Although it has been about five years since the widely reported death of 19-year-old Oregon State University freshman Alex Thompson in a drowning accident, his memory is not forgotten. Proof of that was the more than 75 people who showed up in Seaside a few weeks ago to participate in a beach cleanup project in his memory.
Thompson’s mother, Susan Thompson, of Beaverton, worked with SOLVE to organize the project Sept. 13, which would have been her son’s 25th birthday.
Susan Thompson chose a beach cleanup project in Seaside because it is similar to the community service projects Alex Thompson did in high school with the National Honor Society and student government groups. Alex Thompson graduated as the senior class president from Aloha High School in 2008.
Sometimes the family would accompany him on the projects.
“That’s just what Alex would have wanted,” said Susan Thompson, a labor and delivery nurse at Providence St. Vincent Hospital.
Community service was something he valued and heavily participated in, starting from his early years in the Boy Scouts of America.
“He enjoyed doing it,” she said.
Many of those community service projects took place in Seaside, so it was the location Susan Thompson wanted to return to in honor of her son. Alex Thompson was hiking at Smith Rock State Park and crossing a river when he got swept away by the current in April 2009. His body was not recovered for about 40 days. When it was, it brought a sense of closure for Susan Thompson.
“It was good and it was bad,” she said: It ended the hope that he was alive and possibly just confused about who and where he was.
“It was an awful thing to happen, but I had rather him be found. It made it final, which is important to move on,” she said.
In the process of moving on, she has relied heavily on her friends and family, who have continued to offer support; on her job and the act of caring for patients; and on her faith.
“You learn how to live around it, to work with it,” she, adding, “I have no doubt in my mind that I’ll be with him again.”
She came up with the idea in January of planning a memorial-style event for her son’s 25th birthday and the approximately five-year mark since his death.
“I just wanted to do something,” she said.
She partnered with SOLVE, created a Facebook event and started to spread the word about the project. On the day of the cleanup, the Seaside beach was overrun with Susan Thompson’s family friends, coworkers, Aloha High School students and even groups from other Oregon high schools. Other people not associated with the family stopped by to help throughout the day, and she had word from many other people that they wanted to be there, Susan Thompson said.
“There were probably more than 75 (people) when everything was said and done,” she said. “It was more people than what I expected.”
The group met at the turnaround and covered a few miles of the ocean shore, picking up more than 100 bags of trash.
“Anything to keep Alex’s memory alive is what I want to do,” Susan Thompson said. “I want everyone to remember Alex.”
A project that can accomplish that by bringing together family, friends and the community at large is a “win-win for everyone,” she said.
She said she was touched by the response and demonstrated the impact he had in his young life.
“It just brings my heart so much happiness,” she said.