Photo courtesy of Alyssa Weiderstrom: Kevin Weiderstrom, center, was named the 2018 Sky Valley Citizen of the Year award at the 20th annual Sky Valley Community Awards Celebration in Sultan on Saturday, Feb. 17.
Photo courtesy of Alyssa Weiderstrom: Kevin Weiderstrom, center, was named the 2018 Sky Valley Citizen of the Year award at the 20th annual Sky Valley Community Awards Celebration in Sultan on Saturday, Feb. 17.

Kevin Weiderstrom is unshakable in his commitments. He believes in keeping history alive. He regularly pays for strangers’ dinners at restaurants anonymously.

The stories go on.

His father-in-law Tom Dietz said the Skykomish man, who is responsible for the success of the Great Northern & Cascade Railway museum and miniature functional replica, is more likely deserving of the Sky Valley’s highest honor for community service than even he realizes.

“He is a very giving person,” he said. “He is kind of unbelievable, really. He just never ends.”

Weiderstrom received the 2018 Sky Valley Citizen of the Year award at the 20th annual Sky Valley Community Awards Celebration on Saturday, Feb. 17. The event recognizes exemplary residents, who live anywhere from Sultan through Skykomish. Firefighters, students, business owners who donate equipment and labor, people supporting literacy and fighting to end poverty are some of the many who have received honors for giving countless hours of community service.

Sky Valley Visitors Center president Debbie Copple said this winter’s potluck was one for the books; volunteers were promised leftovers, but only a handful of rolls remained by the end.

Alyssa Weiderstrom posted on social media the next day that she and her husband hadn’t even planned to attend, though the couple usually does. They were persuaded by the encouragement of others.

The first wave of excitement came when Weiderstrom was announced as the recipient of the Skykomish Historical Society’s Skykomish Community Volunteer of the Year award. The accolade automatically put Weiderstrom in the running for Citizen of the Year.

He was up against the likes of Jim and Michelle Tinney. John Seehuus handed the City of Sultan Volunteer of the Year award to the father-daughter team earlier that night; it was his first time choosing and announcing the title as the city’s new mayor. Others contenders included Dick King, Rick Cross and Mark Hopkins, who took the Sky Valley Arts Council award for the hundreds of hours they gave to projects like restoring the historic Startup Gym.

The Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce board of directors vets the list of nominees every year, according to former City of Sultan volunteer and grants coordinator Donna Murphy. Each member is allowed a final vote for the big trophy. Only two people, including Copple, know who the winner is until the moment it is announced.

Weiderstrom did not expect his name to be called that evening, and he was pretty choked up. He’s worked nearly full time to operate the Skykomish Great Northern & Cascade Railway for more than five years, but his style has always been not to ask for anything in return.

“I always help people out, I have always helped people out through my whole life,” he said. “It’s just something I do.”

Weiderstrom was 4 years old the first time he saw Skykomish in the early 1960s. His father took him on a trip from their Seattle home up U.S. Highway 2. He’s remembered the visit ever since. It was an introduction to the region’s vibrant railroad history. 

Weiderstrom spent 27 years as a systems functional test technician for the Boeing 747. He was injured on the job in 2004, and was left with permanent nerve damage following a corrective operation in 2013. It was then that he was forced to retire.

Weiderstrom was a part-time Skykomish resident at first. He started by getting involved in local efforts, such as replacing a historic caboose at the Iron Goat Trail east of town. Then he joined the town’s planning board, and became a longtime Skykomish town councilmember. Copple said during her speech he joined “pretty much everything that is for the improvement of Skykomish.”

“I just do what I do because I feel like it’s my citizen’s duty,” he said. “I have always said, ‘If every person in this county would volunteer just two hours a month, how much better it would be.’ ”

Keeping history alive is also a personal responsibility, Weiderstrom said. He often says one can only know where they are going, if they know where they have been.

Weiderstrom eventually found a person who shared that same passion. He met his wife for the first time in 2013. It was the year of the museum and depot’s grand opening. The Sultan woman took her son to see it. It turns out Alyssa was as excited about trains as Weiderstrom.

The couple purchased an old home nearby that they are restoring together. She helps him run the museum, which takes up much of their time.

The railway has steam locomotives fired by propane and coal, as well as gas-powered train engines. Construction officially began on the train tracks, and the onsite original depot was converted into the gift shop, visitor center and museum, in 2012.

More is added onto to the minute route every year, and attendance continues to grow. Dietz said people have visited from all over the world.

That is all his son-in-law’s doing, he said. Copple said that the Skykomish Historical Society referred to Weiderstrom as the Volunteer of the Decade.

“Even though this award is recognizing the team leader, we know that he would say, ‘It’s about the entire team,’ ” she said.