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Posted on Jun 7, 2019

UW thanks Quincy Valley for helping after bus crash

Quincy Valley was given a unique treat on Sunday when the University of Washington showed its gratitude to local people and organizations for their responses to a bus accident near George on Thanksgiving.

The one-hour program June 2 in the Quincy High School gym had to be among the most uplifting and unique events of the year. The well-planned event featured marching band music, touching moments of recollections of the frightening rollover of one of the UW Husky Marching Band buses on the way to the Apple Cup, many heartfelt expressions of thanks for the help given, a large plaque for George Elementary School and two cash gifts in the form of jumbo checks.

The gym was fairly full, with audience members in rows of seats on the floor and filling one set of stands. Occupying the other stands were the Husky Marching Band and QHS band. They each played numbers, and at the end they jointly played the Quincy fight song.

There was a lot of purple clothing. There was a lot of enthusiastic applause. There was a free barbecue.

And, there was the president of the University of Washington, Ana Mari Cauce, in person, giving her thanks to the community that rallied for her students and staff affected when one of the buses in a caravan carrying 300-plus UW people rolled on wintry Interstate 90.

Recalling the accident

Early in the program, Quincy High School principal Marcus Pimpleton spoke briefly, recounting that he was on one of the buses in the band caravan that night, Nov. 22, 2018. At the time, he was one of the part-time assistant directors of the marching band.

Both bands played. Then Tony Castricone, broadcasting voice of the Huskies, spoke briefly, saying, “Thank you for standing by our side in trying times.”

The UW Huskies make the long drive over the mountains and across Columbia Basin every two years for the cross-state rivalry football game with Washington State University. And, Husky band director Brad McDavid said, Grant County was a place they just passed through.

“We will never pass through Grant County the same way again,” McDavid said, adding his thanks for the many forms of assistance given on the cold night of the accident.

Dozens were injured, but there were no fatalities.

Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington, spoke next.

“Six months ago out of something terrible came something wonderful,” she said. This community opened its arms, and “showed what it means to be a community.”

Recalling some of the outpouring of help given the students and staff members from the bus caravan, including shelter and safety at George Elementary School, parts of Thanksgiving dinners brought to the school and blankets, Cauce said, “I’m here to thank you from the bottom of our heart.”

She drew laughs from the audience when she said there were probably Washington State University Cougars in the audience. While acknowledging the rivalry between UW and WSU, she said, when the time comes, the rivalry is set aside.

“Thank you for showing us the best of Washington,” Cauce said.

She introduced John Boyd, superintendent of Quincy School District, who also recounted some of what happened that night and shared praise for how supportive this community is.

“When the chips are down, this is the place to be,” Boyd said.

Then someone who had a pivotal role in caring for everyone that night was introduced: Carol Leibelt, head custodian at George Elementary School. She was given thunderous applause as she stood among others in the audience on the gym floor. Her story of quickly preparing the school and helping care for the hundreds of students and staff who needed help has become well-known since the accident, and she has received awards this year partly based on her selfless actions on Thanksgiving.

Also called up to speak briefly, Colleen Frerks, representing George and George Elementary School as its former principal (current principal Curt Schutzmann couldn’t make it to the event), spoke briefly about George. That was followed by a musical number by the George fifth-graders recorder band, led by music teacher Eric Nelson. Then the UW presented a giant check to Nelson and Frerks – $1,000 for the GES music program. Nelson later said he was sure he will be able to put the money to good use for the program.

From the left are: Eric Nelson, music teacher at George Elementary, and Colleen Frerks, principal of Ancient Lakes Elementary School, accepting a gift from University of Washington Husky Marching Band Director Brad McDavid, and UW President Ana Mari Cauce on June 2. More photos on page 5.
By Dave Burgess/Post-Register

Then, the UW played a video on the two very large screens set up, showing UW officials, including the Husky football team’s head coach, Chris Peterson, expressing their gratitude. “We’ll never forget what you did,” Peterson said.

More gratitude

McDavid served as emcee for most of the program and was met with loud applause and shouts each step of the way. He called up first responders and a teaching assistant who was in the bus accident to share their remarks. McDavid thanked the local hospitals and had Theresa Sullivan, CEO of Samaritan Healthcare in Moses Lake, speak briefly. Then Glenda Bishop, CEO of Quincy Valley Medical Center, had a turn at the microphone, and she gave inspiring remarks directed to the UW band members. She said half of the injured people in the bus crash were taken to QVMC, and they were remarkably polite and grateful.

“We are so proud of the young people that you are,” Bishop said.

McDavid thanked hotel managers and staff in Moses Lake who at a moment’s notice opened doors to more than 100 hotel rooms to house band members late that night.

He introduced Kyle Foreman, with Grant County Sheriff’s Office, who helped get information out that night to worried university leaders and family.

McDavid thanked all the first responders and introduced Tony Leibelt, deputy chief of Grant County Fire District 3, who helped at the accident scene. After Leibelt’s brief remarks, UW band members who were on the overturned bus presented a second giant check, this one in the amount of $4,000, for Grant County emergency responders for training and equipment.

At the end of the program, Pimpleton told the crowd that the barbecue was ready outside, and the UW band would perform there also. As the crowd filed out to the buffet provided by the UW, outside on the grass the band mesmerized the crowd with its energetic tunes and coordinated movements.

At the end of the program, Quincy High School and Husky bands perform together.
Photo by by Dave Burgess/Post-Register

A unique event

Among the band members was a Quincy High School graduate, Fiona Koehnen, playing her sousaphone.

“It’s great to see my high school world and my university world come together,” she said after the band’s final number.

Now a senior, Koehnen was in the bus caravan when the accident happened, though not on the one bus that rolled over. She also expressed how grateful she was for everything done for the band that night. Now, six months later, the trauma is passed.

“It’s a little hard, but we’re doing really well,” she said.

Her parents, Mark and Debbie Koehnen, were at the Quincy event June 2, too.

“It’s so exciting for Quincy to see the band perform,” Debbie Koehnen said, adding that many local people have never seen the Husky band. Hopefully, she said, it will “inspire lots of young musicians to head off to the UW, or any band, really.”

In addition to her daughter Fiona playing in the band, mom Debbie said she was an alum of UW and of the band, too. So when she praises the band, it is understandable if she has a purple streak of pride.

“They don’t just play music, they give you a performance,” she said.

By Dave Burgess,