Martha reaches a final home

Donors pitch in to help bury woman left alone

  • Thursday, December 9, 1999 7:00am
  • News

“Martha Varner will never know the efforts her one good friend went to on her behalf. Or the kindness and generosity shown to her by strangers.But Varner, a 78-year-old Oak Harbor resident who died Nov. 22, and was destined for an unmarked, pauper’s grave, will instead be buried in a family plot in Illinois. All because Ruth Aldridge and others cared enough to make it happen.On Nov. 25, Aldrich opened a memorial fund at Whidbey Island Bank to raise $1,250 for Varner’s cremation and burial. The same day, she pitched the story of Martha’s dilemma to the News-Times. The story ran Nov. 27. By Dec. 2, Aldrich reached her goal.“A lot of people told me what I did was so nice,” Aldrich last Monday. “But I only did what needed to be done for Martha and what I accomplished couldn’t have happened without the very special people we have in this community.”Varner had been stuck in a post-mortem limbo because she died broke and alone. She had two older sisters, but they were ailing and could not afford to pay for Martha’s arrangement, though one very much wanted Varner’s ashes.Varner also had two children, but was estranged from them. One eventually was contacted, but one declined to be involved.Had Martha been without any kin at all, Island County would have paid for her burial out of a fund it has for the indigent. But because she did have living family members, the county’s policy was to wait two years and see if a family member could, or would, step forward to pay for her arrangements and claim her.That’s when Aldrich stepped in.The Safeway employee had befriended the lonely, somewhat grumpy old woman about 10 years ago. And over time, Aldrich broke through Varner’s crusty demeanor and gained her trust and affection.“She had a soft spot on the inside that I finally got to see,” Aldrich said.The thought of her old friend’s remains sitting unclaimed and perhaps forgotten spurred Aldrich, then various members of Whidbey Island’s community, into action.Aldrich’s friends at Safeway, complete strangers, Varner’s former doctor at Whidbey Community Physician’s, the First Baptist Church — all chipped in to help. “Approximately 25 anonymous donations were made,” Aldrich said. “And there were other donations. Hawkins and Hansen (a law firm), they helped with free legal help, Whidbey Island Bank waived the charge on the short-term account, and Burley’s ( Burley Funeral Chapel) has been excellent, and they upgraded the urn for free.’’Aldrich contacted Varner’s sister and told her she would get Martha’s ashes after all. “Her sister was just in tears,” Aldrich said. “She couldn’t believe that people that didn’t even know her sister would donate the money when her own children wouldn’t even take care of it.“It just reminded me why I moved here 11 years ago,” Aldrich added. “People reach out and help each other here.””

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