“Oh yes, brothers and sisters, we are all members one of another. The difference, beloved, ain’t in who is and who’s not, but in who knows it and who don’t. Oh, my friends, there ain’t no nonmembers.”
Those are words from a Wendell Berry novel, writes Kristine and Boyd Benson of Clinton.
“As we reflect on hometown heroes Cliff and Donna Slade, they are among those that “know it,” the Bensons said. “Wendell’s words reminds us of how the Slades treat all people as members of each other. All of us.”
They help and care for nature that we all enjoy, their family, community, homeless and anyone who needs help.
The Bensons give a few examples of how the Slades serve humanity’s members.
“They live the spirit of inclusive open-hearted caring. They lift our spirits with homemade delicious soup or lend a hand. Cliff came over today with a neighbor and joyfully repaired a major leak in our water system. Each evening Cliff comes over to help transfer my paralyzed husband Boyd from his wheel chair into bed. All the while entertaining us with stories. Cliff brings to the task such humanity—so patient and gentle—always showing a respect for the dignity of Boyd’s life as it is.”
Recently, Cliff and Donna Slade reviewed their personal experience of membership and belonging in their home while chatting with a visitor.
Cliff says the feel of Whidbey has always been welcoming and inclusive.
“My family had a cabin at Sunlight Beach, so I spent many times in my 72 years enjoying South Whidbey,” he said.
“I didn’t feel strong peer connections, however, in my teens. I never found a niche and didn’t feel part of any group until I was invited to help build a backdrop for the school drama. This was a great fit. I could use the hands-on skills I had learned from my dad, grandpa and uncle.”
He said while he was working with his hands getting something visable accomplished he then felt like he belonged.
According to Donna, what helped her feel part of belonging to something worthwhile in her youth was helping with Atlantic Street Center in Seattle with a mission to help the under-served.
Cliff and Donna met in their teens through a mutual friend. It wasn’t until several years later that Cliff asked Donna out.
“We married at age 20 and 21, though we would not recommend marrying that young,” she says. “We thought about living together, but neither of us wanted to do that to our parents.”
Donna admits to some “bumpy times” in their marriage. Cliff interjected, “I can have a short fuse sometimes and can be impatient.”
Donna says, “Cliff is an action guy. He isn’t one to have conversations about what to do with family situations, for instance, so I have learned to mention a subject and let it percolate awhile and check back with him later.”
“I remember signing up for church camp service project,” he says. “I came ready to paint, build, remove beach litter and help spruce up the camp center. But when I got there, the camp leaders informed us the week would include ‘fun’ activities such as games, socializing and a dance. That wasn’t my idea of fun, given my social awkwardness. I came there to get something done that needing doing. I am pretty much the same way today.”
Cliff described his 50th reunion.
“I hesitated going, but decided to attend. The causal gathering was great, but the formal country club dinner was awkward for me. Next to me was one of my classmates that I knew had become a doctor. Trying to make small talk, I blurted out, ‘So are you still employed?’ Of which he said, ‘Yes, I am still a physician.’ That was the end of the conversation. Why didn’t I ask him if he was retired, or anything else?”
Donna comes to Cliff’s aid, smiling.
“We all wish we could be eloquent all the time,” she says.
“Cliff made a great personnel boss,” she adds. “It’s his kind actions and his inclusivness— not eloquent words— that people value. People under him and other employees knew he cared about them. When Cliff was told he had to lay off two people, he asked his boss, ‘Couldn’t we let them stay and let me go instead?’”
Both of the Slades had parents who served as positive role models. Both of their mothers volunteered in church, school and the community.
Donna says, “We wanted to be the kind of parents that we were blessed to have.”
Their daughter, 32-year-old Re Slade, said, “Our parents are amazing, kind, loving and so giving. They have hearts of gold. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for their strength and faith in me. They are a little piece of heaven on earth.”
Cliff remarked, “We have been blessed with two children, a high in our life. But then everyone’s life has both highs and lows, don’t they.”
Donna says one of their lows was when Cliff’s 31-year-old brother suddenly died in a work-related accident.
“Cliff was the one that had to tell his parents, who were on vacation in Idaho,” she says.
After the news, Cliff’s parents needed to be busy, so the couple came over everyday trying to help them cope with their loss.
“It was heart wrenching for us all,” she says.
The Slades want to help lessen suffering for others, their friends say. They have a heart for those who feel excluded in any way and work to help others feel a part of society.
