averages about 50 miles a week.

“Orting is beautiful and full of nice people,” she said. “There’s always something going on.”

And she always seems to be going to or coming back from whatever is happening in Orting. No one she sees along the way is ignored.

“I really like to just be myself and ride my bike, wave and smile at people — make their day go a little better,” Stefanie said. “It’s rare when someone doesn’t smile and wave back. People honk their horns when they see me.”

Seeing Stefanie is something Orting residents have done daily for more than a decade.

“My husband and I met Stefanie riding on the bike trail about three years ago, and we would see her half of the time we were in town,” said Jodi Robertson McDonald. “The town is small, and we look out for one another. We look out for Stefanie.”

She is hardly alone.

Once they’d moved to Orting, Stefanie’s parents, Charles and Ruth Clement, bought her that red tricycle and a dog she named Scamper.

“I never thought she’d ride that bike the way she did,” Ruth said. “She rode everywhere, every day — rain or snow or sun. She’ll ride downtown, waving at everyone. She’s made friends with bikers who come through Orting.”

That worried her, Ruth admitted. A woman alone approaching bearded men on Harley-Davidsons?

“She seems to have a sixth sense about people, and she doesn’t approach anyone who makes her nervous,” Ruth said. “A few years ago some junior high school age boys were hassling her, giving her a hard time.

“Some bikers rolled up and chased them away. Even they watch over Stefanie.”

About two weeks ago, her bike gave out.

“The frame broke, and they told us it couldn’t be fixed,” Stefanie said. “Because it was red, I’d named it, Always Ready to Go. I didn’t know what I was going to do without it.”

Ruth and Charles planned to replace it, at a cost of a little more than $1,000.

They never had the chance.

Stefanie wrote about her loss on Facebook, where she has 273 friends — almost all from Orting. One of them, nursing student Robertson McDonald, shared the news on another Facebook site, Orting Talk of the Town.

“It drew a lot of conversation, but nothing was being done,” she said. “So I started a page to raise money for a new bike for Stefanie.”

The response was stunning.

“In the first hour, it raised $1,000,” Robertson McDonald said. “We had people from Orting and people who used to live in Orting and remembered seeing Stefanie. It was as if people decided they were going to take care of one of their own.”

With that cash, Robertson McDonald took Stefanie to the Bonney Lake Bicycle Shop and had her pick out the model she wanted.

“The new bike is going to be blue, and I’m naming it Blue Bell,” Stefanie said at the time.

When the City Council met Wednesday night at City Hall, Stefanie was the first order of business — though she didn’t know it.

“Jodi came to pick me up and I thought we were going to dinner,” Stefanie said. “We ended up at the council meeting, and they presented me with my bike. I bawled my eyes out.”

She has ridden the bike twice a day since.

“I cannot thank everyone enough,” Stefanie said. “So many people did this for me.”

Ruth Clement believes there’s a reason she and her husband landed in Orting when they decided to move to Western Washington.

“It’s a town that needed her and where she needed to be,” Ruth said. “In Tacoma or Seattle, they’d see this strange girl. In Orting, she’s unique but accepted. If she’s at the park or riding her bike and her favorite song comes on, she’ll get off and dance.

“People here will dance, too. They’ll honk their horn and dance in their cars as they go by. I think we were led to Orting.”