Marge White

Marge White volunteering at Willamette School in her retirement years.
By Beth Smolens and Elizabeth RocchiaFebruary 2015

At the age of 88, Marge is one of Willamette’s oldest residents. She is a fiercely independent and private woman who continues to do as much for herself as she possibly can. She is forward thinking and believes, “there is no use in looking back because that’s not the direction you are going in.” Delightfully frank and intelligent, with impressive clarity, Marge recalls for us a little bit of her life growing up in West Linn.

She was born in Oregon City in 1927 but tells us her mother was raised in West Linn and wanted to move back to be near her family. When Marge was five, they moved back to a family home in the Willamette area.

Marge attended Willamette Elementary beginning at the age of six. She loved school and was a good student. She recalled her teacher Mrs. Harris and a small class of 15 or so children. She said it was common knowledge at this time in West Linn’s history that the teachers were excellent. “Mabel Larsen taught third grade and Etta May Hawley taught seventh grade. We had weekly book reports, diagramed sentences from the Declaration of Independence and read ‘Up from Slavery’ by Booker T. Washington.” Marge remembers this early preparation allowed some students, like herself, to skip freshman English and move up a grade to take a literature class in high school.

We asked Marge about the fire destroying the Willamette Elementary School. She corrected us, “there were two. One started in the attic when I was in the 6th or 7th grade but it didn’t interrupt school. As I remember, it happened in summer. The fire department was a volunteer station with a siren that had to be manually turned on and off in those days.” She remembered the loud siren, early one morning warning about the fire at the school. Her uncle was among the volunteer firemen. Sometime later, the school had a second fire and was rebuilt.

West Linn was a small town; her extended family lived close by and “people knew everyone in town back then.” Marge recalls her grandfather, Charles Andrus, delivered the mail with a horse and buggy from his house on 9th street. She also rode the trolley as a child, her uncle was the trolley car driver. The trolley ran from the Methodist church down to the station at the Arch Bridge. Much of the trolley tracks were eventually covered by the street but there are still original stairs that once led down to the tracks in between 7th and 9th at Willamette Falls Drive.

Willamette Falls Railway Car at Willamette. Credit Clackamas County Historical Society.

Willamette was a bustling part of West Linn in the 30s. Marge recalls all sorts of stores and shops along the main street. Buckleson and Milliken’s grocery was on 14th, Ritter’s was a post office and dry goods store located where Cooperstown is now, and there was a barbershop called Walston’s. Willamette had a drug store and a butcher shop that made deliveries. Grossman’s meat market was on the corner of 12th with a small cafe next door. Outside Willamette you would find mostly farms. On the hillside above the present day Albertson’s store, there were 2 dairy farms and on Johnson Road there was a “filbert” (Hazelnut) orchard (Marge recalls multiple filbert trees in the orchard were lost back in the Columbus Day Storm of 1962).

Marge with her Dad, Milton White, and niece (Marge's sister's daughter) Jody Ann, on a fishing trip in 1957

As kids, Marge explained, “We pretty much made our own fun. We would go down to Willamette Park and spend the day. There would be councilors there in the summer to organize games and crafts. We’d climb trees and sometimes hide up there at dinner time to see if someone would find us. We could swim in the Tualatin at Devil’s Elbow (now Swift Shore). In winter when it snowed, and it snowed a lot, we had 12th street for a good steep run with a sled. Mind you, we’d make a quick turn at the bottom to avoid shooting into the river.” Fishing and camping along the Clackamas and vacationing at Detroit Lake are also fond memories for Marge.

Marge White with her mother, Veda, and friend Betty Lafeman, in front of her home on 4th Ave.

Marge was in school in West Linn during World War II. She recalls the war had a significant impact on everyone in town: boys from town went off to the war; women and children rolled bandages at the fire station; there were ration stamps for gas and food. “Many people, my grandmother for example, had gardens.” Everyone shared. There would be neighborhood potlucks (a tradition still; many of the historic district residents hold a pot luck several times during the year).

She graduated from high school and began her college education at Marylhurst in 1947. She entered college as a music major studying violin, piano and voice. Music was always an important part of Marge’s life; she taught and played piano for many years but she considered early on that it wouldn’t likely pay the bills. Being the practical woman that she is, she eventually switched her major to pre-medicine and transferred to Portland State.

Polio had many epidemics throughout the ages but had a significant peak in the United States from 1949 to 1952. Marge was attending college during that time and became ill. She recalled some of her friends became ill too. Without elaborating she did admit, “There were lasting effects for some.” She recovered from her illness and continued with her pre-med studies. She became interested in laboratory technology and worked for many years in a Portland medical laboratory.

Marge had moved out of West Linn during those years but eventually moved back to another small house in the Willamette area where she still lives today. Ever the music lover, her shelves are filled with sheets of music and her tiny living room is taken up by a grand piano.

Following this interview in early December 2014, Marge moved on to a new home in assisted living. Her remarkable neighbors have been instrumental in assisting her with packing her home. The photos shared with the article were discovered during the preparation for her move.
The West Linn Historical Society wishes to express thanks to Marge for sharing her stories. We wish her every comfort and joy in her new home.