Kevin Soule: father, husband, son, friend. In a small community we build relationships effortlessly. Kevin was my student at Ocean Park School more than 30 years ago. Tall for his age as a third grader. Quiet. Curious. The kid every teacher wants a classroom full of.
I don’t think any of us who knew Kevin in those years was surprised that he grew up to be a fisherman, an oysterman, a man whose interests and livelihood centered on the bay. There have been Soules living around our bay for generations. Boats and saltwater were part of his DNA.
From our house in Oysterville, we all too often hear the search and rescue helicopters at work over the bay. Just 10 days ago rescue volunteer Doug Knutzen left our house concert and flew out to rescue a man whose canoe had capsized. But we were unaware of the search for Kevin on Saturday. Ironically, we were sitting in the midst of many of his colleagues at the Science Conference in Long Beach, listening to the problems and proposed solutions involving our bay, our ocean, our river. We didn’t know that on that very day, the search began for Kevin and his boat, the Kelli J.
It stands to reason, in a small community like ours — all but surrounded by water — that our young people will gravitate to jobs that take them out on the water. And it probably stands to reason that some won’t come home from their day’s (or night’s) work. Fishing is hazardous. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Fishers and related fishing workers deal with a set of working conditions unique among all other occupations. This occupation is characterized by strenuous work, long hours, seasonal employment, and some of the most hazardous conditions in the workforce.
And though there is a tacit understanding of those facts here in our community, it does not make it easier. Since I moved here in 1978, I’ve known six young fishermen who have died at sea. One was the father of two girls who were my students. Three others were brothers of my students. Another, the son of friends. And now, Kevin. Once again, I have no words.
I woke up thinking of Mary Garvey’s song after the Lady Cecilia went down in March 2012 with a loss of four lives, including Luke Jensen, age 22. It began:
I wished I lived in Phoenix or some hot and dusty town
Where the ocean did not roar at night and no one had to drown
Where fish were raised in fish tanks as fish were meant to be
And no one had to risk their lives by going out to sea
In my heart there is a song for Kevin. And for his parents Bonnie and Ernie, and Heather and his daughters. It’s the same song we all have when tragedy strikes our community. I hope Mary can write it for us.