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     To the friends of Lucille Downer

     We extend heartfelt thanks to all of the friends of our mother, Lucille Downer, who have been so kind to her and to us in the past several months. She passed away peacefully on June 27, 2012 at the age of 93.
     Our mom packed more accomplishment and fulfillment into her life than most people could wish for. She was born Lucille Margaret Smith on September 13, 1918 in Banks, Oregon, the seventh of nine children of Henry and Henrietta Smith. The Smiths owned a 40-acre farm, and from preschool age, Lucille milked the cows, fed the chickens, collected the eggs, and worked the potato crop.
     An innately bright child, Lucille skipped the second grade. She had the intellect to go far scholastically, but that was not to be. By the time she graduated from grammar school in 1931, it was the depths of the Great Depression, and the family farm took precedence over her education. She was so embarrassed about having quit school after the eighth grade to help keep her family afloat that she admitted that fact to us only when we were older. We think she looked at it the wrong way; she should have been proud for doing the right thing for her family.
     During her youth, the Smith family moved to Forest Grove and then to Hillsboro to make ends meet. She and her sisters worked in the local Birdseye cannery. Money was scarce. Her young niece Bea lived with Lucille’s family, and one time Lucille took her out to eat. It was the first time in her life that Bea experienced the luxury of eating in a restaurant; she was 12 years old at the time.
     By the time World War II broke out, Lucille was a self-sufficient young woman. She and her sister Genevieve went to work in the Vancouver, Washington shipyards as welders. The sisters had such a strong family resemblance that the boss had a hard time telling them apart. Lucille was soon promoted to the more prestigious and better paying position of crane operator.
     After the War, Lucille and Gen pooled their resources to have their own house built for them. It was not common in the 1940s for two young women to be so independent, but Lucille always believed in self-reliance.
     Lucille began working as a hostess at the Congress Hotel in Portland. She later got a job as the restaurant hostess at the Monticello Hotel in Longview, Washington. It was there, in the late 1940s, that she met a tall young lumberjack, an Iowa native named Jack Downer, who was working in logging camps near the upper Cowlitz River after earning a physics degree from the University of Washington. They were married on April 9, 1950.
     Lucille, the working woman, then began her career as stay-at-home mother. After college, Jack began a desk job for Weyerhaeuser in Tacoma, and they settled in Browns Point. She gave birth to sons John in 1951, Tom in 1953, Dan in 1955, and Jeff in 1957. Her fierce protectiveness of her children, and later grandchildren, began to show. More than once, someone would say that it was too bad that she had four sons and no daughters. She would set that person straight, letting them know that HER sons were as good as gold.
     Weyerhaeuser decided to invest in Jack. The company sent him to Yale University for graduate studies in forestry. Jack and Lucille spent a bitterly cold winter in New Haven, Connecticut. While caring for one son who was a toddler and another who was an infant, she also hung the laundry out to dry in the winter air, later finding it frozen solid. Jack and Lucille returned to Browns Point. In 1965, Weyerhaeuser transferred Jack to Longview, where he and Lucille had met, to run one of its sawmills.
     Lucille had always been a cook. During her 15 years in Browns Point, she had taken community college courses in holiday baking, cookies, and candies. When the family moved to Longview, she wanted to enroll in similar courses at Lower Columbia College but found that LCC did not offer them. She took up that issue with the LCC administration, who thought it was such a good idea that Lucille was hired to teach the courses. So it was that a woman with an eighth-grade education taught at the college level.
     On May 23, 1969, Jack’s career with Weyerhaeuser ended abruptly. The company fired him after 22 years of service. Jack and Lucille had to decide quickly what to do. They were visiting Bea and her husband Warren at their cabin in Ocean Park, Washington, and learned that a 30-by-90-foot grocery store, Henrichsen’s Grocery, was for sale. Jack and Lucille pooled their modest retirement savings, plus loans from friends and family, and bought the store on August 1, 1969. They renamed it Jack’s Country Store.
     Their first year running the store was an ordeal. Jack and the three youngest boys moved to Ocean Park as Lucille stayed behind for several months to sell their house. No sooner had she moved to Ocean Park than Jack required major back surgery, so that for a time, Lucille had to run the store by herself. A competitor reopened his store two blocks away. Business declined, and it was uncertain whether the store would survive. But Jack and Lucille worked 80-hour weeks and sacrificed to make the business succeed. By the time they gradually turned over the reins to Tom in the 1990s, the store had expanded eleven times and had become a landmark.
     In March 2003, Jack was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He told Lucille, “This is going to be harder on you than it will be on me.” He died two months later, not long after their 53rd wedding anniversary.
     Despite her grief, Lucille did not slow down. Instead, she wrote a new chapter to her life – literally. The Chinook Observer gave her a weekly recipe column, “Taste of the Peninsula.” It ran every week for several years, until just a few months ago. She became a cookbook author at the tender age of 90. With Dan’s help, she compiled a volume of her favorite recipes. She sold several hundred copies.
     In the past nine years, Lucille also worked regularly as a volunteer at the Ocean Park Food Bank, where she came to view her fellow volunteers as her extended family.
     In 2005, Lucille was named Grand Marshal of the Ocean Park Fourth of July parade. The Chamber of Commerce bestowed the same honor on her in 2012, but she and Jack will be otherwise occupied.
     n March 2011, Lucille suffered a massive stroke. Her death seemed imminent. But she had too much yet to do before she passed. She made a truly miraculous recovery, left the hospital after a week, and continued her interests in cooking, recipes, her garden, and garage sales.
     Our mother was flawed like the rest of us. She could be exceedingly frugal. But that came from her impoverished upbringing in the Great Depression. She could be judgmental. But that came from her devout Catholicism and highly tuned sense of right and wrong. Balanced against those traits was her devotion to family. She often said that children needed love most when they deserved it least, and she lived that with her children and grandchildren.
     In her final days, Lucille had great difficulty speaking. The night before she passed away, however, she talked in a clear voice about eggs and butter. She was probably working on a new recipe.

     In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Ocean Park Food Bank, 1601 Bay Avenue, Ocean Park, WA 98640.

     -- John, Tom, Dan, and Jeff Downer




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