Christmas of the century for Woodburn woman turning 100
Though Tuesday is Christmas, it's the day before the holiday that has been cause for celebration for one local woman.
Dawn Moehnke turned 100 on Dec. 24, and a celebration was held at Hoodview Church of God, where she attends, on Sunday afternoon, with close to 100 family members and friends stopping by to congratulate her on reaching the milestone.
Funnily enough, Moehnke never really looked forward to Christmas, since three of her birthdays during childhood were marred by the sudden deaths of relatives.
"We always anticipated something bad would happen at Christmas," she said.
But since her childhood Christmas has been a bigger deal, even now, as she continues to host Christmas dinner for her family.
The day Elsie Dawn Graves came into the world, on Dec. 24, 1918, no doctor could be found to deliver her because they were busy fighting the flu epidemic. So her grandma delivered her in the family home in Oregon City (just six days before she would have to deliver another grandchild). Dawn's father missed his firstborn's birth, as he was away in France just a month after the signing of the armistice ending World War I. Having been drafted late into the war, he was assigned to the Army of Occupation and wouldn't meet Dawn until she was nearly a year old.
When he returned, the family moved to 140 acres in the Beavercreek area, which the family still owns.
"I go back and forth," Dawn said from her home in Woodburn, where she has also lived since 1997. "But I said last week, I'm staying here (in Woodburn). I like Woodburn. I love this house."
She has ancestral ties to the area, too, as her great-great-grandfather, John Pinkard Graves was one of the first white settlers in the Mount Angel area, selling his land to Mount Angel Abbey (the land was called Graves Butte).
Even though she lives in town, Dawn will always be a country girl, she said. Raised on the property where her father ran a small sawmill operation and where as many as seven houses were built and lived in at a time, the ranch, called Hobby Horse Ranch by her sister, Hazel, was the ideal setting to grow up.
"We thought we were the luckiest kids in the world," Dawn said.
Dawn graduated from Oregon City High School in 1936 and married Wally Moehnke two years later. Wally's family was their nearest neighbor, but she didn't meet him until her 17th birthday at a dance. They would be married for 57 years and have two children, Judi, born in 1940, and Gary, born Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack sparking the start of World War II for the country.
"It was the first night of blackout," Dawn remembered. "So the delivery room was all blacked out and they had a flashlight and the doctor came in and said to turn on the lights, we have a baby to deliver."
Like Dawn's father, Wally Moehnke worked in timber his whole life.
"My husband was one of the first who had a power saw," Dawn said, reflecting on how other loggers thought that was unfair because they were paid by how much timber they could accumulate.
During World War II, Wally was exempt from fighting because the mill made spar poles (masts) for ships.
While Wally worked, Dawn kept busy, picking berries, beans, hops, you name it. She still keeps her own garden. on top of that, she was the first PTA president for Dickey Prairie School (outside Molalla) and helped bring in hot lunches and a school bus. It was a different world already from the one she grew up in, where she walked three miles to a one-room schoolhouse.
When Wally was supposed to retire in the late '70s, Gary took over the business, and the couple would sometimes visit Las Vegas or Reno, Nevada, but they didn't travel much.
"We were happy at home," Dawn said.
Her husband, who even in retirement continued to work for the timber business, started getting weak, and doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong. Just 24 hours after he was finally diagnosed with leukemia, Wally died.
Dawn's grandson moved in with her, but soon she branched out on her own, moving into a house in Woodburn, but returning to the ranch regularly. It's been 21 years.
"This is the first time in my life I've been able to do what I want," she said. "When I was living with my parents, I always did what they said and then I always did what my husband said — he was a good man, don't get me wrong. But I came here to do what I want for the first time. I will stay here as long as I can get from my bed to the bathroom to the refrigerator."
Though she has outlived both of her children and her younger sister, she still has plenty of family that checks in on her daily. In addition to her two grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren, her niece-in-law Lee Church, who is more like a daughter to her, and her family live in Woodburn and gladly drop by, call or take her where she needs to go (she hasn't driven for four years).
"I don't care if she lives to be 200, I'll still be here to help," Lee said.
"It's so exasperating I can't do what I used to," Dawn said. "I'm not used to being cared for."
But she has a clean bill of health, having never been one to drink or smoke and keeping active. She said she was getting a walker for Christmas, but Lee insists she doesn't need it.
"She doesn't sit down and be quiet; she stays busy," Lee said. "She's healthier than her doctor."
Still, Dawn will indulge herself with the occasional sweet — in fact, in her family she's known for her pies.
"(The family) will get after me and I'll say, I'm 100 years old, I do as I please because it won't make any difference," Dawn laughed.