Holiday disaster doesn’t dampen spirit for Oak Harbor teacher

Alex Thierry, a pottery teacher and swim coach at Oak Harbor High School, is thankful for the support he received from the community after losing most of his possessions to the sea last December. Photo below shows the devastation. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Alex Thierry, a pottery teacher and swim coach at Oak Harbor High School, is thankful for the support he received from the community after losing most of his possessions to the sea last December. Photo below shows the devastation.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

It’s not every day a queen bed departs dry land and sets sail into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Such a vision would be unimaginable for most.

Not for Alex Thierry.

About a year ago, just one week before Christmas, his bed floated away.

So did two cameras, a television, laptops, a desktop and table top.

The waves crashed through glass panes, took out walls and swallowed sculptures, photographs, clothing, a precious vintage album collection and irreplaceable digital records and memories.

He knew that morning before he left to teach at Oak Harbor High School that the wind storm that slammed into Whidbey Island’s western shores was ferocious.

Waves already started crashing over the roof of the beachfront home he rented on West Beach Road, sending water trickling down the chimney.

He wore rain gear to stay dry while getting to his car.

But nothing could prepare him for what he saw when he returned that afternoon.

The collapsing of a bulkhead left the home unprotected from the pounding waves, which then ripped off the back side of the house and sucked virtually everything he owned out to sea.

Thierry remembers needing to sit down. He found a sturdy piece of driftwood, sat and wondered what he would do next, where he would sleep that night, what he would wear and what he’d got himself into on Whidbey Island.

“Really, I didn’t know what to feel,”Thierry said recently, looking back. “All your stuff was there in the morning and it’s gone in the afternoon.

“The sheriff came over and told me to get in the back of his car, just to make sure I wasn’t in too much shock and was staying warm.”

A year later, Thierry can look back on his introduction to Whidbey Island and the Pacific Northwest and smile.

He had only been on the island for four months when his world got turned upside down.

He was in the early stages of his first full-time teaching job out of college and a long way from home in St. Louis, Mo.

A pottery teacher, Thierry will forever have the date of Dec. 17, 2012, etched in his memory.

It taught him life lessons about the gentle nature of a caring community that rallied in his support and the harsh realities of natural forces.

Other houses sustained damage, but his home was leaning toward the sea and uninhabitable.

“I can only laugh about it,” said Thierry, who turns 26 in February. “I can say, ‘Oh yeah, I lost all this stuff’ and get really down about it, but that’s not going to change what happened.”

“I just laugh about it.

“I lost a lot of things, but they’re just items. I’m still alive. I didn’t have any pets or a significant other or a roommate.”

“They’re just material things that I lost.”

Thierry walked away with some salvaged clothes, a wool pea coat, a bowling ball, one camera and not a whole lot else.

He also still had the Dodge Saturn he’d been driving since he was 16.

“I recovered one load of laundry that was in the dryer thanks to my laziness,” he said, “but we had to take a sledgehammer and go through a wall to get it.”

Thierry also walked away with a wild, almost unbelievable tale to share with family at Christmas.

The losses did hurt. The sea claimed his vintage record collection, computers and backup external hard drive that contained nearly all of his images of his artwork, lesson plans and master’s thesis he provided to Truman State University.

But, during Christmas time at his parent’s home in St. Louis, he could still laugh.

Teachers, artists and complete strangers had come to his aid, offering clothing, donations and even a place to stay.

His renter’s insurance didn’t cover his losses, which he estimated to be about $10,000.

Still, the teasing didn’t stop back home.

One of his Christmas gifts was an accessory for a camera he no longer had.

“I flew back to St. Louis and had Christmas with my family, where there were lots of jokes about things that were bought for me before it happened,” Thierry said.

Thierry is headed back to St. Louis for the holidays to share a much more uplifting story this year.

He’ll share a tale of recovery and about the sort of friends and support he’s found in Oak Harbor.

Librarian Lisa Bain organized efforts at school to help Thierry get back on his feet, while art teacher Jennifer Yates let him stay in her guest room until he was able to rent an apartment in Anacortes.

Thierry said he was indebted to those who helped, including the families from the high school boys and girls swimming teams he coaches.

“I think he’s handled this well,” said Dwight Lundstrom, principal at Oak Harbor High School.

“He’s got so much going on between coaching the swim team and full-time teaching that I don’t think he really had time to reflect on it a whole lot. I think he just kind of had to bounce back, roll up his sleeves and get to work, and he’s done that well.”

Thierry said the experience has changed his outlook on life.

“I would have to say I’m pretty optimistic about coming back from that,” he said.

“It was definitely a life (changing) point. I was like, ‘Do I really need all this stuff?’ Yeah, I do miss the vintage vinyl records collection sometimes, but I can come back from that.”


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