A century may not be enough

At 99 and still writing for the paper she co-founded, there's no quit in Dorothy Heard.

Dorothy Heard concentrates while on deadline as she writes her Valley Herald newspaper column., "Have You Heard," in the atrium of her home May 21.

Dorothy Heard concentrates while on deadline as she writes her Valley Herald newspaper column., "Have You Heard," in the atrium of her home May 21. Rick Haverinen

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— A century of life may not contain enough years for Dorothy Heard.

The longtime local journalist was born in 1912, the same year a would-be assassin in Milwaukee fired his revolver at President Theodore Roosevelt. The bullet was still in his chest as Roosevelt spoke to the public the same evening, reading from the thick script that had slowed the projectile while folded in his overcoat pocket.

"It takes more than one bullet to stop a bull moose," Roosevelt remarked.

As staunchly conservative today as was Roosevelt 100 years ago, Heard must have been infused with some of Teddy's stamina when she was born in Albany, Ore.

One of her early memories is from World War I and includes a railroad station and a song by George M. Cohan.

"My dad worked in the shipyards in Portland," she said. "I was in the first grade. My brother and I sang to the troops leaving on trains, 'The yanks are coming, the yanks are coming, so beware.'"

More than 90 years later, Heard lives by herself in Milton-Freewater. She writes the community news column "Have You Heard" for the city's Valley Herald. She and her late husband, Charlie, started the weekly newspaper from scratch in 1956.

"That's when we came to Milton-Freewater (from Joseph)," she said. "Charlie was going to start a print shop, but the businessmen (in Freewater) told him, 'We want you to start a newspaper; that paper in Milton just ignores us.'"

Back then she penned a column for the newspaper called "Shop with Dot," which advertised items for sale at various businesses. Occasionally she padded the column with event information, and that seems to have led to how she journals the community today.

A week-long sample of her activities for the last of May included news gathering at the CROP Walk to End Hunger; attending a meeting of the Milton-Freewater Republican Women's Club; presenting a scholarship in her husband's name to a student at McLoughlin High School; distributing Memorial Day poppies to shoppers at the local Safeway on behalf of the American Legion Auxiliary; and bringing wild flowers to decorate the graves of Charlie, her parents, and other family members and friends.

Heard's visits in the community include chance meetings with people she has known for years. A bit impaired by fading senses, her face beams delightfully the moment she recognizes familiar faces in unusual settings.

It may not fit what you already know about the elderly when you meet Dorothy. She stands straight as a rod at 4 feet, 10 inches, and walks independently. But if the terrain is uneven, she prefers a friendly hand to provide stability. It's up to interpretation whom is being steadied, as her hand grips yours with certainty.

She and her husband were a textbook example of Northwest mom and pop newspaper operations for more than three decades. He sold the ads. She wrote and edited the news, and took photos with a Polaroid camera. When the Heards started the Valley Herald, they had but one full-time employee, Willard West, who set type and printed about 3,000 hand-fed copies of each edition, plus any kind of job press work.

"We tried for a five-day work week but they were long days," West said. "Several times I'd go to work at 6 a.m. and I'd get off around 2-3 o'clock the next morning."

A weekly newspaper is a demanding stepchild, and the publication must come off the press every week without fail.

Dorothy somehow found time to raise and nurture son Don, born in 1939, and daughter Judy, born in 1941, while attending to the family newspapers with her husband. Today the siblings have families in separate Oregon communities.

Grasping the space of time occupied by a century-long life requires some kind of cognitive aid. The Heards owned the Valley Herald in 1960 when Pacific Telephone-Northwest, updated its system from live operator-patched calls to automated switching via rotary-dial telephones. That seems like ages ago, but Heard was already middle-aged, at 47, when the change happened.

She has not been a slave to today's electronic age. She owns no cell phone and her memory does not require navigation assistance from any satellite gizmo. She guided her driver straight as an arrow to the Pendleton burial place for her husband, and the Milton-Freewater graves of her parents, to place wild flowers for Memorial Day.

Dorothy and Charlie Heard, also born in 1912, met in college and married in 1937. They lived in Pendleton in 1943 when he left for a two-year stint with the Navy during World War II.

"I always tell people I'm a veteran," she said. "Anybody is, when you stand at the bus depot waving goodbye to your husband and you've got hold of a couple kids' hands, 2 and 4 years old."

She filled the time of her husband's absence by teaching at an elementary school.

"I have my life (teaching) certificate in Oregon," Heard said. "Of course they don't give them any more, but I first taught in 1933. So that's quite a while ago."

The Heards started in the newspaper business by buying the Joseph Herald in 1947. The Valley Herald was the second newspaper owned sequentially by the couple, and they next published the Cashmere Valley Record, and later the Pilot Rock News. They retired with the sale of their final newspaper, the Heppner Gazette Times, in 1972.

Dorothy lives in the same home she once shared with her husband, who died in 2001. She cooks, gardens, and her everyday morning chores include distributing hay to three equine boarders.

Diminishing sight and hearing contributed to her surrender of her driver's license in 2008. She is able to walk to church and a variety of friends help her with car rides to more distant locations.

"I always liked meeting people and asking questions," she said.

She reacted with surprise at the suggestion that she might like to retire.

"You mean quit writing?" Heard asked. "No, I don't think so."

She will officially turn 100 a few short months from now.

It should be quite a party.

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