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A final home for Martha

"Shortly before she died last Monday, Martha Varner arranged to have her veterinarian take care of her two small dogs.But no one made arrangements for Martha. Who would? The 78-year-old Oak Harbor resident was long estranged from her two children, and her two older sisters are out of state, in poor health and have little money. So Varner, broke and alone when she died, now rests unclaimed in a walk-in cooler in the Island County Coroner’s office, awaiting cremation and an unmarked grave in Sunnyside Cemetery.But not if Ruth Aldrich can help it.Aldrich, who works in the meat department at Safeway, forced a friendship on an originally unreceptive Varner 10 years ago. Now she’s trying to make arrangements Varner’s remaining family is either unable or unwilling to make.Last Wednesday, Aldrich opened the Martha Varner Memorial Fund at Whidbey Island Bank. Her goal is to raise $1,200 to pay for Varner’s cremation. That way, she can have Martha’s remains released from county custody and sent to one of her sisters.“She has two older sisters, but they are in poor health and they can’t afford to to help, but one sister really wants the ashes,” Aldrich said. “The county contacted one of her kids, but she didn’t want to have anything to do with her. I just thought maybe there was something I could do about this.”If Aldrich can’t raise the money, the county will pay to cremate Varner and store her remains, or cremains, for two years, Island County Coroner Robert Bishop said. And if no one offers to reimburse the county for the cremation and claim Varner during that period, her remains will then be put into an unmarked grave.Aldrich said when she first met Varner in Safeway, she got the impression she was a pretty grumpy old gal.“She was a customer here at the store and she was just the crustiest old lady you ever met,” Aldrich said. “But I thought, ‘She’s not going to get away with this with me,’ and I called her on it. I decided I was going to get a smile out of her and I finally did. She had a soft spot on the inside that I finally got to see.”Over time, the two women became friends and Aldrich would occasionally visit Varner at her mobile home on Fakkema Road or take her out for a hamburger. She also had her over for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners from time to time.“Prime rib was her favorite,” Aldrich said.Over time, Aldrich coaxed more smiles out of Varner and gained some insight into her flinty exterior.She learned of Varner’s estranged children and the pain it caused the lonely old woman.“She taught me to stay close to your kids,” Aldrich said. “To not let any kind of issue become so strong that it divides you. That families are important.”Now Varner’s friend is trying to raise money to send her back to what’s left of her family.“If I can’t raise the money, the coroner will continue to have custody of her,” Aldrich said. “I think she deserves more than that.”To helpContributions to the Martha Varner Memorial Fund can be made at any branch of Whidbey Island Bank."

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