The Baalmans’ Journey Home
This post was written by Kevin Alvarado, Public Information Officer for the Oregon Debris Management Task Force South Operations Division.
Judy and Tony Baalman went to the same hill in Talent, Oregon every week.
Between sips of Dutch Bros. coffee, they would watch from their pickup truck as crews carried out cleanup of the sprawling property at Mountain View Estates Mobile Home Park where they once lived.
Their home was one of the nearly 2,400 lost in the Almeda Fire.
That’s where I first met the Baalmans in March of this year and swapped contact information so we could stay connected as work progressed and they made strides to get back into their home.
What began as occasional check-ins for progress updates turned into regular calls and texts to touch base on anything from health procedures, to holiday greetings and the sharing of ultrasound photos anticipating the arrival of me and my wife’s first child. The Baalmans quickly became my friends, and as their neighbor in the Rogue Valley, I was invested in seeing them return home.
During Governor Brown’s visit to the areas affected by the Almeda Fire, she met with Judy and Tony and heard their story of enduring hope as they navigated the process of getting back into their home.
Judy’s words, said with an enormous smile and a chuckle captured their hope and spirit, “I never would have guessed the Lord wanted us to have a new home at 75 but here we are!”
This summer, I was elated to receive a text with an image of their new home on-site. “We have a house! Setup will start next week!”
Within weeks, Judy and Tony had moved into their new home and I was lucky enough to be welcomed for a visit.
Tony showed me the attached shop, still under construction, where he would soon go back to woodworking and Judy directed me to her craft room and piano, gifted to her by a community member. Judy played a tune on the piano and I saw Tony close his eyes to listen as he absorbed the sound: “Just beautiful,” he said.
Judy then proceeded to show me an old photo her son had printed and framed as a housewarming gift. It was of her father in front of his log truck in Trail, Oregon where she once lived. As a 5th generation Jackson County resident, Judy beamed with pride as she described her rich family history in the community. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said.
Even though they had made it home, there was still work to be done. Contractors were still building the awning on their house and lots were still empty next door where their neighbors would soon be. The ongoing work served as a reminder that recovery doesn’t happen in a day, a month, or a year, but is instead an ongoing process to move forward and reclaim what was lost.
The Baalmans’ spirit echoes throughout the Rogue Valley and all fire-affected communities recovering from the devastating 2020 wildfires. Their endless hope and tenacity are reflected in community members beginning to develop plans, build, or move into more permanent housing more than a year after the fires.
I am grateful to know Judy and Tony Baalman and call them neighbors.
I am proud that our debris removal crews played a part in helping them get back into their forever home.
I am thankful for the myriad of community-based organizations leading efforts for long-term recovery within the region.
And I am hopeful that, as we move forward, our community will resound with stories like the Baalmans’ and we will continue to see a resurgence of life, love and hope in our fire-affected communities.