Local couple lends a helping hand

For Sequim and Port Angeles residents, the flooding that hit much of the Northwest in December 2007 was reserved to news broadcasts alone. The Dungeness and Elwha rivers threatened to overflow, but never did. It was rain, just a lot of rain, and citizens went on with their day-to-day activities. But to the west and south, Mother Nature proved less benign, destroying homes and businesses and drastically altering lives.

One such place was Boistfort Valley, a small community just west of Chehalis in Lewis County. Family farms were destroyed, thousands of dollars worth of livestock were lost and the majority of citizens were left without homes. The torrent flooded some 58 homes, the water rising to the ceilings.

George and Martha McLean, members of the Sequim Prairie Grange, had never before volunteered, but the disaster in Boistfort Valley prompted them to get involved in the relief effort.

Contacting T. Neason, the project’s volunteer coordinator, the McLeans took a preliminary tour of the area to find out whether they were serious about helping out.

“It was terrible. The yards had up to a foot of mud in them and the houses had been stripped so they were bare two-by-fours and they had been dried out. There were piles and piles of logs,” Martha said.

According to the McLeans, the houses had to be stripped of almost everything, sheetrock to flooring. All new wiring and plumbing had to be installed.

“There was nothing,” Martha said.

“We figured we were going to help,” George added. “We actually wanted to go down there right away.”

Neason tried to coordinate volunteers based on their skills. George is a retired carpenter, so the McLeans were asked to wait until February when the majority of carpentry work to homes and businesses was ready to begin. They packed their motor home with tools and heading down. George, with Martha working alongside him, spent 23 days putting up sheetrock, moving walls and hanging doors. George happened to be the only carpenter volunteering.

“The organization was fantastic,” Martha said. “The government could take a lesson.”

Since they were practically starting from scratch, the McLeans ended up improving some of the older homes. For example, they were able to bring one wheelchair-using resident’s home up to ADA standards. They also were able to build additional closet space for residents.

“A lot of these houses didn’t have closets in their bedroom, or they had itty-bitty ones, so as long as there were bare walls, they said, ‘Could you make me a closet?’ and we would frame a closet in the bedroom for them,” Martha said.

The McLeans were just part of a huge number of volunteers working in the area. Martha recalls seeing a number of Mennonite girls in dresses crawling under houses and pushing the mud out with their bare hands. Another volunteer was on his way home to Los Angeles when he heard reports of the relief effort and decided to help out. He ended up staying a month.

Donations arrived from area stores, including Wal-Mart. Building supplies and appliances including sheetrock, carpeting, refrigerators, stoves and washing machines were donated.

“It was the first time we volunteered like that and it probably won’t be the last,” Martha said.

In fact, the McLeans will be returning to Boistfort to finish the work on six homes. According to George, there are still a number of displaced families in the area.

“They have been working so hard and they’ve been doing it neighbor helping neighbor,” Martha said, adding that it was a privilege to be able to volunteer. “They’ve done it on their own with the help of volunteers, and they’re all such wonderful people. They’ve accepted us into the community as community members.“

The McLeans are urging more Sequim and Port Angeles residents to get involved, especially those men and women with carpentry skills.

“I think people who aren’t volunteering are really missing a chance to do things for other people and help. If there are any carpenters, they are welcome down there,” Martha said.

To volunteer, contact T. Neason or Ruth Peterson at 360-245-3207 or

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