Coyla Shepard, founder of THINC (Tiny Houses in the Name of Christ), points to the Slades’ generosity with their time.
“When they heard of the homeless crisis, they immediately teamed up with the South Whidbey Homeless Coalition and House of Hope and began mentoring and working on rental units,” she says.
“Likewise, when THINC purchased property that included a house in need of repair.
The Slades were the first one’s to offer help. This past winter they spent many long hours in a cold house with no heat, and they kept working until it housed a large, low-income working family. I have had the pleasure of working along side of Cliff and Donna in HUB (an after school program) and other various non-profit projects, and I continue to be amazed at their dedication and service to any person.”
Cliff says Donna is the one who inspires him to volunteer, but she quickly gives Cliff the acclaim. When asked if they would do anything different if they lived their lives over, Cliff immediately says, “I would tell my younger self, ‘You won’t die from being anxious, failing or feeling self-conscious.’ Perhaps then I wouldn’t have been afraid to pursue becoming an engineer or a physician.”
He begins to laugh and adds, “When I took an aptitude test in high school, it came out that I should be a forest ranger in a remote place.” They both laugh out loud.
Neighbor Debbie Tresselt writes, “Cliff and Donna hear of a need and quietly show up, work long and hard, and show up the next day too. I’m sure they get exhausted, but they joyfully keep going. With Cliff and Donna doing for others is their daily life, and they bring not only all their many skills, but their empathy and caring as well.
“I adore them and admire them so much, they are unselfish daily. Nothing artificial about them. Not only are they giving community neighbors and friends, but they are also wonderful parents and grandparents as well.”
Cliff says it was a privilege to raise children and a joy to have grandchildren.
“I am thinking of writing a book of ‘Kidicisms,’ a compilation of young children’s pronouncements. For example, our 2-year-old granddaughter this weekend said, ‘That is ridicleis (sic).’
“Our 4-year-old remarked, ‘I certainly hope you two stay alive as long as I do.’”
Donna says, “We do not know how long we have here on earth, but as long as we can spend time with our family and help in this special community, we know we are the lucky ones”
Cliff says Whidbey Island is a beautiful picturesque place, but that is not what makes it’s special — it’s the people.
MORE ABOUT THE SLADES:
Clifford ‘Cliff’ Slade, age 72
Donna Jean (Lockhart) Slade, age 70
Birthplace: Both in Seattle
Married: June 20, 1969
Years on Whidbey: Five full time. Cliff has visited
for 72 years. Donna has come here for 50 years.
Cliff’s education: Cleveland High School in
Seattle, University of Washington
His hobbies: Grandchildren, volunteering, reading, crabbing, woodworking
Donna’s education: Rainier High School in Seattle, University of Washington
Whom would you like to meet?
Donna: MLK, JFK, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Mr. Rogers.
Cliff: My paternal grandmother. My dad was estranged from her. I would like to know why the estrangement and about her life experience.
Who inspires you?
Donna: My parents. They had few material things in the US sense, but they always were kind and giving.
Who would you like to apologize to?
Cliff: My mom and dad. Though I was with them daily while they were ill, I did not make it to them before they each passed away. They were such positive role models for me, and yet I wasn’t there for them at the end.
What one question would you like to ask God?
Donna: Why do too many people carry hatred in their hearts?
What are you working to change about yourself?
Cliff: Be a better listener and communicator, especially with my wife and family.
Mottos you live by?
Donna: Do the best we can with what we have. We are all in this together.
What have people never found out about you prior to this article.
Cliff: My feelings of inadequacies, and lack of self confidence.
Hardest thing you have had to do in your life.
Donna: Help plan memorial arrangements for Cliff’s brother Richard, at age 31 from a work related accident.
What qualities do you most admire in people
Cliff: People that are kind, respectful, inclusive, logical — with a compassionate moral compass.
A few people on SW you especially admire?
