Lake Chelan school-bus tragedy still resonates
Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing that day 65 years ago when they learned that a Chelan school bus with 20 children went into the lake.
The Wenatchee World
CHELAN — Nov. 26, 1945: For people who lived in the Lake Chelan Valley at the time, it's one of those defining dates. Like when President Kennedy was assassinated.
Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they learned that a Chelan school bus with 20 children went into the lake.
Fifteen of the children and their young driver — just home from the war — drowned in the icy waters that snowy Monday morning, the first day back to school after Thanksgiving break.
Five other students and a woman catching a ride to town for a dentist appointment made it to shore after escaping through a broken window as the bus sank into Lake Chelan's deep waters.
The tragedy touched everyone in the Lake Chelan Valley. About 700 people attended a memorial service for the victims. Students raised money for a monument with the names and ages of those who died. A small park was built, and the monument was erected at the site where the bus went into the water, about five miles up the South Lakeshore Road.
Some of the nine families who lost children left Chelan, perhaps because of the fatal crash. But some remained, and raised their other children there despite the lake that served as a constant reminder of their loss.
In the 65 years since the tragedy, most — and perhaps all — of the parents of those children have died. But their sisters and brothers — even if they weren't yet born or were too young to remember the event — still carry the memory of that day.
"I grew up in the shadow of that bus accident," said Marci Hale, who has moved back to the home on Chelan's South Lakeshore Road where she grew up.
Hale was born after her brothers, Douglas, 8, and Stuart, 6, were taken by the lake, just down the road from her home. It was nine days before Stuart's seventh birthday.
Hale is certain she was only born because of the accident. "My mom and dad had already had their family," she said.
The Asklund family, too, stayed on Lake Chelan's south shore. Their home was less than 10 feet from the lake that claimed 11-year-old Lewis — who was called "Louie" — and Barbara, 8.
Marybeth Asklund, like Hale, was born after her brother and sister died. She said she has no idea whether her parents would have had her or her younger brother, Roger, if they hadn't lost their two oldest children, although her parents did have a surviving son and daughter who were too young to be on the school bus that day.
This was a time before grief counseling, when people who suffered losses were expected to deal with it themselves, and get on with their lives.
It was also a time in our history when loss of life seemed pervasive. World War II had just ended, and many families had lost sons in the war.
Asklund and her sister and brothers still bring flowers to leave at the monument on Memorial Day. So does Hale.
Although she was an only child, Hale was also the little sister to two brothers whose memories were so strong, she grew to know them.
"I was raised with them being here, in spirit. Mom talked about them very, very freely. I think it was her way of surviving," she said. "People would be shocked by the way my mother would talk about Douglas and Stuart, like I should have known them."
In a way, she did get to know them. "Douglas would have been a baseball star. He could throw a baseball, and it would just whiz. And Stuart, he was a practical joker. He tied knots in my parents' pajamas," Hale said, describing the brothers she never met.
Unlike the Hales, Walt and Berniece Asklund rarely talked about the bus crash that killed Louie and Barbara. They still had two children at home. Carl, the middle boy, was only 3, and he became the oldest.
"I don't remember it, really. I remember my brother and sister. And I know it affected my folks, deeply," he said.
He, too, lives on the lake, about nine miles above the crash site.
Pauline Asklund, now Pauline Dolan, was 15 months old when her brother and sister died.
Dolan said her parents never talked about the crash, or how much they missed their children.
There were other families nearby who suffered the same loss, so growing up it didn't seem unusual to them. "They took care of us. They fed us and clothed us and taught us right from wrong. It was just something that happened. It was their own, private hell they had to live through," she said.
It's been 65 years since the 15 children and their driver, Jack Randle, died in Lake Chelan. Fewer and fewer people remember it.
Yet still, talking about it can bring tears to their siblings' eyes, even if they have no memory of those who boarded the bus that day.
Marci Hale choked up when talking about how she is touched by the toys and money that people leave behind at the memorial. Someone once left a set of black-and-white photos there, including one of the bus being pulled from the lake.
With a shaky voice, she said, "People do stop, and it does mean something to them."
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.