Rose Village to the rescue

Community joins forces to help neighborhood’s ‘Mom’ rebuild after fire

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Everybody calls her Mom — her family and friends, and her neighbors at North West Mobile Estates, up at the end of X Street in Rose Village.

But Bonnie “Dia” Rasband, 70, sure has endured more than any mother should.

She’s survived seven cancers and 58 surgeries, she said. She divorced her first husband and buried her second. She moved to Vancouver to nurse her ailing mother, and eventually drove the coffin all the way back to Declo, Idaho, “because of a promise I made to Mom.” She’s suffered a heart attack and gets around in a wheelchair.

You can help

If you are interested in helping out, call New Life Friends Church at 360-694-6843 or make a donation in “Dia” Rasband’s name at any U.S. Bank.

More recently, she has operated an informal food bank out of her mobile home. “She has helped out the community for many years, she distributed food and prepared it for anyone in need,” said her friend Sue Roberts. “She is a great lady with a great spirit, and I don’t know how she does it.”

On the day before Mother’s Day, Rasband’s trailer burned. She knows it was her own fault: She was smoking, and some ashes apparently flew loose. Oxygen pouring from a medical oxygen tank fueled the blaze. Rasband struggled to splash the fire out with water from a dog bowl — until her grandson, 17-year-old Chris, “overpowered me and picked me up and carried me outside,” she said.

The top of Chris’ head was singed, Rasband said. Also on the scene was Rasband’s 46-year-old daughter, a stroke victim, who landed in the hospital and now is recovering in a nursing home. Rasband herself is staying with friends in an East Vancouver subdivision. Three of her four dogs did not survive.

Rasband’s latest misfortune “has affected people in the community, so the community is coming together,” said friend Shawnie Kingsbury — who added that Rasband was her main support system when Kingsbury was recovering from meth addiction about a dozen years ago. “This woman is like my mom.”

So on Saturday, volunteers from numerous local churches and other agencies came together to continue their daunting project: clean up and fix up Rasband’s trailer. The complete list of do-gooders includes Summit View Church, New Life Church, Crossroads Community Church and its volunteer Second Saturday project, Evergreen Bible Church, Memorial Lutheran Church and homegrown community development group Americans Building Community. Waste Management provided a dumpster. Young offenders from Clark County Juvenile Justice helped too.

“God always provides,” said James Kingsbury, Shawnie Kingsbury’s contractor husband, whose business, JAM Construction, is leading the way. A structural engineer friend of Kingsbury’s has donated services, too.

“So you just sit on your hands and let somebody do for you, for a change,” Shawnie Kingsbury told Rasband. She added, to a reporter, that Rasband probably won’t be able to keep from contributing: “She’ll probably go into a friend’s trailer and make salads for everybody,” she said.

“God sees all and turns it all into good,” Rasband said. “I have never been so humbled in my life.”

For years, right up until the fire, Rasband has worked with her daughter, Colise Johnson of Portland, to redistribute food donations that come through an informal network of friends. There’s nothing official about it — it’s word of mouth and below the radar of formal nonprofit agencies such as the Clark Count Food Bank or the umbrella Oregon Food Bank Network — but Kingsbury said a pickup truck full of quality food shows up at Rasband’s trailer once a week, and neighbors and friends are sure to follow.

“She bags it, she distributes it equally. She knows her people — it’s not a lot of strangers showing up,” Kingsbury said. Sometimes she cooks, too.

If all this sounds a little dubious — the smoking, the food bank with no paper trail, the too many dogs to keep track of — Kingsbury says she’s painfully aware of it. Rasband probably shouldn’t be living in a trailer by herself, she said.

“We said we’d take care of her house, but we’ve got to get her to take care of herself first,” Kingsbury said. “She’s got to stop taking in stray dogs. She promised she would.”

Rasband’s future is an open question. What’s not is the weird, singed haircut the fire gave her grandson.

“He thinks it’s cool. He wants to keep it that way,” said Rasband. “I said, absolutely not.”

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525 or scott.hewitt@columbian.com.