By SUSAN KNICKERBOCKER
For The Record
All who have been touched by Diana Putney describe her as humble, sweet, caring and a model of a good person who creates hope in the human race.
Angie Pratt says, “My daughter Mya had been in 4-H for six years and was ready to give up on performance, because of various circumstances. After looking for help we were led to Diana. From that moment on, Diana was like another mama for Mya. She was encouraging, loving and helpful. Diana made all the difference for us. She is the kind of person that would give you the shirt off her back.”
Putney is quick to point the attention to everyone else.
“It’s the people and animals that surround me that inspire me. It’s this community of horse enthusiasts, it’s groups like the Lions, 4-H, Back Country Horsemen, friends, and neighbors, it’s this community that are all the real hometown heroes that gives me reason to believe in the goodness in people.”
Putney gazes thoughtfully and questions, “Why was I so fortunate to have been born in this county? Why do I get to live on Whidbey Island? And why am I so privileged to have a loving family?”
Life is never perfect though, and right after losing her dad, in 2006 Putney’s husband and soul mate Gary passed away from cancer. Putney remarks, “Losing my dad and my husband in the same time period has been an arduous roller coaster of despair. It taught me to hold on to every precious moment with our loved ones.” Putney kept up her and Gary’s volunteering and kindness legacy.
Pulling into Putney’s farm, you will be greeted by horses neighing, chickens clucking, and hugs from her and her mom, Betty, and brother, Dan. Walking into her horse-themed home there are mementos of animals, family and friends everywhere. Laid out on the table is a spread of prepared fruits, vegetables, crackers, cheeses, poppy seed cake and homemade soup simmering on the stove.
Everyone sits down at the round table to enjoy the array of food while talking. Dan, who is 15 years younger and a deputy sheriff of Snohomish County, has a natural humor. Warning: if you spend time with these three, your stomach and cheeks will hurt from laughing so hard until you cry. Betty should be a stand-up comedian; her sweet yet dry sense of humor catches you off guard. Putney says, “You know I wish I would have my family’s knack of telling jokes and sense of timing with their wit. I don’t express myself that well, it’s like there is a party going on in my head, but I’m not invited.”
Putney remembers a fun time at age 4 when she got to ride the carousel all day in front of her parents’ drive up diner business near Yakima. Putney says, “My parents rented a real full size carousel with those fancy big horses for me to ride. And later we also had pony rides at the diner.” Betty remarks without breaking a smile, “She was a shill really; we used Diana for bait to bring customers in. We figured a cute little girl having fun on the carousel would make a lot of families want to stop in and eat. And it worked really well.”
Dan pipes up, “I never had any of this for my childhood, by the time I came along — you and Dad were already burnt out on childrearing. There are hardly any photos of me either,” he exclaims, pretending to be really hurt. Betty retorts, “That’s right Dan, we took all the good photos already before you were born.”
The laughter continues with more wit and fun-loving zingers.
Then Dan shares some of his childhood memories of Putney. “She has always been resourceful, thoughtful, caring, compassionate and sweet. She excelled in everything and set the bar high. I remember when I was young, she took the time to show me how to do block printing, make candles, and make Count Dracula stationery. Later when I went into the Army, she knew Christmas would be hard for me without our family. She made a VHS tape for me with all our family and my friends to send love my way.”
“In one of the scenes, she had taken the large box that I had sent Christmas presents home for the family in, emptied it, and then filmed my father Jim walking across the yard with it as if it had just arrived in the mail. As he walked across the lawn, acting surprised at such a large box, Diana filmed dad as he tripped and then fell on the box, squishing it flat! Which even I wasn’t that dumb, I knew what I sent could not have flattened, but it gave me so many laughs. One’s legacy is measured not by the ‘things’ they leave behind, but by the memories and smiles that they leave behind when they depart this world, and in that regard, Diana will never be forgotten.”
Putney started a 4-H horse group, Whidbey Wranglers in 1980, for her young members. Christine says, “Diana is always there for us and makes 4-H fun and exciting. She always makes me feel good about myself. She’s so nice; I want to be nice just like her when I grow up.”
Putney was instrumental in getting box stalls at the fairgrounds, so the horses would not be tied up and unable to turn around or sleep lying down. Putney champions comfort for all.
When the Putneys learned of someone that wanted to visit but was wheelchair-bound, they built a permanent ramp to their home.
Putney says working as a nurse opened her eyes to what life is like for too many people and the pain some have to deal with, some physical and others emotional or mental.
“It’s especially hard to see children struggle,” Putney said. “Everyone deserves to be happy, to have a caring family, a home, good food, and love.”
Matthew Barnes recalls his school and 4-H years.
“I knew the Putney’s peripherally really. I had been to some of their home gatherings with friends of mine. But even though I didn’t know Diana directly I had been encouraged by her kindness. She is probably not even aware of this, but she gave me hope in people when I was at a very low point in my life.”
Putney reminisces on how fortunate she has been to have a loving family. “I didn’t want to do anything to disappoint my parents. I remember when I would ask my parents if I could do something, like go to a late night unchaperoned party my dad would say, ‘You could do that but I really would rather you didn’t.’ “That was enough for me not to want to do it.”
Kerri Kinney says, “I have never met anyone who so joyfully and selflessly loves animals and people!
