These Gold Star parents donated a climbing wall to honor their fallen son

When Elinor and Arty Nakis brought home the body of their 19-year-old son who had died during a transport mission while deployed with the Army National Guard in Mosul, Iraq, in 2003, an eagle soared over their Sedro-Woolley home.

Another eagle flew overhead on the way to Nathan Nakis’ memorial service, Elinor Nakis recalled.

And in 2008, when the Nakis family helped install indoor climbing and bouldering walls in honor of their son at the Camp Black Mountain Boy Scout camp in Whatcom County, an eagle was there, too.

That’s why Elinor wasn’t surprised to see a young eagle soar overhead Saturday morning during the dedication of the bouldering wall at its new home near Cascade Middle and Evergreen Elementary schools in Sedro-Woolley.

“(Nathan) would be so proud,” she said.

After spending years in storage at a Janicki Industries facility in Hamilton, the bouldering wall formerly housed in Whatcom County is ready to carry on Nathan Nakis’ memory in the community he grew up in.

“We expect this thing to get a lot of use,” Arty Nakis said. “We took the protective covering off last night and it’s already getting used.”

Nathan, a 2002 Sedro-Woolley High School graduate who started in school at Evergreen, was heavily involved with the Boy Scouts, his mother said.

As an adult, the Eagle Scout volunteered and worked at Camp Black Mountain and helped build the camp’s first rope climbing course, Elinor Nakis said.

When the course would close for days at a time due to inclement weather, Nathan would tell his mother how much he hoped to see a covered climbing facility for the Scouts to use. The wall located between the Evergreen and Cascade campuses is covered by a roof.

After his death, the Nakis’ could think of no better way to honor their son.

“Elinor and I have always felt that it took the help of our community to raise our sons,” Arty Nakis said at the dedication. “When we lost Nathan, we felt the support and love of this community stronger than ever.”

When the Boy Scout camp closed in 2012, the climbing wall built in Nathan’s honor couldn’t be salvaged, Arty Nakis said, but the bouldering wall was removed so it could one day find a new home for more to enjoy.

“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Sedro-Woolley School District Superintendent Phil Brockman said. “It’s an honor to have ‘Nathan’s Boulder’ on our campus. Our kids look forward to playing on this.”

The wall is set to be used not only by students attending the schools, but also by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Skagit County’sSedro-Woolley club that shares the same property.

“This is perfect,” Arty Nakis said. “I couldn’t imagine a more perfect spot.”

The district’s special needs students will also utilize the wall for hands-on learning experiences, something that Elinor, a 21-year employee of the Sedro-Woolley School District, is glad to see happen.

“(Whether) it’s Scouting or through the schools, you’ve got to get (kids) out of their comfort zone,” Arty Nakis said. “It builds confidence and trust in each other.”

For Rotary International of Sedro-Woolley President David Bricka, the project took on a special meaning as he remembered his nephew Brian Gurney, who died in December as a result of injuries sustained during a 2014 hiking accident at Pilchuck Falls. Gurney was 19 at the time of the accident.

“(Brian and Nathan) were two great young men that had such an impact,” Bricka said. “They both had 19 years of actively living.”

Sedro-Woolley Mayor Keith Wagoner, a veteran himself with a son currently enlisted, thought the bouldering wall was a perfect fit for the community.

“I have so many friends that went and didn’t come back,” Wagoner said. “Literally thousands of hands have touched this thing. It’s not a monument you stand back and look at.”

Alec Giess, who served with Nathan Nakis and was in the vehicle with him the day Nakis died, drove up for the dedication from Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Giess has become part of the family, Arty Nakis said.

“It was a combat mission on a crummy day,” Giess said. “Everybody liked (Nathan). (Nathan’s story) won’t end now. It’ll keep going.”

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