Everson and Nooksack residents bundled up in the freezing cold Monday morning, Jan. 21, to say goodbye to a good man.
Families gathered at the end of their driveways and hundreds of people clustered on sidewalks lined with flags to mark the procession for Everson Police Chief Erik Ramstead, 50, who died Tuesday, Jan. 15, after a long battle with cancer.
The procession of about 50 law enforcement and family cars left Nooksack Valley High School at 8 a.m. and wound through both towns before reaching Bellingham's Assumption Catholic Church about an hour later for a memorial Mass. Along the route, businesses from gas stations to coffee stands had signs thanking Ramstead for his 28 years with the Everson Police Department, all but three of them as chief.
"It was just wonderful to see the response from the community," said Father Mel Gimmaka of St. Innocent Orthodox Church, near Everson. "I'm really proud of the community for doing this."
Gimmaka and his wife, Carol, stood with about 100 people in Nooksack to honor Ramstead, whom Gimmaka described as a friend who was fair in all of his dealings and served the community.
"The people of Everson became a family today," Carol Gimmaka said.
On Everson's Main Street, about 200 people gathered to pay their respects as the procession passed by. Everson residents Beth and Spencer Ahrens described Ramstead as a constant presence for good in the town.
"He's been a big part of the community," Beth Ahrens said. "He was just an all-around great guy. He'll be missed big-time."
Spencer remembered the time his work van ran out of gas in Everson, and he had to walk to a service station. When he got back to his van, there was a note letting him know his tabs were expired. Spencer never knew who the note was from, but he always suspected it was Ramstead.
"That's exactly the kind of thing he would do," Beth Ahrens said.
After the procession, hundreds more packed the pews at Assumption for an emotional funeral Mass led by Father Joseph Altenhofen of Bellingham's Sacred Hearth Catholic Church, where the Ramsteads were members.
Altenhofen remembered when the Ramsteads joined the church, noting that he could always find the taller-than-average family in the crowd. He was at the family's house for dinner the night that Ramstead went to the hospital for the last time, and Ramstead spoke to him about life and his love for his family, his job and the people he worked with.
"He wanted to be involved in everyone's life; he wanted to make it better," Altenhofen told the crowd. "That's the kind of person he was. That's the kind of person God asks us to be."
Ramstead's daughters, Erika and Lauren, spoke tearfully about their father's commitment to family, his job and his community.
"Most of all, he was my hero," Erika said.
She described his "big, goofy smile," and said he was making jokes with the nurses the day before he died. Lauren reminisced about his humorous good nature as well, laughing about the time when she called him a butthead and he responded, "Hey, that's Chief Butthead to you."
She recalled one of his life lessons to her, when in recent years she would complain that things weren't fair. "Life isn't fair," he'd respond. Now, she said, she realizes how lucky she was to have him in her life, being an amazing dad, showing up to all her games and letting her ride in the lead car with him during the local summer festival. It's not fair that other kids don't have the chance to experience that, she said.
After the Mass, people gathered in the Assumption gym for a reception, where law enforcement officials, family and friends shared hugs and stories.
Whatcom County Council member Pete Kremen described Ramstead as a public servant with a heart of gold whose shoes are going to be impossible to fill.
"Besides being at the top of his craft, he was humble, he was genuine, he was unpretentious, he was compassionate," Kremen said. "That's why this place was packed. People appreciated him. They respected him."
Reach ZOE FRALEY at email@example.com or call 756-2803.