EVERSON - Erik Ramstead, Everson's longtime police chief, was a big man who played a large role in his community, so his death at the age of 50 leaves a massive hole in many people's hearts.
Ramstead, who died Tuesday, Jan. 15, served in the Everson Police Department for 28 years, all but three of them as chief. He was one of the longest serving police chiefs in the state.
Ramstead's police work was just one part of his life of service to the community. He was also active in Everson Lions Club, including a stint as president, and he helped start a program that raises scholarship money for Nooksack Valley High School seniors.
"The community was his hobby," said his widow, Amy Ramstead.
Friends and colleagues described Ramstead as a smart, funny, positive guy who helped with whatever needed to be done; who treated everyone with respect, from lawmaker to lawbreaker; and who served as a steadying, trustworthy presence in Everson, population 2,500, as city officials came and went.
"He wasn't a rock in our community, he was THE rock in our community," said Andy Rowlson, an Everson council member. "He represented what living in small-town America was all about."
A law enforcement procession and memorial service for Ramstead are scheduled for Monday.
SERVED THE PUBLIC
Ramstead grew up in Blaine, where he graduated from high school in 1980. He attended Pacific Lutheran University after a short time, returning home after his father died. He soon focused on public service, becoming a volunteer firefighter in Birch Bay and a reserve police officer in Blaine. He joined Everson's department in 1985 and became chief just three years later.
Standing 6 feet 4 inches and weighing upward of 300 pounds, with blond hair and a friendly, open face, Ramstead naturally drew people's attention. Once people met him, they rarely forgot him.
"He was about the most approachable police officer you could have," Rowlson said. "I have a feeling it was very difficult to not be Erik's friend."
As a policeman in a small town, he dealt with serious matters, including floods, shootings, gangs, and the recovery of a canoeist who died while practicing for the Ski to Sea race. There were lighter moments, too, from senior pranks to a squirrel that attacked several people.
During his tenure, Everson police acquired a drug-detecting dog, new headquarters next to City Hall and the latest in police technology. The department now has about a half-dozen full-time officers and a similar number of reserves.
"Erik always kept a very professional department," said Sumas Police Chief Chris Haugen, who regularly discussed police news and other topics with Ramstead when they rendezvoused at their regular meeting spot in the parking lot at Nooksack Valley High School.
"Erik was a great storyteller," Haugen said. "It was always fun to listen to him."
Ramstead also served on countywide panels dealing with law and justice issues and with plans for a county jail, and Rowlson credited him with introducing new programs to improve public safety and keep his fellow Everson officers up to date.
"There was always something new for the police officers to learn and work on," Rowlson said.
Being a longtime policeman in a small town had its advantages when it came to enforcing the law, too. Everson Mayor John Perry recalled a time Ramstead was called away from a meeting because a shoplifter was reported fleeing across Main Street. Ramstead excused himself from the meeting, but returned about five minutes later.
"How'd that go?" Perry asked him.
"I got him," Ramstead replied.
Perry said Ramstead had an inkling who the shoplifter might be.
"He beat the person back to his house," Perry said. "Knew who guy was."
Among the many people who have come by City Hall to express their sorrow, Perry said, was a man who had prompted many calls for police to intervene.
"One guy said, 'When he would come to my house they weren't pleasant times, but he was always pleasant to me,'" Perry said.
Ramstead kept in close contact with Everson and Nooksack schools, from helping with security plans to providing officers to stand watch at games and dances. Ramstead got along with students, as well as teachers and staff, in part because his daughters, Erika and Lauren, attended local schools, said Mark Johnson, Nooksack Valley School superintendent.
"He knew what it was like to be a parent," Johnson said. "He had reasonableness about him; kids respected him."
Ramstead also helped kids as a founder and longtime board member of the Nooksack Valley Dollars for Scholars Foundation, which since 1998 has raised more than $1 million for an endowment to provide $60,000 to $80,000 a year in scholarships to Nooksack Valley seniors.
At graduation ceremonies, Ramstead would stand on stage to hand out scholarship awards to some 30 to 50 student winners.
"He was instrumental in getting our scholarship foundation to the level that it's at today," said Jeff Price of Everson, foundation president.
Ramstead's reputation as a go-to guy who could handle situations calmly while reassuring others put him in demand as a man to turn to for help, whether it was coordinating the planting of flowers along Main Street, installing a basketball hoop at a city park or lending a hand while city administrations changed. He worked on Everson's summer festival, and each winter dressed up as Santa for the winter festival.
"Erik was involved in everything," Jeff Price said. "I don't know how he managed to fit it into his schedule."
Indeed, Ramstead worried at times that he was devoting more energy to the community than to his family, his widow said. For her part, Amy Ramstead was active in their daughters' schools and sports, and she and the girls understood Erik's devotion to community service.
Still, Ramstead attended nearly all of his athletic daughters' many games, invited their teams over to the house for get-togethers, and played basketball with his daughters at home until it grew dark, then brought out floodlights and played some more.
Ramstead was diagnosed with a rare form of gastrointestinal cancer in October 2008, but that didn't deter him from watching and encouraging his daughters. If anything, it heightened the importance of doing so.
While ailing, he flew to Kansas to watch Lauren compete in an eight-minute crew race. Lauren now rows crew at Western Washington University, where she is an upperclassman.
A week before Christmas, Ramstead and other family members traveled to Las Vegas to watch Erika, a senior, compete in a tournament with Western's women's basketball team. Ramstead was named "honorary coach" in Las Vegas, an honor normally reserved for home games and for women, said Carmen Dolfo, coach of the women's team.
An honorary coach sits on the team bench, joins team huddles and talks to the team before the game. During his talk, Ramstead told the team "We had to have faith in ourselves and faith in each other," Erika said.
"He just tried to keep positive and upbeat," Dolfo said. "He was plugging on in pain, trying to be there for his family."
A law enforcement procession in honor of Everson Police Chief Erik Ramstead will begin at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 21, at Nooksack Valley High School and proceed through downtown Everson and on to Assumption Catholic Church in Bellingham
Ramstead's memorial Mass will start 10:30 a.m. Monday at Assumption Church, 2116 Cornwall Ave.
Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or firstname.lastname@example.org.