Memorial remembers Touchet woman

Katie Nolan was one of three climbers who died on Mount Hood earlier this month.

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Photo of Katie Nolan.

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Katie Nolan's brother and sister-in-law, Jason and Raeben Nolan, speak at the service in Walla Walla.

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Katie Nolan's sister-in-law, Raeben Nolan, is seen on the video from the Portland memorial service during its showing to close to 150 people at New Hope Christian Church in Walla Walla on Sunday.

WALLA WALLA -- Like Mount Hood, with its many facets, crevasses and covered and exposed surfaces, Katie Nolan was also compared to the mountain, during a memorial service last week in Portland.

So it seemed fitting that because many resident of Touchet -- where Nolan was raised -- could not travel to that service, that the memory of the mountain should come to them.

On Sunday, close to 150 people, most from Touchet, attended a memorial service at New Hope Christian Church in Walla Walla, where Pastor Ken Mayberry opened the service and said, "This is church done differently today."

Mayberry was not only referring to the Sunday memorial, but to the fact that a video of the entire Portland memorial service would be played during regular church service.

"This was just going to be for our church to start with. But then there was an article in the newspaper (Union-Bulletin) that said the community needed someplace ... so we are here together to bring closure and to bring healing," Mayberry said to those who filled the fellowship hall of Central Christian Church, 66 S. Palouse St.

The pastor was brief in his introductions, seeming to understand that what lay ahead was a two-hour memorial made up of family and friends who would share memories and thoughts of the 29-year-old climber who died earlier this month, along fellow climbers 24-year-old Anthony Vietti and 26-year-old Luke Gullberg.

The service began with the reading of a letter by Nolan's mother, Darla, written after her daughter's proclaimed death, which occurred after the rescue mission on Mount Hood turned into one of waiting for the recovery of the bodies of Nolan and Vietti. The body of Gullberg was found on Dec. 12.

"Dear Katie..." Raeben Nolan, Katie's sister-in-law, read in the letter, "...This should be the other way around. You should be here talking about me not being here."

What followed was a procession of letters and statements from roughly a dozen family members and friends who shared their memories.

A triathlete, marathon runner, hiker, writer and mountain climber -- to name only a few interests -- Nolan was repeatedly described as a strong-spirited woman who accomplished her goals almost as easily as she set them.

"This was her way of recharging her batteries," said Rita Hansen, who was listed as a friend and mentor. And later she added "confidant" to the list.

"It was almost as if the more she pushed herself the more she had to give to others," Hansen said.

Nolan made a career out of helping the needy. She specialized in humanitarian outreach work for homeless women and at-risk teenage girls. And she spent months overseas working in missions for the poor, including volunteer work at the Mother Theresa's Home for the Sick and Dying Destitutes in Calcutta, India.

In the video of the memorial service, Nepal team leader Ben Oldham described how part of Nolan's missionary work involved sitting and having tea with destitute Calcuttans, and how Nolan always seemed to reaching out to the poor.

"You couldn't keep her away. If you needed to find Katie, you would simply look in the street and she would be there sitting with somebody ... Katie consistently went to the places that were most difficult," Oldham said.

All the speakers seemed to agree that Nolan was a woman of action. Her Catholic Charities supervisor Margi Dechenne said it was what made her so good at reaching out to people in need.

"Believing in something was never enough for her, she had to take some action or never would have stood for it," Dechenne said in the Portland memorial.

But just like the mountain where she died, friends also shared how Nolan had areas in her life that were rarely revealed to others. A few friends spoke of the darker side of the mountain, the struggles Nolan had with her looks, of sitting with her through a night of tears, of her eating disorder, of trying to finding meaning in life and, most of all, of finding peace with God.

"You really get to know someone when you share a tent with them, and I am so grateful for that time, even though I feel I gained more from that relationship ... I was amazed that she had this capacity to worm her way into your life," Hansen said. "It was only when she finally did open up about herself that you knew that you had made the cut and you were a confidant."

Hansen was the last speaker for the service. And in her closing statement she asked people to look up and remember a life as big as a mountain.

"Katie did a lot in her short life," she said. "But I can tell you that the thing I will always think about now when I see Mount Hood in all its splendor and all its glory on a clear and sunny day, that Katie ... picked the biggest and largest headstone in all the state, the mountain itself.

"Look at it with a smile on your face and remember not the sad fact that our friend was taken from us all too soon, but that she did it her way, marching to the beat of a different drummer and with all the gusto that she could."

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