Cliff: Coyla Shepard, Faith Wilder, Judy Thorslund, Maralie Johnson, Bruce Allen
WORDS FROM OTHERS ABOUT THE SLADES:
“Donna and Cliff show up anytime there needs to be something done. They paid for and did all the work on a home for people that find themselves homeless. They are totally committed to helping others. At a recent yard sale to fundraise for THINC, they came to help out in any way needed. After the yard sale, Donna knew I was going to organize my garage the next day and offered to help me. The next day she spent a half day organizing everything. I mean, who does that? They are Johnny on the spot — if they see something that needs to be done, they just do it.”—Debbie Hedlund, THINC volunteer
“The Slades give their money and time to further help our community. Interim housing projects have become there passion with countless hours spent renovating both inside and out. They are always the first to respond, and no thanks is required. It’s individuals like Donna and Cliff who make this community function and become a special place to live.”—Mike and Judy Harper, fellow volunteers
“Donna and Cliff Slade never ask why— they go right to why not. Right after moving to Whidbey, they stepped up to help renovate the House of Hope to become a shelter. They showed up and continue to do so. Donna’s eye for design assured that the House would be attractive and offer hospitality. Cliff’s no-nonsense way of seeing the work and getting it done assured we have what is needed when it’s needed. In addition, they have shared their families and their lives with us. They have encouraged when things are rough and mentored all of us in the care of our people and maintenance of our facilities. They model community and generosity of spirit.”—Faith Wilder, president of Whidbey Homeless Coalition
“Cliff and Donna are two of the most helpful and gracious people I’ve ever met. Our houses are next to each other, and I’ve known them since I was a young girl. Throughout my lifetime, they have shown their support in endless ways to my family, and to our community on Sunlight Beach Road, and the island community. One example of Cliff’s and Donna’s generosity is that Cliff is an avid crabber. Cliff and Donna are always offering fresh crab to their neighbors that they’ve caught, cleaned, cooked and labeled right off the beach. And what a treat that is! Over the years, Cliff and Donna have worked in our garden when we’re in the city. They cut the Rugosa rose hedge between our houses. These roses are special to me because my mother planted them years ago. I treasure my family beach cottage, and in a thousand ways, Cliff and Donna look after the house, from turning the heat on in the winter to helping us rebuild our backyard fence. When we installed an outdoor shower, Cliff showed me patiently how to use a skillsaw. I can’t imagine living on Whidbey Island without Cliff and Donna Slade. They’re as much a part of the island to me as my memories of a lifetime on Sunlight Beach Road.”—Laura Fritts-Drew, neighbor
“Cliff and Donna….just their names are synonyms for helpful and selfless. Family, friends, neighbors, the community…where ever a helping hand is needed, they are there. They both spent countless hours cleaning, painting and repairing the House of Hope as it was being prepped for occupation by homeless families. After it was up and running, Cliff continued to maintain and preform necessary repairs and upgrades on the house. Every Tuesday he would be off to the House of Hope with tools and supplies to take care of the latest issues. Donna is a mentor for families that have lived in the House of Hope and helps them navigate their way after they move on to more independent housing. She has chaired auctions, organized garage sales, baked and cooked delicious foods for fund raising events…all in support of homeless coalition projects. Donna drives a neighbor up to Coupeville for her daily infusions and recruits others to help with that task. Cliff shares his crab catch with others, giving away more than he keeps. Donna spent several days weeding and prepping the garden at Heron’s Crossing for the 2019 Garden Tour. Cliff and Donna are truly Hometown Heroes”—Janet Countner, Cliff’s sister
“Oh, Donna is the sweetest. It’s in her soul. I cut her hair, and I always look forward to when she comes in. She has a big smile and asks about my family and how I am doing. She and her husband Cliff are genuinely generous, it is their heart and soul. They will go out of their way to help anyone. They are always looking out for someone or something in need. They are lovely human beings.”—Chava Sanya Remmen, owner of Salish By the Sea Saloon
“The Slades showed up to the House of Hope in 2015 while we were pondering the enormous task of rehabilitating it into a transitional home for families with children. Well, the Slades stayed and are still involved in the work of the Whidbey Island Homeless Coalition. Firstly, as always, present with boots on the ground, whenever visible needs come up. You might walk into a room and there would be Donna or Cliff on their knees painting a baseboard or installing floorboard, and we consider them an integral part of our ‘facilities crew.’
Donna has also been a mentor to different guests over the years and provided an enormous amount of bountiful support and service to them as well as lending her expertise to our event planning. Recently this year, a former board member of the WHC formed her own nonprofit THINC and purchased property in Langley, close to the House of Hope, in order to create affordable housing and to build several tiny houses there. Donna and Cliff became immediately involved with the rehabilitation of the newly purchased THINC home, with the same vigor and zeal they did to the House of Hope, and they continue to volunteer for both of our organizations. “—Judy Thorslund, founder of Whidbey Homeless Coalition