By KATHY ANEY
East Oregonian | Posted: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 8:22 pm
Tammy Richter remembers feeling dazed and disbelieving as she stood at the McKay Reservoir gazing at her husband Matt’s empty fishing boat.
Earlier that Aug. 11 morning, fishermen had noticed the craft circling with no one aboard. They discovered Matt’s hat and a shoe, but the 54-year-old Pendleton fisherman had vanished.
In a haze of grief, Tammy remained on a boat ramp with family and friends as search and rescue members combed brush around the shore, just in case Matt had made it to land. A boat trolled the reservoir using a sonar location device. They apologized when forced by darkness to stop for the night.
The next day, searchers from five counties continued looking. A team from Klamath Falls drove all night towing a boat with special 3-D sonar equipment.
The next morning searchers would locate his submerged body.
At the time, anguish shut out most everything, but later Richter would clearly remember the way search and rescue personnel expressed compassion, kept her informed and even cried with her. Gratitude compelled Richter and her family to donate to search and rescue teams from four counties (Baker, Union, Morrow and Klamath Falls) and the Columbia Basin Dive Rescue. She also had the funeral home direct memorial donations to Umatilla County Search and Rescue.
Recently, the volunteer group invited Richter to a potluck to see one piece of equipment the group purchased with the more than $2,000 in memorials — a large all-terrain tire designed to attach to a stretcher.
Search and rescue member Bob English said Richter’s gift makes it easier to transport injured people over rough terrain. Without the wheel, such transport ideally takes about a dozen people — six carrying the stretcher and six others spotting, clearing the path and resting.
The wheel will simplify things, requiring fewer people. That’s important with little manpower to spare.
“We are all volunteers,” English said. “We have a limited number of resources.”
On Friday evening, cameras flashed as Richter posed with the equipment and some of the searchers. She smiled. This was something positive, a bright moment. The months since her husband’s death have been trying.
The morning after Matt’s body was recovered, Richter said she went alone to the reservoir and found a spot on the bank close to where the boat was found. She watched deer, geese and a lone fisherman in a rowboat. She had a good cry. She pondered Matt, who had fished the reservoir since he was a young boy, and she meditated on her husband’s last view of the world.
“This is what he was seeing,” she thought. “He was at his favorite place, fishing early in the morning. It was a beautiful way to go.”
She questioned the timing, though. The day before his drowning, they had spent the day together painting a bedroom, having lunch at the Hamley Café and talking about the future. Their three children, a son and two daughters, were now grown — it was time to take some trips and spoil themselves a bit. He’d left her that evening for his weekly night with buddies at the Prodigal Son.
Matt had asked her to get up early with him and continue painting, but she chose instead to help at a breakfast for the homeless at the First United Methodist Church. He decided to go fishing instead. She’s haunted by that, but said she’s never felt angry at God.
The two grew up together and their families were close. When they finally had a first date after Matt’s stint in the Navy, it took just three weeks before they decided to marry. Matt was born prematurely and weighed just three pounds, but grew into a quiet outdoorsman who loved black-and-white television shows and disdained computers, a man who came home to see her at lunch in a houseful of daycare kids who called him grandpa.
Since his death, Matt’s hunting and fishing buddies have finished some of the jobs he had planned, building a privacy fence and pouring concrete at his home. Co-workers at PGG, where Matt was a welder/fabricator, plan to install underground sprinklers. Tammy’s fellow parishioners at Peace Lutheran held a benefit.
The local search and rescue squad didn’t forget Richter either, arriving en masse at Matt’s funeral and sitting in the second row, which the family had saved for them. Richter says she won’t soon forget their expertise and grace.
“I am so thankful for the way they treated me,” she said. “They handled everything with respect and with dignity.”