WW pioneer woman behind nation's Memorial Day

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Walla Wallan Steve Roy saved a May 30, 1976, U-B article by former colleague Nadine Munns Gerkey about the origination of Memorial Day, quite timely considering the holiday Monday.

The irony of the story is that the gravestone in Walla Walla’s Mountain View Cemetery for Emily Roxy Levina “Emma” Willard Norris Langford, who proposed holding an annual grave “Decoration Day” in the spring, has been often been neglected on the very day she inspired. Approximately 150 years have elapsed since she placed flowers on the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers.

Emma and three other officers’ wives had gathered wildflowers from fields and hedges by the battlefield of Bull Run. They made bouquets and wreaths while Army Capt. F.B. Olmstead wrote a poem about their impromptu tribute.

Emma suggested that every spring flowers could decorate the soldiers’ graves.

Based on her gesture, Gen. John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, Washington, D.C., ordered that May 30, 1868, be “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

Emma’s husband, Capt. John Norris, whom she married on April 7, 1856, had suffered as a prisoner of war for 10 months in south Carolina and died at 33, on Dec. 14, 1868. They had three sons, John “Willie” Norris, Francis Elias Spinner Norris and Calvin Columbus Jackson Norris.

Decoration Day’s name was changed when a bill introduced in Congress in 1870 proclaimed May 30 a national Memorial Day holiday, according to Nadine’s story.

While in Washington, D.C., where Emma had nursed war casualties, she met and later wed Walla Walla Judge W.G. Langford on Jan. 1, 1873. They moved to Lewiston where they took up a land grant with Emma’s son Willie.

Willie moved to Dayton in 1880 and is the father of Fred “Oley” Norris who lived there with wife Faye Norris in later years.

Emma and W.G. came to Walla Walla in 1877 after being driven from the Lewiston area during the Nez Perce War. Emma was born Aug. 15, 1838, in Niles, Berrien County, Mich. She died at 41 in Walla Walla on June 11, 1880.

“It’s the grave of the young wife who placed wild flowers from the fields on the graves of Civil War soldiers 111 years ago, and stirred Congress to designate May 30 as Memorial Day,” Nadine wrote.

Steve said he occasionally takes a bouquet of forget-me-nots or other flowers to her grave. Upon entering the cemetery, 2021 S. Second Ave., turn right at the office, then left on Juniper Street. Two blocks south, in the northwest corner at the intersection of Juniper and Cypress streets, Emma’s headstone is the seventh marker from the intersection, right by the roadside.

And of timely note, Don Schacht, a retired Walla Walla County Superior Court judge, will portray Judge Langford today at 2 p.m. at Fort Walla Walla Museum.

Walla Walla born and bred, Ken Locati and Tim Pavish joined forces to lead the Washington State University Alumni Association, according to a release.

Ken began his one-year term as WSUAA president on May 5 and Tim has been WSUAA executive director since 2003.

WSUAA more than doubled its membership since 2004. It annually conducts more than 500 alumni events across the country, leads the record-setting Cougar license-plate program, and launched WSU Impact, an alumni volunteer advocacy group focused on improving support for WSU and higher education in the state.

“The alumni association has achieved a great deal over the past several years, and we are committed to continuing that successful trend over the coming year and beyond,”Ken said.

“We are lucky to have Ken as the WSUAA president. He is a talented leader with a very strategic way of thinking. Expect more great things from the WSUAA over the next year,” Tim added.

Tim, who lives in Pullman, is a Walla Walla High School Class of 1976 alum. Ken graduated from Wa-Hi in 1980 and lives in San Diego.

An Eagle Scout Court of Honor April 6 in Seattle recognized inductee Grant Alan Beaudry, the 17-year-old son of former Walla Wallan Lauri Ridenour Beaudry and Brian Beaudry of Seattle.

A member of Troop 827, sponsored by the Ballard Elks Club, Grant is one of approximately 4 percent of all Boy Scouts who attain the rank of Eagle Scout, Lauri said.

For his Eagle project, Grant installed a perimeter fence at Small Faces Child Development Center on Crown Hill in Seattle.

He planned and then supervised the building and installation of the fence during several weekends in June 2012, working with donated supplies and Scout and community volunteers.

He had attended Small Faces prior to starting school and felt it was important to give back to the center, Lauri said.

Grant is following in the footsteps of his uncle, former Walla Wallan Randy Ridenour of Washington state, who graduated from Walla Walla High School in 1971 and earned his Eagle rank in January 1970 with Troop 310 through Pioneer United Methodist Church. Randy and Grant are members of scouting’s Order of the Arrow.

An avid outdoorsman, Grant amassed more than 78 nights of camping, 82 miles of hiking, 120 hours canoeing and more than 50 hours of community service. He earned 27 merit badges and is a member of the National Eagle Scout Association.

Grant will graduate from Ballard High School in June and plans to major in chemical engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman in the fall.

Lauri graduated in 1976 from Wa-Hi and is a banker. Brian graduated in 1977 from Ballard High and is an operating engineer.

Grant is the grandson of Meg Ridenour of Walla Walla and the late William “Bill” Ridenour, who moved the family to Walla Walla with the U.S. Air Force in 1968. He died in 2009.

Walla Walla High School spring graduate Joel Jacobs plans to attend Eastern Oregon University this fall.

His high grade point average and test scores earned him an EOU Scholar Award, a scholarship worth $2,625.

If he earns at least a 3.0 GPA and a specific number of credit hours each year, the scholarship is renewable for four years, according to his parents, Michael and Christina Jacobs of Walla Walla.

They’re both Wa-Hi alumni, he with the Class of 1986, and she with the Class of 1987.

Christina added that Joel is interested in the field of biology.

Four local residents were among an estimated 5,267 students who will receive degrees this spring from Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Its 144th annual commencement ceremony will be 10:30 a.m. June 15, at Reser Stadium on campus.

Students from the U-B circulation area on the graduation list from Pomeroy are Meagan J. FitzGerald, bachelor of science in agricultural sciences; Emma C. Hall, bachelor of science, agricultural sciences.

And from Walla Walla: Linda M. Mummy, master of science in mathematics; Julie Schisler, master of science in mathematics education.

OSU’s commencement speaker is Brigadier Gen. Julie A. Bentz, who advises President Obama on national security issues. She is director of strategic capabilities policy on the National Security Staff and a 1986 graduate of OSU, where she received an ROTC commission and a degree in radiological health. Bentz is the first female officer from the Oregon Army National Guard to achieve the rank of general.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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