Family, friends gather to share stories about Galt family killed in plane crash
Family and friends of Michael Pullen talk about him at a memorial service Friday. Pullen, his wife and their two children died in a plane crash in Montana on March 22. Between 1,300 to 1,400 people attended the service. (Keri Wood/Galt Herald)

Adventurous, selfless and devoted to family were just some of the ways Michael, 39, and Vanessa Pullen, 37, and their children, 9-year-old Sydney and 7-year-old Christopher, were described at the family's memorial on Friday.

"We cannot say enough about how close we are … we haven't looked back once and said 'I wish we would have said something,'" Vanessa Pullen's mother, Pamela Feldkamp, said.

Between 1,300 and 1,400 people attended the family's services at Fairmont Seventh-day Adventist Church, with some standing in the back for the service that lasted over three hours. More than 20 people spoke, including Michael and Vanessa's college and life-long friends, family members, and the children's teachers and cousins.

The family died in a plane crash in Montana on March 22. The crash took the lives of 14 people on a private plane that was headed from Oroville to Bozeman, Mont. Vanessa's sister, Amy Jacobson, her husband and their three children also died in the crash.

They were going to an exclusive Montana ski resort and were on a plane Pullen's father leased. The pilot was also a family friend.

At the service, there were many chuckles and some tears as family and friends told their favorite stories about the Pullen family.

Vanessa's brother, Buddy Feldkamp, said that his favorite memory of Michael happened three weeks ago before they left to take a motorcycle trip to Los Angeles.


Pam Feldkamp holds the hand of her son, Buddy Feldkamp, while reflecting on the deaths of her daughter, Vanessa Pullen, and her family, who were killed in a Montana plane crash. Pam and Buddy Feldkamp are also the mother and brother of Amy Jacobson, who was killed along with her family in the same plane crash. (Dan Evans/News-Sentinel)

"He was in all his motorcycle leathers, tending to his tomatoes," Buddy Feldkamp said. "I don't know many people who ride motorcycles and grow tomatoes."

Feldkamp said that when they went to the home of Michael's dad, Louis Pullen, the tomatoes were covered in the backyard. Before the vacation, Michael had rigged a six-by-six-foot trailer to tow the tomatoes to his dad's house so they could be looked after.

Michael worked at a dentistry practice in Valley Springs, and he was good at calming down children and even nervous adults, said his partner, James DuHamel.

Described by family friend John Ruzzamenti as "a jack of all trades and a master of all trades," Michael built his home in Galt and was also interested in gourmet cooking.

"They were always game for anything," Ruzzamenti said. "There's not too many pictures of him sitting in a rocking chair in front of the TV."

Ellie Zuiderveld remembered when her family went fishing with the Pullens.

"He made sure they all caught a fish and then gave them all the credit," she said. "He was a great dad."

And family friend Rolf Wuerch said he could not talk about Michael without mentioning Vanessa.

"They say behind every man is a good woman, but I think Vanessa was in front of Mike," he said.

Family friend Tracy Blunt recounted her adventures with Vanessa touring Europe and watching her go out of her way to be a good mom.

"We planned for life's great adventures together, and I will miss her very much, but it's just a separation and I'll be patient," Blunt said.

Vanessa was an Elk Grove pediatrician who enjoyed hosting people at her home. Her sense of hospitality even started in childhood, friend Mary Bogle said.

"She'd pack lunches, and we'd ride around the block and then eat it," Bogle said. "Vanessa was always good at planning things."

High school friend Joely Kuhn saw Vanessa about a yearand-a-half ago after years apart, and said they picked up right where they left off.

"She was unconditional in her love for me," Kuhn said.

She said Vanessa believed in letting her children learn from experience, whether it was riding a motor bike or building a playhouse.

Sydney's teacher, Dottie Phelps, said the fourth-grader took after her mom and always ensured her classmates were nice to each other.

Phelps had her class write cards about Sydney, and the phrase that kept reappearing was "best friend."

"I have to confess to you all, this is one of the most difficult weeks in my career, to comfort 26 children," Phelps said. "When they started crying, one of the first things I said is, 'What would Sydney do right now? She would comfort you.'"

At the beginning of the fourth grade, Sydney worried constantly about missing assignments. Before Spring Break, she asked Phelps if she needed to take study materials with her, and Phelps said that she should just enjoy the time with her family.

Quotes

On Michael:
"He taught me how to drive a stick shift, build houses, pour cement, and live life to the fullest and not take it too seriously."
- Michael Rosich, lifelong friend

On Vanessa:
"I'm going to miss our political chats, our mommy talk, our late-night e-mails, our vacations and, most of all, raising our babies together."
- Rhonda Nelson, Vanessa's life-long friend

On Sydney:
"Before vacation, I thought she has grown up so much. I thought, 'What a beautiful girl. What a perfect little American girl.' … It has been a heartbreak to think that life has been cut short."
- Dottie Phelps, Sydney's teacher

On Christopher:
"I would see Chris in the morning, and he wouldn't want to stop and say 'hi' because he was focused. He didn't want to break his schedule, so I would give him a high five or fist bump."
- Dann Dodd, Lodi Adventist Elementary principal

On reacting to news of the plane crash:
"Basically non-belief. How could that happen? Are you sure? I was holding out hope that it was a mistake It was the worst day of my life."
- Buddy Feldkamp, Vanessa's brother

Family friend Kim Fisher recalled Sydney being nervous during her first sleepover and calling her mom but refusing to go home. When she woke up the next morning, she said, "I did it."

Fisher remembered Christopher as always on the go and excited to play with friends. He loved mud puddles, baseball and swimming.

He was taking taekwondo classes with his best friend, Adam Gates, and had earned a yellow belt. Toward the beginning of the service, Gates sang "My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me."

Christopher's teacher, Donna Tungesvik, said Christopher always would push other students on the swing and described him as her "playground star."

During Spring Break, Tungesvik was working on Teddy bears she had the class sew. While holding up Christopher's bear at the service, she said "My heart just ached for this sweet little boy that sewed this bear."

Sydney and Christopher's cousins and friends told stories about playing Star Wars, fishing and swimming. They described the Pullen children as happy, fun and nice.

"You are nice to me, you played with me, but you are my friend. There are a thousand things I love about you," said Pearl, one of Sydney's friends.

Luke described his cousin Christopher as an explorer.

"He was a really good friend because he was really nice, except to the girls sometimes," he said.

Outside of the church, pictures signed by Sydney and Christopher's classmates from Lodi Adventist Elementary were at a table where people could write memories on a slip of paper or pick up a red or black wristband that read "Forever young," and had the initials of everyone killed in the crash.

Following the service, people lingered in the church, hugging loved ones and looking at all the donated flowers. On top of the caskets rested Sydney's American Girl doll and Christopher's motor bike helmet.

Pastor and friend Loyd Henderson ended the service, by saying that the grief of this tragedy cannot be described in words, only in tears.

"Earth has no sorrow heaven cannot heal … To the 14 whose memories are forever tied together, welcome home," he said.

Brother-in-law Jeff Nelvis said his family appreciates the support they have received from people.

"We'd like to just honor them with the good memories. So many great memories," he said.

Pamela Feldkamp said that she would not have been able to make it through these hard times without the support of all the families involved in the plane crash.

"Our hope is for a big reunion with everyone in heaven … We are going one moment at a time. I don't know about how I'll deal with it next week or in the next couple of months, but eternity is taken care of," she said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com or read her blog City Buzz.

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