By Ashley Lodato

By now most have you will have heard of the untimely death of Al Hymer, owner of the Sweet River Bakery, in the Methow River last weekend. I can’t claim to have known Al well, but his priorities and the bakery space he created were both close to my heart.

Al was a supporter of the arts, and arts education for children. Arts education is my day job (no, I don’t toil at the Methow Valley News 24/7 as some of you might believe), and Al’s financial and philosophical support, especially for kids in the Pateros area, was a great boon in a field with consistently dwindling funds.

I first became acquainted with the Sweet River Bakery in 2005, when Jon and I moved to the Methow Valley with our 8-month-old daughter, Wyatt. My mom used to come up to Winthrop for three days each week to baby-sit Wyatt while I worked for Outward Bound, and she routinely planned in a stop at the Sweet River Bakery on her commute.

Several years later, while Jon and I were building our house, I met my mom at the Sweet River Bakery early every Saturday morning to hand off my two kids to her; and again on Sunday evening to retrieve them. My parents took my kids to Wenatchee with them for the weekend every week for more than a year, so Jon and I could build uninterrupted; the bakery was always our point of transfer. My kids fell in love with the bakery’s cinnamon rolls and scones; I always kept our freezer stocked with its Kalamata olive bread.

For the past eight years I have spent many a pleasant lunch hour in the Sweet River Bakery, usually accompanied by a touring performance group that Methow Arts brings to Okanogan County schools. I’ve taken bands from Mongolia, Tuva, Colombia, Peru and Ukraine to the bakery. We’ve eaten Sweet River Bakery’s soups, salads and sandwiches. We’ve bagged up cookies and mugged up lattes for the road. We’ve used the bakery’s Wi-Fi and taken advantage of its hospitality as we pass time between performances in the Pateros and Brewster schools.

When Al was present at the bakery he was unfailingly generous with his time, energy and interest. Al was the kind of guy who made you feel like a local, even when you weren’t. He made you feel welcome and a part of the Pateros community, even when you weren’t. Al made you feel as if you belonged — and isn’t belonging ultimately what we all crave?

Rest in peace, Al. And Sweet River Bakery — long may it thrive.

PREVIOUSLY, IN WINTHROP

Email Ashley