Larry LaRue

Three years of stories about Tacoma-area people, dogs, cats and two pigs

Two-and-a-half-year-old Ellie Walton, right, her older sister, Ava, and their mom, Sarah Walton, horse around at home in August. Ellie has undergone chemotherapy and had 15 surgeries for multiple ailments and turned 3 years old last week.
Two-and-a-half-year-old Ellie Walton, right, her older sister, Ava, and their mom, Sarah Walton, horse around at home in August. Ellie has undergone chemotherapy and had 15 surgeries for multiple ailments and turned 3 years old last week. Staff file

This space won’t be vacant Monday. Various news stories, features and photos will easily fit it. For the past three years, though, this column appeared nearly every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday — as did the people, characters, cats and dogs and two pigs who inhabited it.

The object was always to give voice to those who were rarely heard. Old-timers with marvelous life stories. Exceptional kids. A dog who ran off and was found because of a Gig Harbor man’s psychic dream.

Quite a few columns dealt with overcoming complications life can produce with stunning quickness.

In 2013, Brandon Hambrick came home from school to find his house empty — his parents and 11 siblings gone. A neighbor told him they’d moved out during the day.

Homeless at 18, he slept on a park bench — he didn’t like the noise of area shelters — and scrambled to find food.

Kurt Miller, director of the Reach Center of Tacoma, knew Hambrick as an intern and wasn’t about to let him fall through the cracks. Hambrick wound up working with Reach, got into Clover Park Technical College and started his own small business creating logos.

Eventually, he reconciled with his family, who had moved to Illinois.

Tacoma siblings Peter and Wynne Wimberger — graduating from high school and college, respectively — decided to take on the Pacific Crest Trail, along with Wynne’s boyfriend.

Over three columns, the Wimbergers talked about the beginning of their trip, the middle, and yes, the happy ending.

Along the way, Wynne jettisoned the boyfriend and Peter’s feet nearly froze. It was a great American adventure.

Puyallup’s Lon Cole was only 64 when he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. Cole not only faced the disease head on, he wrote poetry and published two books about how his life was changing.

Former Puyallup High School grads Chris Utterback and Nick Ost wanted to change the world, and decided to take on testicular cancer.

With the help of friends, they established a nonprofit organization — Sacks of Love — sponsored a fundraising run, sold T-shirts and continue to donate to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Another feel-good column featured Roy McAlister, a Gig Harbor man who creates world-renowned, hand-crafted guitars — and has sold them to Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Graham Nash, among others.

McAlister, 53, found he had time on his hands so he applied for a job and got one teaching wood shop at Stadium High School.

Early in 2014, the Northwest Spay & Neuter Center treated its 50,000th client, and that client had a name. It produced one of this column’s most unforgettable leads:

“One morning early this month, Snarf the cat awakened to find himself a bit groggy, still orange but missing his testicles.”

There were columns for the ages, like the one on Wilma Rosenow, who turned 106 in 2014.

“I got to be 106 by living day by day and realizing I’m not in charge. We are only pilgrims in the promised land.” she said. “I will not wilt away, I stay active.”

Rosenow died this year after turning 107.

Another centenarian, Jim Lyman, turned 100 while living in a yurt he and his son built on family land in Seabeck, near Bremerton.

“Why have I lived so long? Well, I eat a lot of cookies. I drink two glasses of milk every day. In the summertime, I might take a beer once or twice a week,” Lyman said.

There was Ted Friesz, who rode his horse from the 1964 Seattle World’s Fair to New York City.

And Steve Wilkin, a Gig Harbor man who’d kept a movie poster he’d found in an old New York movie theater for 41 years before deciding it was time to get rid of it. The 1931 “Frankenstein” poster then sold at auction for … gulp … $300,000.

Too many times, this column dealt with heartbreak: The death of Brandon Morris, who died protecting friends when gang members mistakenly shot into the group thinking they were rival gang bangers.

The death by suicide of Jake Stanton, a 19-year-old Stadium High grad who was tormented by voices in his head. His parents told his story, from their fight to get him help to his last night at home.

There were columns about success. Raymond Cool was 45 years old in 2010, and weighed 486 pounds. He set an “absurd goal” to lose 300 pounds. By the time he appeared in the column in 2013, he was down to 196.

No one appeared here more often than Ellie Walton, who was seven months old in 2013 and had already had two brain surgeries. A tumor that took up nearly half her skull left parents Kyle and Sarah praying for the best but fearing the worst.

The column checked back with her from time to time, and in 2015 Ellie had her 15th surgery.

Against all odds, she also turned 3 last week — a lovely, happy, bright little girl.

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