Feature Story – A 52-Year Search

As all of us have come to know, genealogy is about research, and lots of it. There’s also persistence, the passion for making a connection, and then more research. Throughout that process, a name can often be the brick wall that leads us astray, preventing us from fitting together the crucial pieces of our research. This story is about all of those circumstances, but more than that, it’s a love story about never giving up.

They met on the first day of high school in Phoenix, Arizona in 1958. Pat (Patricia) was 14 years old and Jerry, 15. She remembers having the ‘first day jitters’, and struggling to open her locker, when Jerry appeared out of nowhere to rescue her. High School DanceThey began dating a short while later, and for the next 2 years went to movies, school dances, and enjoyed all the normal things teenagers did. Then cautious they were perhaps getting too serious for their ages, Pat’s parents ended the teenagers’ relationship. Pat and Jerry were both heartbroken, but Jerry was devastated – so much so that he transferred to another high school despite being in his senior year, class VP, and a popular student with many friends. Within a few months at a new school and still heartbroken, he convinced himself the army would be his only salvation. With his mother’s permission, he enlisted. It was 1961.

“At the time, it was the best thing I could ever do.” – Jerry

Pat graduated from that high school in Phoenix, went on to college at Arizona State University and became a schoolteacher in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and California, for 43 years in all. During that time, she married and raised a daughter. She doesn’t admit to thinking of Jerry during those years, since they never spoke again after their high school breakup. Instead, she assumed ‘I really didn’t mean that much to him after all’.

The army sent Jerry to San Antonio, Texas for training as a medic, then to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. In 1962 he was stationed in Alaska then served in the Vietnam War as a combat medic (101st Airborne, Screaming Eagles). He re-enlisted, and in 1970 left the army for 1½ years, but subsequently re-enlisted and ultimately retired from the army in 1985. During those years in the military, he married and had 2 children, yet in his heart of hearts, he was never able to dismiss the heartbreak of his youth. On return visits to see his mother in Phoenix he would ask friends if anyone knew what became of Pat. He learned she had married, became a teacher, relocated to Missouri and had a daughter.

In 1971 during one of his visits to Phoenix, a friend learned Pat was also in town visiting her family. Without warning, and in the company of Jerry’s family, the friend dialed Pat’s number and handed Jerry the phone. At her mother’s house and with her family present in the room, Pat came on the phone line. Given the circumstances, their conversation was brief, and more awkward than heartfelt.

Quite a few years later (prior to the internet) and thinking back to that phone call, Jerry found himself genuinely curious to know how Pat was getting along and mostly, if she was happy. Without a clue as to her married name, he began the arduous task of obtaining all the phone books for the state of Missouri to locate her. In the course of 1½ to 2 years, he methodically phoned every Patricia listed. Despite his efforts, this research method proved unsuccessful.

As the years passed and with the internet available, Jerry periodically attempted to locate Pat accessing classmates.com and other websites. But the search results using her maiden name were fruitless. In time, his marriage began to fail.

His internet searches for Pat continued, but left him frustrated, and more than once, Jerry almost gave up. By 2010 he concluded the reason he couldn’t locate Pat was that she was deceased . . . at least that’s what he kept telling himself. Yet he sensed something was out there that could help him end the uncertainty once and for all. However, with not much to go on, he finally abandoned his search for Pat.

“I didn’t know any of this was going on. I had my daughter, rode horses, and that was my life, . . . yet something was missing.” – Pat

If you are unable to access the audio above, click HERE.

In June of 2012 Jerry suffered a heart attack. Living in Florida and recuperating, he stumbled upon the classmates.com website after a two year absence. By chance, the year happened to be Pat’s 50th year high school class reunion, and this time, the site listed her maiden name followed by her married name. A few more internet clicks and Jerry discovered Pat’s address, phone number, and age to verify it was indeed the Pat he had been searching for. To his surprise the address listed her in California – he had been searching in the wrong state all these years!

Now the question became ‘How does one contact someone after 52 years?’ Jerry stared at the computer screen, elated, yet he couldn’t quite bring himself to dial the phone number, particularly not knowing what her current marital status was.

