LUTHER — What was left when everything was gone didn't surprise Suzy Koch at all.
On Aug. 3, Koch was among those in Luther whose homes or other possessions were claimed by a wildfire. Gone were the possessions, left was the caring and compassion of others.
Koch was in Michigan attending a Boy Scouts of America National Order of the Arrow Conference. She had been talking back and forth with her oldest son, Tony Balderaz, 18, who was at their home.
Less than 30 minutes after he was evacuated, Balderaz called his mother back.
“Mom it's gone, everything is gone,” he told her.
Gone was the three bedroom, one bathroom house they were renting. Gone was their furniture, clothes, everything material.
Gone too was the regalia that Scouts from the Eagle District's Order of the Arrow chapter had used for purposes including ceremonies for students entering the Order of the Arrow or those transitioning from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.
Koch, the associate chapter adviser for the Eagle District Order of the Arrow chapter, had been keeping the regalia at her house while waiting to move it from one place to another.
But it's what was left that makes Koch so proud. And it's just an example of how many Oklahomans once again stepped up to help others whether at this wildfire, one of the many others in the state or following other disasters.
As for the Order of the Arrow regalia, the Scouts she helps lead said, “It's OK, we can make more. We can do this.”
So they have. Each week they gather, and have worked on making new regalia, including moccasins and breast plates. And other chapters stepped up and donated items as well for the Eagle District to use in a ceremony called the “Fall Ordeal” that was scheduled for shortly after the wildfire.
“My prayers go out to Ms. Suzy because quite frankly I would hate to lose my house in a fire,” said Jonah Moore, a member of the Eagle Chapter of the Order of the Arrow. “The loss of regalia was rather unfortunate, but obviously just a simple side note to the course of events that has happened recently.”
The Order of the Arrow is Scouting's National Honor Society. Both youth and leaders have to be nominated. For more than 90 years, the Order of the Arrow has recognized Scouts and Scouters who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives. Those involved are expected to be known for maintaining camping traditions and spirit, promoting year-round and long-term resident camping, and providing cheerful service to others.
Cheerful service is what Koch has witnessed.
“Being the custodian for someone else's things really, really weighs heavy on me,” Koch said, “because these kids worked on that regalia for years and every few months they'd add a new piece. When they go into those characters for the ceremonies, their outfits are incredibly important to them. Even though the fire wasn't my fault, I felt bad.
“The kids, though, were like, “We move on from those kinds of things. We don't sit and dwell on it.”
That didn't surprise her and neither did the reaction of others who live in and outside of Luther. When she returned not to a house, but ashes, friends and strangers alike were offering help.
“Your neighbor will walk up to you and say, ‘What can I do for you right now?'” Koch said. “Afterward, people would just hand you a $20 bill or say, ‘Here's a couple of T-shirts.'
“I wasn't surprised at the response.”
Koch was living at the house with two of her sons, Balderaz and Jacob Koch, 9. Her middle son, Vince Balderaz, 17, lives in Germany with his father. All three are involved in Scouting. Tony is an Eagle Scout.
He mentioned that to his mother when the two were talking on the phone Aug. 3 as the wildfires moved closer. She told him to gather a couple things and get out. He assured her, “I'm an Eagle Scout, I've got this.” That along with the action of law enforcement evacuating her son, has left Koch forever thankful for what she didn't lose.
“If my son had stayed 10 minutes longer getting stuff out of the house,” she said, “I would have buried him instead of taking him to college that following weekend.”
Koch and son Jacob have found another place to live in Luther for now, and are thankful for that.
“Oklahomans rely on Oklahomans, ” she said. “That didn't surprise me at all that they helped.
“I was just surprised that I was the one needing help. I'd rather be the one giving it.”