LA CENTER — Anyone in the Clark County area who has visited one of the several live nativity scenes at area churches during the Christmas season has met Curly the Camel, one of the main stars of the yearly live nativity scene.
As well known as Curly is around Clark County, so are his “human parents,” Jeff and Marilyn Siebert. The Siebert family was recently faced with a heartbreaking situation when Marilyn was diagnosed with stomach cancer that had spread to several other areas of her body. She was given one month to live.
“We’re on a huge walk,” Jeff said of the couple’s journey battling cancer. “We also have a huge faith in God, and that’s what’s getting us through this. We decided to do a GoFundMe page. I don’t like to ask for help, it took a friend of mine to say, ‘Jeff, you need to ask for help.’”
Not even four months ago, 58-year-old Marilyn lost her mother who was 96. Then, around Thanksgiving, Jeff said Marilyn started not feeling well. A trip to the doctor confirmed that she had stomach cancer.
“First, right after Christmas, they did a biopsy and told us, ‘we’re going to hammer this with chemo,’” Jeff said. “Then they did a PET scan and the cancer had spread to several different places in her body, including her neck and her liver. The doctors came back and said, ‘we’re sorry, this is a fast aggressive cancer that chemo won’t do anything for.’”
Marilyn is currently at home receiving hospice care, and Jeff choked back tears as he relayed that the hospice nurse had told him on Monday that his wife’s condition is going downhill very fast.
“This is the very first year (with the animals and the nativity scenes) that I’ve ever had to do anything without her,” Jeff said. “It was hard. I look at it as God kept putting little angels in different areas of my life to help me get through it.”
“A lot of people don’t know, I lost my mom to cancer when she was 56 years old, and then in 1996, my dad became sick, basically the same scenario as Marilyn, and he moved in with me and we fought the battle together for about a year until I lost him,” Jeff said. “I guess God’s got me right where he wants me. Marilyn and I went to high school together, we graduated the same year, and then 30 years later we got together and got married. We’ve been together for 11 years, when we first met, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, so we went through that together about eight years ago and here we are down the road going through it again. It’s really hard to think about what life is going to be like without her.”
Jeff and Marilyn are best known around the Clark County area for being the “parents” of Curly, a 10-year-old camel who they got back in 2007 when he was only 5 months old. They purchased Curly in Missouri, and first had him be part of a live nativity scene in a location off of Mill Plain Boulevard. From there, Jeff and Marilyn started taking Curly all over the place — Vancouver Mall, Living Hope Church, Faith Center Church and several other locations.
“We’ve been doing this since we got Curly,” Jeff said. “This has been our whole lives, this is our ministry with Curly. God uses animals to tear down the barrier to share the Gospel with people.”
Jeff vividly remembered a moment when he was at one of the several nativity scenes with Curly, and a man told him that a friend had called him up one day, years ago, and told him he needed to come see the live nativity scene with the real camel in an area church. The man told Jeff he visited the nativity scene, and it really intrigued him, so he came back three different times to sit through it.
“The man confided in me that he had been an alcoholic and a drug addict, and that after that third time (sitting through the nativity scene), he walked out of the church and he never drank or took a drug again,” Jeff said. “He was funny, he said, ‘it took a stinky camel to get me in the door, but once I got in the door, God took care of me.’”
Jeff and Marilyn previously lived in the Hockinson area, but have now lived in La Center for more than six years. In addition to being “parents” to Curly, they also have several other animals, many of which are used in the live nativity scene, such as a donkey, sheep, goats and more. Combined, the two have six children and nine grandchildren.
Jeff said he’s very recently started writing down his thoughts and feelings, and plans to have a friend read the finished product at Marilyn’s service after she passes away. He said most of the thoughts he’s written down have all been about time.
“What takes away from time, what takes away from each other,” Jeff said. “I wish I could have any time back that I wasn’t spending with Marilyn. It’s all about remembering what’s important in life, what’s important is just spending time with what/who you love. If you love your wife and your kids and your pets, that’s what you spend your time with. If you allow the things going on in this world to pull you away from the important stuff, it takes away from that time.”
“I was a fireman for 17 years and worked for the railroad for 20,” Jeff continued. “I told one of my friends the other night, in a fireman’s life, we’re out there saving all the people and fixing everything, and this is the first time in my life I can’t fix it. I just tell everyone, hug your wives and hug your kids and remember what time is all about. This can happen to anybody, we all at some time go through this, sometimes we go through it so we’re strong in the end.”
Anyone who would like to donate to Jeff and Marilyn to help pay for Marilyn’s medical bills can do so by visiting their GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/supportjeffandmarilyn. Visit Curly the Camel’s Facebook page to learn more about him and his appearances.