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Memorial honors the 24 people who died in the 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County

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Remembering those who died in Sonoma County

The October 2017 wildfires killed 24 people in Sonoma County. Here are their names:

Tak-Fu Hung

Arthur Tassman Grant

Marilyn Carol Ress

Carol Collins-Swasey

Sharon Robinson

Karen Aycock

Carmen Colleen McReynolds

Suiko Grant

Linda Tunis

Valerie Lynn Evans

Monte Neil Kirven

Veronica Elizabeth McCombs

Lee Chadwick Rogers

Daniel Martin Southard

Lynne Anderson Powell

Marjorie Lenore Schwartz

Michael Azarian

Michael John Dornbach

Leroy Peter Halbur

Donna Mae Halbur

Tamara Latrice Thomas

Carmen Caldentey Berriz

Michael Charles Grabow

Christina Hanson

The oldest person at Sunday’s dedication north of Santa Rosa honoring wildfire victims was also its toughest.

As he made his way to a shady place in the sculpture courtyard of the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, Glyn Evans, 90, was complimented on his handsome wooden cane, with its tasteful yet practical leather strap.

“I need this cane, I got so many old injuries,” he replied. “I was a rodeo cowboy for 25 years.”

Asked to catalog some of those injuries, he mentioned a broken tailbone, multiple fractures of both legs — “mostly from bulls steppin’ on ya” — as well as a badly broken elbow, collarbone, and every rib in his rib cage, some more than once.

And yet, when he stood before the granite memorial to the 24 people in Sonoma County who were killed two years ago in the North Bay fires, and touched the name of his late ex-wife, Valerie Lynn Evans, this tough old ex-bronc and bull rider wept and could not be consoled.

“He needs to cry,” confided his daughter-in-law, Victoria Evans. “He hasn’t let it out yet. He really hasn’t.”

This was part of the point of this memorial, designed by Healdsburg artist Doug Unkrey and conceived by the Leadership Santa Rosa’s Class of 1985.

That group, sponsored by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, concluded more than a year ago that, during the many rightful celebrations of the strength and resilience of fire survivors, one group had been overlooked.

“You weren’t hearing as much about those who were lost,” said Kathleen Simmons of Leadership Santa Rosa.

For all the accounts of people rising up and taking back their communities, agreed Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, one of several politicians who spoke at the dedication, “we also had some difficulties, some people left behind.”

Working with the Luther Burbank Center and Judy Voigt of the Voigt Family Sculpture Foundation, the Leadership group was put in touch with Unkrey, who made news in recent months as the creator of a giant hammer that went missing from a public space in Healdsburg.

Working with a good-sized slab of rose-colored granite, Unkrey was determined that the memorial not look funereal.

“It couldn’t look like a tombstone,” he said, “and I didn’t want a list of names in alphabetical order, or anything like that.”

One day while looking at the hills east of the city, inspiration struck. The names, appearing at random, are now banked and angled like the silhouettes of the same hills blackened by the Tubbs and Nuns fires.

In the middle of the memorial is the name of Linda Tunis, who died in her trailer at the Journey’s End mobile home park on Mendocino Avenue.

Her daughter, Jessica Tunis, has made a concerted effort to reach out to the members of other families who lost loved ones in the North Bay fires.

She and Jon Deaver, her partner of 16 years, spoke of the isolation they’ve felt in their grief.

“We’re not rebuilding — my mother doesn’t need a house anymore,” Tunis said.

“So the rebuilding movement doesn’t really include us.”

Remembering those who died in Sonoma County

The October 2017 wildfires killed 24 people in Sonoma County. Here are their names:

Tak-Fu Hung

Arthur Tassman Grant

Marilyn Carol Ress

Carol Collins-Swasey

Sharon Robinson

Karen Aycock

Carmen Colleen McReynolds

Suiko Grant

Linda Tunis

Valerie Lynn Evans

Monte Neil Kirven

Veronica Elizabeth McCombs

Lee Chadwick Rogers

Daniel Martin Southard

Lynne Anderson Powell

Marjorie Lenore Schwartz

Michael Azarian

Michael John Dornbach

Leroy Peter Halbur

Donna Mae Halbur

Tamara Latrice Thomas

Carmen Caldentey Berriz

Michael Charles Grabow

Christina Hanson

She found herself “desperate” to connect with families who had suffered a similar loss.

At the reception following the dedication, she exchanged hugs and contact information with Annie O’Hara, daughter of Tak-Fu Hung, who died at the age of 101 after stopping in the front door of his burning Fountaingrove home and shouting at his wife to run to safety without him.

“Can I text you?” asked Tunis.

“You have to text me!” replied O’Hara.

Until he met Jessica, said Houston Evans, the son of Valerie Evans, who died when she went back into the family’s house to retrieve their dog, Scooter, he had not met anyone who’d lost a loved one in the fires.

“This is really comforting,” he said, “but it’s also really hard. There have been so many days where it was almost impossible to see anything positive. The hilltop was just too far away.”

That said, groundbreaking on his new house on Coffey Lane begins at 7:30 a.m. Monday.

His 90-year-old father, meanwhile, apologized for showing his emotions.

“Hate to make a fool out of myself in front of everybody, but I just can’t help it,” he said.

“Daddy, you’re not being a fool,” said Houston Evans, who added that it was only the second time in his life he has seen his father cry. “And I’m 50.”

While the loss of his ex-wife still hurts, Glyn Evans told Unkrey, after thanking him for the sculpture, “this takes out a lot of the poison.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Ausmurph88.

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