Avalanche victim will be remembered fondly
There is a table in Scott Kessler’s Donner Lake home with a shrine paying tribute to his wife, Kathy Polucha-Kessler, who died in a tragic ski accident on Monday. Among the effects honoring her life are flowers dropped off by friends, a memorial poem written in careful handwriting and photos of the couple on trips in the Sierra and at the beach.
“Her spirit will live on in the mountains and snow, and the rivers, lakes and streams,” Scott said softly sitting at home Wednesday. “She’ll always be there.”
Polucha-Kessler, 39, died in an avalanche along with six other skiers, in the Selkirk mountain range in the Canadian Rockies, while skiing with 24 others, including several local residents who were not involved in the accident.
The skiers were buried by a wall of rock-hard snow, 100-feet wide and six- to 15-feet deep, according to police and rescue officials. Three skiers were able to escape the avalanche – which tumbled from 300 feet above – and rescued one person.
“She was not one to take chances or risks,” her husband said. “She was a skilled skier and always safe.”
Polucha-Kessler and her husband had been training for months before the trip. They planned to go to Canada together, but the office manager at the couple’s business, Truckee Overhead Door, had a serious injury, so Scott stayed behind when Polucha-Kessler left for the trip on Friday.
“We did everything together,” he said. “I called her ‘Quite Capable Kathy.’ She always did everything by the book.”
The couple met in Truckee and were married in October 2000. In 1999, they moved to Donner Lake.
“This was a woman who truly loved Truckee,” said Truckee Mayor Ted Owens, who had known Polucha-Kessler for over 10 years, “and she showed that most recently with her effort in Donner Lake water issues.”
As a water specialist with the Nevada County Department of Environmental Health, Polucha-Kessler worked thousands of hours to make Donner Lake’s water system safe.
“The L.A. Times did a huge article on her after that,” said Sandy Casey, the owner of Tahoe Resort Properties, where Polucha-Kessler worked as a realtor for the past two years.
“They called her ‘Donner Lake’s version of Erin Brockovich.'”
Casey said the mood around the office on Tuesday was somber.
“We’re just devastated. She was the most amazing person,” Casey said. “She was a dynamo. She really cared about her clients.”
Polucha-Kessler moved to Truckee 13 years ago, after graduating from Chico State University. Since then, everyone who crossed paths with Polucha-Kessler said she had a way of making people feel special.
“Kathy had an incredible capacity to take a number of individuals and turn them into a group,” said Carla Beebe, Polucha-Kessler’s good friend. “I had the pleasure of being a part of that. I only have about six people in my circle of friends, and hers was about 300. I guess I’m going to have to step out a little more now.”
Snowboarding pioneer Craig Kelly, 36, was also among the dead. He lived in Nelson, British Columbia. Others killed by the avalanche included Vernon Lunsford, 49, of Littleton, Colo.; Dennis Yates, 50, of Los Angeles; Naomi Heffler, 25, of Calgary; and Dave Finnery, 30, of New Westminster, British Columbia. The name of a 50-year-old man from Canmore, Alberta, was not released pending notification of relatives overseas.
There will be a memorial service held for Kathy Polucha-Kessler on Sunday, Jan. 26, at 1 p.m. at the Cottonwood Restaurant off highway 267 in Truckee. The public is invited to attend.
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