Nancy O’Hearn stands between her mother, Roseine and father, Welmer Seales at her 1960 high school graduation.
LORANE – Last week, I lost a very special friend. How do I begin to tell you about Nancy O’Hearn?
Nancy’s family in Lorane goes back five generations, when her great-grandparents settled in the area. Although we don’t remember the early times, Nancy had a photograph to prove that she and I played together as toddlers.
Her grandparents, Insley and Vera Seales – who lived on Territorial Road just south of Jackson-Marlow Road near Lorane – were best friends of my grandparents, Guy and Lula Smith, who had a ranch at the end of Powell Road. The photo shows us playing at the Seales’ ranch at the feet of our grandparents. Our fathers were also good friends during that time period and in later years, as well.
It wasn’t until Jim and I bought our own ranch on Lorane Highway in ’66 that we got to know Nancy’s father, Welmer Seales, really well; through him, we also got to know Nancy and her husband, Mike. Our friendship blossomed, and sweet, quiet Nancy became an honorary aunt to our kids. I still have very vivid mental pictures of our youngest daughter, Kelly, sitting on Coach Nancy’s lap in between ”at bats” during her grade school softball games.
We bought the Mitchell Store in Lorane in ’77 and Nancy came to work for us as our sole employee. When friend Marna Hing also came on board, we formed a close-knit ”three musketeers”-type relationship.
We all worked together on our family genealogies. As we compared notes on family histories, Marna and I developed an interest in the branches of Nancy’s family. That interest led to the realization, in the mid-’80s, that Lorane would be celebrating its 100th birthday in four years.
By mutual agreement, we decided to change our focus from our own families to Lorane’s history. We spread the word that we were gathering stories, photos, memorabilia and family information of early Lorane.
The response was amazing. The Lorane ”old-timers” got behind our project and soon the three of us were interviewing members of some of the original families and recording the stories that had been passed down from their grandparents and parents.
Nancy, Marna and I spent about three years collecting that information. We gazed at the stark, black microfiche with white text we hunted for in libraries and checked out every book we could find.
I bought a computer in ’84 and taught myself word processing on WordPerfect Jr., a writing software that had just come out. I entered the information I received in files, which would eventually become chapters. I gradually graduated to using the new full version of WordPerfect, and slowly the collected material progressed into a book that we named ”Sawdust and Cider; A History of Lorane, Oregon and the Siuslaw Valley.”
By May ’87, our book became reality when we had 500 preordered copies printed.
That year, the Lorane Post Office would be turning 100 years old. All three of us were on the planning committee for the Lorane Centennial – a huge, three-day event that was well-attended and is remembered still as an outstanding success in celebrating our community.
Oh, how much fun we had at the book signings that were part of the Centennial. We were treated like celebrities and the original 500 books plus another 1,000 sold quickly.
By 2006, both Nancy’s and Marna’s health had taken a downturn, so I put together a major revision of the book on my own. I felt it was necessary because of the huge changes to our economy between ’87 and ’06 caused by the slowdown of the timber industry, and the birth of the Oregon wine industry. As I revised, Nancy and Marna made themselves available as consultants and sounding boards and I consider them my coauthors still.
When the new book was published in ’06, we once again were invited to do book signings at Iris Hill, King Estate and Chateau Lorane. We were the ”three musketeers” again for awhile.
Sadly, four years later in 2010, we lost Marna. How we both missed her.
Nancy continued to work for us at the store before she eventually retired and went to live with her good friends and former neighbors, Gary and Kathy Warden, down on south Territorial Road. Her husband, Mike, had died, and their adopted daughter, Heidi, had left home to raise her own family.
Nancy was never without biological family, but most lived out of state and she didn’t see them often. Her local family became Gary and Kathy and their family. Other local children adopted Nancy into their hearts and she became an honorary mother/grandmother to them, as well. She was loved and cherished by so many and she returned that love a hundredfold in her own quiet way.
Earlier this year, Nancy’s health worsened, and after a hospital stay she had to be moved to a medical rehab center in Eugene until she could regain her ability to take care of herself. Because of Jim’s and my own health concerns the past few months, I did not get to visit with her as often as I would have liked.
Last month, after a long stretch of not seeing her, I was able to go to visit her again. I walked into her room, shamefaced and apologetic for having been away so long, and she reached up from her wheelchair and gave me a huge, comforting hug. I knew I was forgiven.
That last time together, we talked as she ate lunch in the sunny dining room. She was bright and cheerful and so very glad to see me. I promised I’d bring her some more copies of ”Sawdust and Cider” since she told me that the copy she had with her had been borrowed and not returned.
As I was preparing to leave, she reached up with arms outstretched to receive a hug and she whispered in my ear, ”I love you!”
”I love you, too!” I exclaimed.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was our last goodbye.
Nancy’s Celebration of Life will be at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Lorane Grange.