The Letter, 2012
He decided to write a short, 1 paragraph letter and send it the old fashioned way – through the postal service. As it turned out, Pat had been divorced since 1978 and never remarried. They began communicating by email for several months, becoming reacquainted with each other. Then, a phone call was scheduled.

If you are unable to access the audio above, click HERE.

On January 8, 2013 Jerry flew to California to reunite with Pat and finally end his 52-year search. They now reside in Florence where they were married last November.

Some of us have a weakness for the romance angle in a story, and I’m no exception, but there are parallels of genealogical research in this one. Besides, who can refuse an honest to goodness love story where the guy discovers what he’d known all along – that she was his choice, from the very beginning.

Pat & Jerry MayPat and Jerry May

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Dayton Pioneer Weekend Celebration

Pioneer EV Church

Pioneer Evangelical Church

SGS members Ramona Spencer and Pat Rongey spent the weekend in Dayton, OR to attend the 85th annual Old Timer’s (aka Pioneer) Weekend festivities.  The event featured a parade, picnic, family and class reunions, entertainment, and car show. This year’s King and Queen of the celebration was Pat Rongey’s brother in-law and sister (John Francis and Catherine Poe).  Ramona reconnected with friends and former classmates, and attended Sunday services at  the Pioneer Evangelical Church where she and her husband Dean, were married in 1951.  The church is the oldest, continuously used church in Oregon.  Ramona also visited the Dayton Pioneer Cemetery to re-visit her great, great- grandfather Reuben Snyder’s gravestone.  He was enlisted in the 123rd Ohio Infantry and was at Appomattox when General Lee surrendered.  Reuben had been a prisoner of war and was released as a result of the surrender.  A recent Feature Post on this blog describes Ramona’s family history in the Dayton area.

Recycle Fundraising Project Update
SGS received $100 for recent shipments of toner cartridges and small electronic equipment.  A total of $500+ has been received as a result of this project.  View the details HERE.

Other Items of Interest
Pat Rongey reports recently stumbling upon a 2014 Heritage Bulletin entitled Sampling of Oregon Gravestone Symbols (source: http://www.Oregon Heritage.org). The article includes many pictures and explanations of cemetery gravestone symbols and markers which members may recognize.

     Genealogy Society Booth

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Announcements and Reminders

Pat Rongey endured the 90°+ temperature at the Power of Florence this weekend to tend Power of Florencethe SGS table. She collected used toner cartridges and small electronics for the SGS Recycle Program while distributing genealogy information. A family who had picked up a family tree form from the SGS booth at the Green Fair in May, dropped by to let her know they filled it out with their family data!

Mike Allen shared a story at last week’s SGS monthly meeting regarding 2 sets of twins who were switched at birth. Read the NY Times article or see the CNN video HERE.  Mike has also become a Researcher in the Siuslaw Room at the library on Fridays, 10 a.m. to noon.  Other Researchers are Pat Rongey – Tuesdays, 1 p.m to 3 p.m. and Pat Ness – Sundays, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.  Thanks go out to the Researchers for volunteering their time and efforts in assisting others with researching their family history.

Thank you to everyone who signed up to be on Committees and added their names to the meeting Refreshments list. View the new Committee list HERE.  A Holiday Party Committee is still needed – sign up!  If you haven’t already put your name on the Refreshment List, (or forgot which month you signed up for) view the list HERE. Two volunteers are needed to provide refreshments for each meeting.  We appreciate your participation!

Minutes from the July 15th monthly meeting are available for viewing.

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Feature Story – Ramona Spencer

Ramona SpencerAnyone would be hard-pressed to locate the community of Webfoot on an Oregon map. Yet there it is – located in the Willamette Valley, in Yamhill County, 3 miles from Dayton, and 21 miles from Salem. New SGS member Ramona Spencer grew up in the farming community of Webfoot, attending grade school in a 2-room schoolhouse, with just 1 or 2 other students in her same grade. It is said Webfoot was appropriately named for its large number of wild ducks and geese. But before Webfoot, there was great-grand Uncle Doug, and that’s where this Feature Story begins.

“Uncle Doug often said the grace before Sunday dinner. His voice took on different intonations that was the classic style in those days.”

