'It's just who she is'
Alma Coston will always remember the sledding.
Years ago, when West Linn was smaller, quieter and everyone knew everyone else, the rare Oregon snowstorm would often prompt the closure of Burns Street in the Bolton neighborhood. Rather than huddling up inside, the adults seized the chance to relive their childhoods.
"We'd all have a bonfire and sled and sled and sled — even the adults," Coston said. "The last time we did it, it was the adults out sledding and the kids weren't playing."
For Coston, these moments represented the best of what West Linn had to offer — the genuine sense of community that she's spent decades fighting for as a volunteer and organizer. Name a local nonprofit or advocacy group, and chances are that she's played a role in it.
Thus, Coston was an obvious choice for the West Linn and Riverview Lions clubs' Les DeJardin Award for community service when it was presented this summer. DeJardin was one of the founding members of the Lions Club and was well-known as a businessman and community leader.
"I have lived in West Linn for 24 years and I am always seeing Alma throughout each year finding not one but several community causes to support," resident and fellow volunteer Marla Gaarenstroom wrote in a letter nominating Coston for the award. "If there is a community project in West Linn, you know that Alma will be there in any number of ways to support it. She can't help it; it's just who she is!"
Gaarenstroom added that Coston would likely be surprised to win the award — and indeed, she knew her friend well.
"Surprised and shocked and honored," Coston said of her reaction to winning. "I don't deserve it, and there are so many others who work tirelessly to help here in town at many different things."
Coston may be underselling herself. A West Linn resident since 1962, she is perhaps best known as one of the founding members of the Friends of Maddax Woods — a group that fought to preserve the city park while also organizing the popular Lighting of Maddax Woods holiday event. Coston continues to devote much of her time to Maddax Woods — which is next door to her home — but she's also been part of everything from the West Linn Garden Club to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation and the West Linn Library Foundation.
Her overarching goal has always been, as she put it, "to see if we can make things wonderful for everybody in West Linn." And while she's always been heavily involved in the community, Coston has at times been frustrated with the divisiveness of city politics.
"I would really like to see a harmony between people in town, and somehow a coming together so that we can share each other's agenda — not try to push agendas that don't move forward," she said. "We need to move forward; we need to continue to develop, but it's important to develop things well and perfectly so they fit in our environment and neighborhoods."
The continuing work at Maddax Woods is emblematic of Coston's ethos. Dorothy and Virgil Maddax were known for their pristine and diverse garden as well as a boat-making operation along the river, and when they died Coston and others made it their mission to preserve the unique property as the Maddax family would have intended.
"They were very protective of their property," Coston said. "When they did pass, I wanted to see a way to protect it. And one of the ways was to become the Friends of Maddax Woods."
Just before she received the award this summer, Coston saw how her work has had a profound effect on others.
"The family of Dorothy and Virgil, the Friends of Maddax Woods had them here in June," Coston said. "They came up and we had a picnic for them here, and they're just amazed at all of the things that are here and very happy to see that the history and work of Dorothy and Virgil is preserved as best as it can be preserved."
Much has changed since the days of sledding on Burns Street; Coston recently lost her husband, who was almost always by her side as a volunteer. But nearly all of the groups Coston was part of or helped form are still working today — and she says that continuity is what she is most proud of.
"I depend upon the Lord to help me continue to have strength to do these things," she said. "I am thankful for the health I have had and the support of people who have come alongside of me."