Milton-Freewater woman remembered for outsize role in community

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MILTON-FREEWATER — In the same way she lived her whole life, Dorothy Heard approached death — having her say up until nearly the last minute.

Heard, 100, died Saturday from a stroke, according to her son, Don Heard.

His mother’s death leaves a Dorothy-sized hole in the community she had made her home since 1956, he added.

While that space is not physically large — Dorothy stood 4 feet, 10 inches at her tallest — it is nonetheless huge in terms of what she represented in the town she called home for more than half a century.

Dorothy Vonceille Heard was born to Harvey and Mary McLain Lake in Albany, Ore., on Sept. 21, 1912. She graduated from high school in Ontario, Ore., and then graduated with a teaching degree from Eastern Oregon Normal School in LaGrande, Ore.

In 1937 she married Charlie Heard, who preceded his wife of 64 years in death in 2001.

After Charlie left military service, his parents bought the Chief Joseph Herald newspaper in Joseph, Ore., Don said this morning. Dorothy continued teaching one more year then joined Charlie in the newspaper business, where her naturally curious nature was a great asset. “She took an interest in just about everything that went on.”

The Heards were the epitome of small newspapers of the era. Charlie “knew the business,” selling ads and overseeing the mechanics of production. Dorothy gathered, wrote and edited the news, taking photos for the paper with a Polaroid camera.

During those years, Don was born in 1939 and his sister Judy followed in 1941. Don now lives with his wife, Sylvia, in Lake Oswego, Ore., and Judy shares a home with her husband, Charles Becker, in Gold Beach, Ore. Their mother wrote of their lives and visits home with obvious pride. “She was a dominant factor in our family,” Don said. “Nothing went on without her knowing it, and at east with a little bit of approval.”

His father and mother were a good match, he added. “Dad’s idea of entertainment was a book or a newspaper. I grew up in a household subscribing to 30 some odd newspapers. My mom was the ‘people’ person.”

That was still true when the Heards moved to Freewater in 1956.

“Charlie was going to start a print shop,” Dorothy told a reporter in 2012. Instead the couple was swayed to start a newspaper by local businessmen, who felt the Milton newspaper ignored their needs.

Their creation, The Valley Herald, still publishes weekly. And Dorothy continued to contribute to the newspaper she loved, and the community she loved, through her weekly columns, said owner and publisher Melanie Hall.

“Dorothy never met a person who remained a stranger for long, she was a one-woman welcoming committee for Milton-Freewater. Through her column she introduced us to many new friends, kept us up to date on old friends, and invited one and all to share a cup of ‘Presbyterian’ coffee with her,” Hall said in an email. “She was a good neighbor, in every sense of the word.”

Especially to children, Don explained. His mom was raised a Baptist, but took to her husband’s Presbyterian roots like a fish to water. Dorothy taught Sunday School as long as she could still drive, picking up youngsters every Sunday morning and shepherding them to church.

Indeed, that may have led to the official retirement of his mother’s drivers license, he speculated. It seems that after a crash in 2008, Dorothy was asked to explain to state officials why she still needed to drive. When they heard she was ferrying children to church, that was the end of that conversation, Don said with a laugh. “I suspect that’s all they needed to hear.”

Dorothy’s other passions included teaching literacy, participating in the local American Legion Auxiliary and United Way, feeding the hungry, gardening and promoting education through scholarships in her husband’s name.

As well, the diminutive woman stood tall as a member of the Republican party, serving as an officer in the local organization.

Many in the community had the chance to pay homage to Dorothy at her 100th birthday part last year, which she considered to be her final party. Although she wanted no funeral, a “Celebration of Dorothy” seems an appropriate way to say goodbye to the woman who loved nothing better than a good story — it is the family’s hope that everyone bring his or her favorite Dorothy tale.

And the fact that it’s slated for the day before St. Patrick’s Day is perfect, Don said. In answering the question if his was Irish, he smiled and replied, “She liked to think she was.”

“Celebration of Dorothy” is slated for March 16, 11 a.m., at the Milton-Freewater Community Building, 109 N. E. Fifth St. For more information call Ann Jolly at 541-938-9553

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