UNCLE DOUG, an Early “Entrepreneur”
Douglas A. Snyder (Ramona’s great-grand uncle) came to Dayton, Oregon from Ohio in 1881 as an 18 year old. He worked odd jobs until 1884 when he and his father, Reuben F. (b. 1824) opened a general merchandise store. Years later, Uncle Doug developed an interest in the process of drying and packaging foods. Dayton Evaporating & Packing CompanyIn 1890 he designed and custom built the food dehydration equipment for what became the Dayton Evaporating and Packing Company (‘DE&PC’).  It became the major employer for the town of Dayton. Starting out with dried apples, Uncle Doug expanded his business to include onions, potatoes and the ever popular, evaporated eggs. He bought wagonloads of produce (apples, prunes, berries and vegetables) from local farmers. Present day Yamhill Museum displays a receipt showing the plant paid 40 cents for a sack of culled apples in those days. Convenient for its size, weight and shelf life, the U.S. government purchased Snyder’s food products to feed the military in WWI. By 1898 the Snyder soup mixes (Gold Nugget brand) were highly popular with Klondike gold prospectors in Alaska, since it could be consumed in the bleakest of conditions as long as clean water was available. The soup mix was also sold to Russian soldiers, and the Royal Mounted police. By 1905, the DE&PC plant was the largest of its kind in the state. (Source: Dayton Centennial 1880 – 1990) In 1943 Uncle Doug’s business again played an important role in providing dehydrated foods for WWII troops, producing 8 million pounds of soup mix.

The Move West
As Doug Snyder had done years before, Ramona’s maternal grandparents (Frank (b. 1876) and Cora Emma Snyder Hole (b.1879)) moved from Ohio to Dayton, OR in 1908. Frank owned and operated the Dayton Planing Mill and Box Factory, which produced containers for shipping and carrying fruit. Years later, Ramona’s father (a peach farmer) made a jig to hold the solid ends of bushel boxes for his peaches. At age 11 and 12, Ramona recalls earning 5 cents for each box she nailed together. “I could make 45 to 50 cents in an hour if I worked hard”. [Click left arrow below to hear audio.]

Ramona inherited a vast collection of family ‘treasures’ (letters, family pictures, documents, and more) from her grandparents.  One such item is her grandmother’s ledger, which itemizes everything she earned and spent from 1903 to 1916.

1914 page entries:
 crackers                    .10
sugar                        1.00
bananas                    .15
repair on shoes       .60
Received for milk                .40

Civil War Letters
Among the saved family letters are several written in 1864 during the Civil War from Reuben Snyder (Ramona’s great, great-grandfather) to his wife, Philenda. Enlisted with the 123rd Ohio Infantry, he was at Appomattox when General Lee surrendered. Reuben had been a prisoner of war and released as a result of the surrender.

Ramona’s parents (George Edward Webster (b. 1898) and Irma June Hole (b. 1905) lived at their farm in the community of Webfoot for 54 years. In addition to a peach orchard, they raised turkeys from 1934 to 1947, brooding up to 6,000 chicks for 10 weeks. Half were traded to a hatchery, some were sold at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and many were sold to the military. About 400 hens and a number of roosters were kept for laying eggs. Ramona recalls that in 1947, a fertilized turkey egg for hatching was sold for $1. The 2-room schoolhouse Ramona once attended is long gone, but the memories live on.

“Whenever I smell poplar trees, especially in the spring, I remember the smell of trees and the silver backs of the leaves moving in the wind . . . on the way across the field walking to and from school.”
From Ramona Spencer’s ‘Notes . . .’, March, 1999

Ramona and her husband Dean were missionaries in Sierra Leone, West Africa from 1958 to 1968. Dean was an Industrial Arts instructor at the Albert Academy, a secondary school for boys who were from various tribes and backgrounds. This Feature Story ends with a short audio by Ramona of life in Sierra Leone, on ‘whose fruit is it, anyway?’
[Click left arrow below to hear audio.]

Ramona Spencer has been interested in family history for over ten years.  She attended previous SGS Family History Day events, presentations and admits to being highly influenced by her grandmother Cora Snyder Hole, who was a DAR member in Dayton. Her family research is shared with a granddaughter in-law and niece, who are also interested in genealogy, and a younger brother.

