One at a time, three small square boxes wrapped in brown paper and twine emerge from a basement storage room of Fairmount Memorial Park in Spokane. For nearly seven decades, the boxes, holding the precious remains of one of the most prominent families in the region, sat unclaimed and unwanted until now.
"This whole thing is really strange. Something happened, and no one knows the story," said Rick Valentine.
A few weeks ago, Rick Valentine, along with several other volunteers and members of the Spokane Historical Monuments Committee, laid to rest Byron Riblet, his wife, Hallie, and their daughter, Josephine, in a plot at Fairmount. This special moment marked the first time the three had been together since 1952.
"The sad part is that the Riblets were down in the basement, and they weren't even together for all these years," said Rick.
If you're a skier, you can thank Byron Riblet for getting you to the top of the mountain. Byron owned Riblet Tramway, the world's largest and first chairlift manufacturer. His family roots and impact on the Inland Northwest are still apparent to this day. Byron's brother, Royal, built the now Arbor Crest mansion. Byron also designed and built the SkyRide Gondola in Riverfront park, giving visitors a bird's eye view of the Spokane Falls.
"The Riblets are deeply intertwined into the history of Spokane," said Rick.
Bryon died in 1952. His wife, Hallie, passed away a few years later, and then his daughter, Josephine, died in 1961. All were cremated and filed away in the basement of Fairmount, where they store unclaimed remains, as required by law. His other daughter, Virginia, died in 1973 and was buried by the county in a plot at Holy Cross Cemetery.
"The family lived in a Kirtland Cutter mansion. There was a lot of money at some point. No one knows what happened," said Rick.
Rick found the remains of the Riblet family in 2016 while working on a personal mission to bury the unclaimed remains of veterans. In the past several years, Rick has laid to rest almost 50 veterans, including a civil war hero.
"We give them a full honors burial at the Veterans Cemetery. We do a 21-gun salute and taps. It's very satisfying to know that they are laid to rest and not in the basement of a mausoleum," said Rick.
Rick, who is retired, is part history buff, part investigator. His passion for genealogy dates back to the late 70s when his mom asked for help mapping out their family tree.
"All of this is just so interesting. But, more than anything, it's the chase. It is finding the information. It's getting the results you want," said Rick.
This morning, as the morning dew evaporated over the freshly watered green grass, volunteers and the Mayor of Spokane revealed a historical monument erected in Byron's memory near his burial plot. Mayor Nadine Woodward also proclaimed August 28th, 2021 Byron Riblet Recognition Day, honoring the man who changed the world's landscape.
"It's satisfying to know that you had something to do with them getting laid to rest," said Rick.
*Special thanks to the Spokane Historic Monuments Committee, Fairmount Memorial Association, Jim McLefresh, and the Strack family.