Julie McDonald Commentary: It’s a Small and Sometimes Scary World on the Palouse


With our daughter in her senior year at Washington State University this year, my husband and I drove twice in November to Pullman for football games, where she performed in the Cougar Marching Band.

On Nov. 12, the Saturday after Veterans Day, we hunkered in the stands enduring 30-degree temperatures for Family Weekend when the Cougars beat the Arizona State Sun Devils 28 to 18. 

In the early hours the following morning, in neighboring Moscow, Idaho, a monster stabbed four University of Idaho students to death as they slept in their rented home near Greek Row. That same day, across the nation in Charlottesville, Virginia, a 22-year-old opened fire and killed three University of Virginia football players on a bus.

Seven young lives senselessly lost, hundreds, perhaps thousands more, forever changed by the slaughters.

More than a year ago, after Thanksgiving 2021, we booked a hotel room in Moscow so we could attend the 2022 Apple Cup in Pullman. With sadness in our hearts for the losses suffered by the families of slain college students and an unsolved quadruple murder in Moscow, we drove east again Nov. 23 for the Apple Cup, albeit armed with pepper spray and a combination flashlight/stun gun.

I’ll admit to being a bit obsessed with the investigation into the murders near the University of Idaho campus as investigators delving into the crime failed to find the culprits. The murder scene lies a scant seven miles east of WSU’s Pullman campus, which left me, like other parents, concerned for the safety of our children and their friends.

We played pinochle, ate dinners out, and enjoyed our weekend despite the cloud hanging over the Moscow community of 25,000. On Saturday after Thanksgiving, we bundled into our warmest clothes for the Apple Cup and followed the Cougar Marching Band from Cougville to the Northside Commons for a concert and then found our seats in the packed stadium.

After the national anthem, the announcer asked for a moment of silence to remember those seven slain students.

I like people, so I struck up a conversation with the woman seated beside me, Tamara (Cathcart) Reames, who lives in Boise but grew up in Olympia and played in the Tumwater High School band. I even confessed to being a Husky with a son who, like me, graduated from the University of Washington but noted my husband and daughter are Cougars — so right now, I’m a Cougar mom.

As we conversed, I discovered her family roots lie in Lewis County. Her mother, Janis Arth, grew up in Winlock, so of course I dug into their history when I returned home. Tamara’s grandfather, Joseph Arth, was born in Germany and married her grandmother, Edith Wallin, in Lidgerwood, N.D., in April 1938. The couple moved west and, in 1946, settled in Winlock, where Edith ran two stores — the Hillcrest Grocery and Arth’s Grocery. Joseph worked as a millworker at Cascade Hardwoods, Sam Agnew’s Lumber Mill, and Centralia Plywood. Edith died in 1983, and Joseph in 2003. Their seven children included three sons — Joseph III, Mike, Kevin—and four daughters — Janis, Mary Ann, Virginia, and Amy. 

Janis married Gene Cathcart in the summer of 1964 and moved to Olympia, where he worked for the Washington Highway Department. But many of her siblings remained in Lewis County.

Tamara told me she and her husband of 29 years, Steven Reames, have four children, including a daughter who graduated from the U of I last year and knew of the murder victims through mutual friends.

A highlight of the Apple Cup in Pullman was recognition of seniors on the WSU football team at the beginning of the game and in the Cougar Marching Band during halftime. My husband and I, accompanied by my daughter’s fiancé Chase Conaway of Chehalis, joined other proud parents on the field as our daughter was recognized by name, hometown, and her major — genetics and cell biology.

Back in our seats, Tamara asked if she had heard right —there were two students from Toledo?

Indeed there were.

Charlie Holmes, who is majoring in music education, was among those honored on the field, and I thought how proud his great-grandmother Esther Borte would be of him. 

“The Cougar Marching Band has truly been my home away from home,” Holmes told me after the game. “My sousaphone section has created a family dynamic over the semester, and it’s a joy to work hard every week and to prep and work on our shows for the game.”

My daughter said the same.

“My freshman year, making the transition from Toledo — where we were barely big enough to have a pep band — to WSU where the CMB had about 240 members (almost 3½ times bigger than my graduating class) was surprisingly easy. I wouldn’t say effortless, seeing as I had never truly marched before in my life, but it was easy,” she said. “The CMB is like a big extended family, with each section being its own family unit. There’s so much support from everyone. Joining the CMB was possibly the best decision I’ve made in my life and definitely the easiest.”

She credited her Toledo band teacher who has since retired.

“Kathy Welch sparked my love of music, and I am eternally grateful to her for that.”

Holmes served as section leader before the Covid-19 pandemic, which provided him opportunities to use his leadership and teaching skills. He’s attended three bowl games — the 2017 Holiday Bowl, the 2018 Alamo Bowl, and the 2019 Cheez-It Bowl. Covid concerns and airplane unavailability canceled the band trip to the Sun Bowl last year.

But the CMB, especially the seniors, are practicing now for a performance at the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl on Dec. 17. The WSU Cougars (7-5) face off against Mountain West champs Fresno State (9-4) at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.

After graduating, Holmes hopes to find a teaching job in a larger Puget Sound district to gain experience before someday returning to Toledo to apply his skills and knowledge to the music program there.

Since the murders, Holmes acknowledged concerns on the Pullman campus “with the Moscow killer still on the loose and not really having any solid information coming from the Moscow police.”

He said it seems the case might eventually run cold with nobody held accountable for taking four innocent lives.

“Everyone is a little on edge anytime something remotely suspicious occurs,” he said. “Our first thought goes to ‘Should we call the police?’ I used to feel okay if I accidentally forgot to lock my doors at night, but now I find myself double sometimes even triple-checking my doors just to make sure I’m safe at night because you never know who could be lurking around our small college town.”


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.