Dogs, horses and all animals have always been the most loved and cared for whether they be hers or boarders, no matter what else is happening, be it company or time of the day or events happening. Putney is a very kind and giving person. While Gary was sick, she cared for him selflessly, patiently and tirelessly. She is such a positive person, with natural humility and always has a smile on her face and a quick laugh to go along with it.”
Kinney says Whidbey is fortunate to have her. In this uncertain world, Putney is a reason to believe there is kindness, and good people around.
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT PUTNEY:
“Diana Putney is one of my heroes. I have known her since 1990, through horses and through our mutual interest in the DNR (Dept. Of Natural Resources) /GossLakeWoods/ Putney Woods. She and her late husband Gary were so involved in creating and maintaining those trails! They spent countless hours on them. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I would go into the woods after a storm and find Diana with Gary, their saddles packed with saws and tools to clear the trails. As an example when I was going through some uncomfortable life changes, Diana came over to my new place with her tractor and she dug 30 or 40 post holes for my new fence, and helped me in so many ways. Gary and Diana hosted innumerable 4-H and Pony Club meetings over the years, and Diana continues since Gary’s death in 2006. So much of what she does, she doesn’t talk about. I haven’t heard her bad-mouth anyone, even when they deserved it. She is a quiet steady reliable presence.”
CHRISTINE NYBURG, community and equestrian volunteer
“Diana is a great hometown hero. She is truly one of the nicest, most modest and unassuming persons I know.”
CONNIE LLOYD, community volunteer
“Well, Diana Putney is an AMAZING person. She has a huge heart and helps people all day long! From volunteering all over, helping with 4-H and horse trails, and showing her generosity and kindness at all times, she is one of the finest people I have met in my life. She and her husband Gary were the most wonderful, accepting and helpful people when I joined the Backcountry Horsemen nearly 20 years ago. We became friends and fellow volunteers, building and maintaining trails and keeping them open for public use. Diana opened her home and farm for parties, fundraisers, and events. I have seen Diana help so many people over the years. She’s always cheerful, positive, capable and willing.”
BRET CHRISTENSEN, fellow BCH backcountry horsemen
“First and foremost, Diana is an accomplished and very knowledgeable horsewoman. Having ridden with her on numerous occasions, she was always ready with a quick smile and an easy laugh. Having lost her beloved husband, Gary, 10 years ago, Diana has had to maintain her horse facility and acreage without him (although her children are a great help too). She always finds time to remain active in 4-H and contribute to the many BCH trail projects. In fact, the club expects to see Diana at most of these work parties because you can always count on her to be there. And she never disappoints. She works hard, always with a smile and always with a willingness to listen to your stories. I’m honored to be asked to write about her.”
CHRIS WHITNEY, fellow BCH backcountry horsemen
“Inspirational?” Hell yes!” I also think the words in the song, “Don’t Worry, be Happy” is very much like Diana Putney. Diana would never open her mouth and be thought a fool but a lot of other folks that clearly do not know her opened theirs! She reminds me of a 1982 TV commercial “When E. F. Hutton Speaks, People Listen,” same applies for Diana—let’s nick name her E.F. In the Backcountry Horsemen club, she is the sunshine committee, “well, who would a thunk” and, oh that smile of hers and positive approach to things.”
JERRY LLOYD, volunteer community builder
“It is hard to know all that Diana does as she is so modest regarding her accomplishments she gives all the credit to other people. She is incredibly generous with her time whenever anyone needs help and has an especially tender heart when kids and animals are involved.”
SHARON VANDERSLICE, volunteer
“I have known Diana for many years, ever since our daughters were young and in 4-H together. She was the 4-H leader of the Whidbey Wranglers horse club, which she is still involved with today. She is a dear friend who has a heart of gold. I have never heard her say an unkind word about anyone. She is always ready to help out whenever asked. I find it amusing that when I ask for a favor she always complies &then when I say thank you she replies, “Thank you!” She is a hard worker and always humble. She works untiring on maintaining &improving the trails in “Putney Woods,” which are dedicated to her and her late husband, Gary. The two of them created many of the trails throughout the 800 acres. When you visit her farm she always has a warm smile &sincere welcome. Diana is an amazing person who I love dearly &has truly impacted my life &still does to this day!”
KIM MCMASTER, McMaster Construction Freeland, and equestrian advocate
“Diana and I became friends when we were both Leaders of 4-H horse clubs in the 80’s. I was the SW Centaurs leader and she and her husband Gary were leaders of the Whidbey Wranglers. There is a bit of competition between clubs on the Island, but it didn’t take long for Diana and I to join our groups together in the extracurricular times. It was a lot of fun sharing field trips and educational experiences with her group. I believe our comradeship taught the kids a lesson also. It is easy to share time with Diana because she is fun to be with. Diana is a very kind, generous, thoughtful, compassionate person. She has great sense of humor and always sees a positive side to a situation. She is a good calm counter balance to over reactive people. My granddaughter says she is always willing to help everyone, and “Diana always has food for us.” Diana has an extensive knowledge of horsemanship. She is one of my go to persons when I have a problem with my horses, or with myself. Diana impresses me with her ability to remember what she has learned, not only as a nurse but also in the equine world. Diana is willing to help but also knows when it is time to call the vet. I am so very thankful for the Dianas who continue to make our world a better place. Diana is the kind of person I choose to share my time with.”
SHARON EDWARDS, retired school district volunteer and animal advocate