Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dear Grandparents,

This is the first anniversary of my mother's birth since she joined you. We are planning a celebration of her life with family at Fort Rosecrans in September and I want to be able to tell the story of her life. This is the first in a series of stories that I hope will do her justice.

Betty's story really begins in the summer of 1923 when Grace Colby, an Oregon Agricultural College sophomore, decided to spend the summer at her sister Madge's in Pendleton, Oregon rather that go home and face the unwanted attention of her step-mother. Living across the street, with his older brother Clem and wife, was a young carpenter by the name of Cecil Werst. The two started dating, and by August 8, 1924 they had gone to Spokane, Washington to be married and make their home.
Grace Colby as a coed at Oregon Agricultural College, later Oregon State University
circa 1923
It was the Roaring 20s, and Cecil and Grace were flush with the optimism of the age. He had been promoted to manager at the Royal Silk Hosiery Company. They were saving to buy a house and investing in America. They welcomed their first child, Betty Lorraine, June 23, 1926. Cecil doted on his daughter and took her to the famed Spokane Merry-go-Round, and parks.
A very dapper Cecil Oscar Werst holding baby Betty at their home in Spokane, Washington 1926.
Betty Lorraine Werst

In October 1927, Grace had just discovered that she was pregnant with her second child when Cecil, complaining of a tooth ache, went to a dentist for the extraction. An infection set in and in those days before penicillin there wasn't much to stop it. Cecil was dead in less than a week and the young family was shattered. There was no life insurance. Grace had only their savings and investments upon which to rely.

She hung on to their rented home in Spokane, and traveled to her sister's home in Pendelton, in March 1928 where she gave birth to their second daughter, Helen Louise, on the 10th. Grace returned to Spokane with her daughters where she realized that she would have to find a job and soon as she was depleting her savings rapidly. She applied everywhere and finally wrote several letters to one of the company's where she and Cecil had invested their money. They agreed to hire her as a secretary at the Company's office in Seattle.

She packed up and took Betty to stay with her Aunt and Uncle in Pendleton while she took baby Helen with her to Seattle. Having already lost her father, Betty was surely disoriented to now be without her Mother also. Her Aunt Madge loved her niece but Aunt Madge was deaf. She had learned to read lips but it was a very silent household for the two year old. Twice she was put on a bus, in the care of the driver and sent to visit the rest of the family in Seattle. What a long ride that must have been for a toddler.

This situation continued until Dec 1931, when Grace's stepmother died, and her father invited her to bring her daughters home to Newberg to keep house for him. It had been more than 30 years since a child had brought her happy noise and confusion to the Colby household. I'm certain it was quite an adjustment for the already 73 year old William Wallace Colby. The adage that his granddaughter's remembered best was, "Children should be seen and not heard."
W. W. Colby with Rhode Island Red chickens at Pine Lawn Farm circa 1932
Betty and her sister Helen, always referred to their new home as 'the farm'. It became the most important location in their lives and the property remains in the family to this day.
Betty and Grampa Colby at the farm circa 1935
Missing you today Mom!

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