Son’s untimely death inspires family’s quest to assist those in need

A collage of photos and mementos help keep alive the memories Trysten Fortune, who died in 2004.

A collage of photos and mementos help keep alive the memories Trysten Fortune, who died in 2004. Photo by Michael Lopez.

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Trysten Allen Fortune will always move forward.

As his graduation date nears, plans call for the boy from the Walla Walla Valley to attend college, enter adulthood, learn a profession and become as good a man as Trysten was a boy.

That it will be through someone other than Trysten is not new to Mark and Shamaree Fortune — not for the past decade.

FYI

Information about the Trysten Fortune Memorial Scholarship is available at Mac-Hi, but time is short. Applications are due by Friday. For more scholarship information call Kristine Martin at 541-938-5591.

Mark and Shamaree established the Trysten Fortune Memorial Scholarship account at Washington Federal bank; donations can be made at any branch. This, because others may want to help Trysten’s spirit continue to be poured out.

The back story is surreal. On a pretty autumn day a cottonwood tree fell by the banks of the Walla Walla River, where the Fortune children were busy building a fort, the kind of thing country kids do for sport.

The falling tree struck down a sapling, which then hit 8-year-old Trysten on the head, knocking him to his knees — where he stayed, immobile as a statue. When his brother Chandler, 9 years old at the time, ran to check him, Trysten toppled over.

Summoned by a frantic child, Shamaree realized the situation as soon as she saw her youngest son.

“There was of blood. Lots of blood,” she recalls. “It was icky. He still had a heartbeat, but you could tell he was gone.”

A few hours later, everyone knew the same, despite every effort made. The boy with the handsome smile and happy eyes had suffered a broken neck. As Mark held his son’s toe and coaxed him to go on, Trysten left the earth Oct. 16, 2004. Afterward his mother and father insisted on washing his body at the funeral home themselves, providing their son a final caress.

As if he understood time was limited, the tyke they called “Twistin’ Trysten The Piston” did everything sooner than most kids. At age 3, when many preschoolers are just getting the running thing down, the boy began riding a motorcycle without training wheels. By the time he was 5, Trysten was competing at the World Amateur National Championship in Tennessee, finishing 35th in the world on his pint-sized motorcycle. The next year, the little boy placed 23rd in the nation.

And when Trysten wasn’t riding, he was hunting and fishing. Driving a golf cart and catching frogs.

He played football for the Sharks youth league — giving his trophies away to those not so awarded and congratulating everyone in the game — and wrestled on a team with Chandler.

Together the duo would holler, “We are the Fortune boys, the mighty, mighty Fortune boys!” Two little warriors pumped up on wrestling adrenaline, Mark says with a laugh, chasing tears from his cheek with a finger.

The tears. Ten years later tears continue to spring hot and fresh to this family sitting at the kitchen table. In a practiced maneuver, Micha, 15, puts a box of tissues on the table and scoots it to the center. Chandler’s face radiates the pain of everyone. For a minute no one can speak.

Behind us is Trysten’s memorial. Dozens of pictures and bits of memorabilia are framed and surrounded by green, the child’s favorite color. Here is Trysten in motocross gear, his Sharks uniform — taken just hours before death. There he’s an outlandishly adorable baby grinning into the camera. Hanging out on a summer day with siblings Tarynn, Chandler and Micha.

Yet those pieces, forever precious, are not the true shrine.

No, that comes in three-dimensional size and was birthed soon after the accident, Mark says.

“Christmas that year, Shamaree had set aside $300 for every kid for presents. And there was Trysten’s $300. We decided to take it to another family, someone in need, you know ... The school helped us find a family. To get us out of this funk and help another family.”

The Fortunes saw what the gesture did for that family, in a crisis of their own that season. The second year, Shamaree and Mark asked others to join in with donations to do even more. Soon Trysten’s work grew past Santa Claus status and moved into other ways to bless those who have suffered loss.

A water heater for a family who had lost a young mother. Trees planted in Trysten’s memory in strangers’ yards. The list of the ways the little boy still lives is diverse and long, good deeds to honor their son and the community that held them up during unimaginable freefall, Shamaree and Mark say.

They continue to return the favor. When death has come and a family’s world most black, Mark knocks on their door, stepping over the threshold to listen and to hug.

“It helps us feel good about something shitty,” he says, shaking his head softly. “It was a terrible thing, it will always be terrible. But for eight years, three months and 18 days, we were lucky to have him.”

The year has come for Trysten Fortune to graduate. He’ll take the walk on June 1 with his best friends, the Fortunes are certain, five boys who have never forgotten their childhood buddy.

And some McLoughlin High School graduating boy will have been told, a few days before, that he’s been awarded the first Trysten Fortune Memorial Scholarship of $3,000.

Applicants need meet only a few requirements, the Fortunes say. “We wanted to keep it simple. We just want them to be a good kid who’s nice to other kids.”

As well, the successful applicant, a boy — “Because, you know, Trysten was a boy,” Mark says — will have indicated a true desire to attend college, produced a 3.0 grade-point average and had some wrestling or basketball participation.

Someone who seems to understand Trysten’s character and love of life.

There’s more information to be had at Mac-Hi, of course, but time is short. Applications are due by Friday.

Mark and Shamaree established the Trysten Fortune Memorial Scholarship account at Washington Federal bank; donations can be made at any branch. This, because others may want to help Trysten’s spirit continue to be poured out.

“Trysten had a great life in his eight years,” Mark says. “His life has impacted a lot of people in positive ways. And it still is, through us.”

For more scholarship information call Kristine Martin at 541-938-5591.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or sheilahagar@wwub.com.

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