Ramona maintains a full schedule, attending 7 exercise classes and creating up to 15 flower arrangements each week as a donation to Habitat Restore. All the flowers are raised by her husband, and include dahlias, sweet peas, daisies, delphiniums and statice. She will be attending the Dayton Old Timer’s Picnic Weekend later this month. This is an annual celebration, that began in 1934 as a day dedicated for all Dayton residents to ‘renew old friendships and make new ones’. The event has expanded to a weekend affair, with a parade, Firemen’s BBQ, family and class reunions, and more.
SGS welcomes Ramona Spencer as one of our newest members.

“Dayton Centennial 1880 – 1990”, City of Dayton
Dayton Tribune Newspaper, September 22, 1932
Gold Nugget Label, Courtesy of Richard Engeman
“Notes Relating to Dayton Tribune Newspaper” – Ramona Spencer, March, 1999

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SGS July 15th Meeting

The next Siuslaw Genealogical Society meeting is scheduled for July 15th.  Kevin Mittge will lead a ‘Discussion of Upcoming Programs’.  The meeting agenda will be distributed at the meeting.

Volunteers are needed to help provide meeting refreshments for  September, October and November.  Two people are needed for each meeting date.  Please  sign up HERE.

Picnic News:   Picnic chairman Jim Barrett has confirmed the use of the barbecue grill at the Elks RV Park.  Mark Buerhig and Ric Dreiling will be the grill masters for the event!  If you’ve forgotten what potluck dish you signed up for, or want to see what everybody else is bringing, view the Picnic page.  If you haven’t signed up yet, the menu sheet will be available at next week’s meeting – see Jim.




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SGS Members Share News and Events

SGS Library Researchers
Pat Rongey recently enjoyed a rewarding experience with providing research help to a woman at the library.  The woman was so grateful, she invited Pat to her home for tea.  Pat says, “you just never know when you make a difference”.

Portugal is a Wonderful Country To Visit
From a recent walkabout in Portugal, SGS member Merilee Mulvey shares “a photo of a typical hill in the Duaro Valley in the northern third of Portugal.  These terraced hills have been kept up by local farming families for hundreds of years; it is their heritage and their livelihood from general to generation.  The Duaro Valley around Porto is famous for growing grapes to make Port wine . . . sort of like the Champagne region of France where authentic Champagne grapes are grown.”

Duaro Valley, Portugal“In this photo you can see this particular hill has scrub forest at the top, mature grape vines next, new grape vines next, then mature olive trees, then more scrub forest near the river’s edge.  A typical terrace goes all the way to the top of a hill and each ring is about 8 feet wide with hand stacked granite stone walls to hold the ring if needed.  Port wine grapes, olive trees for olives and olive oil.”

Early Census Takers – more from Merilee Mulvey
Merilee thought SGS members might be interested in reading a bit of history on early ‘Instructions to Census Takers’. The article can be found at Dick Eastman’s Genealogy blog.

Power of Florence
The Siuslaw Genealogy Society will again be participating in the Power of Florence event on July 18th at the Grocery Outlet parking lot. Pat Rongey will be at a booth displaying our Recycle project and distributing SGS information.  View more information.


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Announcements and Reminders

More On DNA
Kevin Mittge recommends viewing a post on the DNA Explained blog about the true story of a man who connected with his biological family through DNA and genealogy research. Needless to say, Kevin has had a busy week – in addition to a great presentation at the recent SGS meeting, he and Pat Rongey gave an informative interview discussing genealogy on radio KXCR which aired this weekend.

What To Do With Your Research
From member June Braun:  “I was reading some of the items on the site and thought it might be helpful for members who don’t know what to do with their research, to contact the LDS Genealogy Library in Salt Lake City. They will add books to their collection, will microfilm it for any one to read it and eventually add it to their extraction program so eventually any and everyone will access to it.”

Save the Date – Summer SGS Picnic – August 19th, 4 p.m.; Elks RV Park, Mercer Lake Rd.

Special thanks to Louise Carlson and June Braun for providing refreshments at Wednesday’s SGS meeting.

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