Burial service for the ‘least fortunate’

An annual service by Kitsap County officials promotes the belief that all lives should be celebrated regardless of stature.

Around 30 residents gathered at the Silverdale Pioneer Cemetery last month for a burial service put together by the Coroner’s Office. Those who attended, while from all walks of life, had one thing in common. No one knew anything about the four people being buried besides their names. That is because all four were declared indigent, Coroner Jeff Wallis said.

“These are the four people that we have obtained through our office over the past year that had no family, no friends to claim them, and no funds to take care of their final resting place,” he said.

The original number of indigents was 16 in 2021, but it was reduced to four after family or funds were discovered for the others. Only Barney Nathan, Wayne Bennett, Danial Hecker and Christopher Beverly were left without anything to their name.

“Each one of the people up here represents literally hundreds of hours of work on the part of the staff at the coroner’s office, trying to find relatives, acquaintances and friends for these folks,” Wallis said.

The memorial serves as a last resort after nothing can be found. Even though direct relations or financial ties were not discovered, Wallis said it was a blessing in and of itself that the small group came to their memorial.

“I believe very strongly, as do all of my staff, that we are all judged by how we take care of those that are the least fortunate among us,” he said. “And you are all part of that by being here today to help us celebrate the lives of these people, even though nobody here knew them and to give them some honor and dignity in their final resting place, and to let them know that we cared about them.”

Charlie Ely, one of the attendees, said that he’s glad the county has this service, crediting Wallis with using his office to go above and beyond for the community. “I think it was [President Harry] Truman that said a society will be judged by how we treat our weakest members. Jeff has really embodied that. It’s really gratifying.”

Chaplain Joe Schweiger of Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue, who officiated the short service, said it is important from a religious standpoint because it gives spiritual comfort to all involved and provides an opportunity for prayer toward the least of us. “As we do to the least of these, our brethren, we do also in a real way to our God, who has created and watched with his holy angels upon all of us. He has made us a promise to eternal life,” Schweiger said.

Citizens are invited to visit the indigent plot and use it as an opportunity for prayer and reflection.

Wallis said that those who attend the ceremony stand as a reminder of why the community is so amazing to him.

“Regardless of our stature in life, it is refreshing for me to see that we do have a community that is involved, and I am so thankful to be part of it,” he said.