Late Transportation worker’s family gets gift from anonymous Sequim families

SEQUIM — This is a story about a handful of Sequim families reaching out to another who has suffered a great loss.

Callie Richards of Sequim got married last summer to a man who loved her and her children without reservation. He was Neal Richards of Forks, himself dad to two young boys.

Their families fit right together: her 12-year-old Gretchen, 7-year-old Gabby and 10-year-old Gavin, and his Tristin, 12, and Cameron, 10.

On Friday nights, Neal made pizza, and then the kids would settle down for a movie.

By fall, Neal and Callie had found a house in Sequim, a place they were poised to buy in November. They planned to move in over Thanksgiving weekend.

Neal, a state Department of Transportation lead maintenance technician, was clearing post-storm debris on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles on Nov. 18 when he was killed by a falling tree branch. He was 42.

In a memorial service the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a long procession of state Transportation vehicles and about 250 people bade goodbye to Neal, whom co-worker Jim Hart remembered as “living proof of how kind a person can be.”

In Sequim, a small group of people who know Callie and her kids wanted to return such kindness.

They pitched in to present the family with a Christmas gift they could enjoy together in the new year.

And so when Callie arrived Wednesday night to pick up her children at the Sequim Boys & Girls Club, she found a box too big to wrap.

Movie-screen-sized TV

In it: a 55-inch flat-screen television, essentially a movie screen that will stretch across a wall in the family’s new house.

Standing by was John Jensen, owner of An Den Construction in Sequim, ready to provide free installation of the giant TV whenever Callie is ready.

Jensen’s children, 10-year-old Tatum and 9-year-old Fischer, are Boys & Girls Club members along with Callie’s children.

They’re known as the Happe kids — that is in fact their last name ­– and club volunteer Stephen Rosales said it’s his pleasure to watch them grow up.

Over the past several months, he saw how they reacted with joy when their new stepfather, Neal, came to pick them up in the evenings.

“I asked the kids, ‘What does Mom want for Christmas?'” Rosales told Callie, just before having Jensen and a few other club staffers bring the TV box out of the back office.

The children weren’t able to give a definitive answer, “so we got you something for your new house,” Rosales told her.

Seeing the TV and reading the accompanying card, Callie wept a little, then thanked Rosales and Jensen again and again.

The kids, fairly blase about the box, instead turned to their mother. She pulled each one close for a hug, and then the foursome dutifully posed for pictures.

Next Gabby, known for living up to her name, made a pronouncement.

Cookies, pizza, movies

“We’ll make cookies and pizza and watch movies,” she said.

Movie nights with her new brothers Tristin and Cameron will continue, Callie added. Neal’s boys live in Port Angeles, so it won’t be hard for all five kids to get together on weekends.

Callie, a case manager in the state Department of Social and Health Services’ developmental disabilities division, is taking some time off this month. She’ll start moving in over the next couple of weeks to the new house she and Neal chose.

“I figured he would want me to,” she said.

The families who purchased the $1,100 TV wanted to be anonymous, Rosales said.

With care, they chose a gift that symbolizes their hope that Callie and all of her children will stick close together.

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

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