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Veteran's daughter horrified to learn father's remains left on funeral home's shelf

Navy veteran Robert Young’s life was abruptly cut short in 1982 when, at the age of 52, he died of a heart attack.

Until Saturday of last week, Young’s family believed that a funeral director at Chapel of the Firs in Sutherlin had taken his ashes to Lemolo Lake and spread them there. Young’s daughter, Nancy Gile, said that’s what her father had requested before he died, and the funeral director had promised her mother he would fulfill that wish.

It seems he never did. The funeral director has since passed away, so it’s impossible to ask him about it. All that is known is Young’s ashes were still there many years later when Chapel of the Firs was bought out by Wilson’s Chapel of the Roses in Roseburg.

When the Douglas County Veterans Forum rescued the long lost cremated remains of 28 veterans from Wilson’s on Friday, Young’s remains were among them. Wilson’s manager Gene Goodson, who joined the company decades after Young died, said no written agreement about spreading the ashes was found in Young’s file.

It was only after Young’s name appeared along with the other veterans’ names in the Saturday edition of The News-Review that Gile knew that her father’s ashes had been tucked away on a shelf and forgotten 37 years ago.

She was devastated.

Gile sobbed as she spoke to The News-Review Monday about her father. Young knew he had heart problems, she said, and he had fond memories of hunting with his father at Lemolo Lake.

“His dad died when he was 16 of a heart attack on their front porch, so he had told everyone he knew that he had heart problems. He had told everyone, ‘I want to be cremated and I want to be spread up near Lemolo Lake,’” she said.

Young had already had two heart attacks by the time he began saying this.

“So we were like, yes we can do that for you. Of course we will,” Gile said.

Young’s military service was in the Navy, when he was a young man, before he married Gile’s mother Ruth. He didn’t talk about it much, but Gile said she knows he served between wars, before the Korean War and after World War II. He had also told her that he never served on a ship but was instead assigned to work on the docks.

Gile said her father was a great guy.

“He was just a happy-go-lucky, good guy. He just enjoyed life,” she said.

He was nicknamed Red for his red hair. Gile is the only one of his children who inherited that trait.

Young met his future wife Ruth at a roller skating rink, and he stole one of her skates.

“He said, ‘You got to come next week to get it back,’” Gile said.

The couple had four children. In addition to Gile, those still living are her sister Vonnie Davis and brother David Young. Another sister, Sharon Murphy, died in 1994. Ruth Young died in 2004.

“I’m just thankful that my mother didn’t know that my dad had been sitting there all these years. It would have been horrible on her,” Gile said.

Gile was 23 when she lost her father. On his last day, July 3, 1982, her parents went out with some friends.

“They were dancing and having a good time and then she was sitting at the table and he leaned over and he looked at her and he just fell to the ground dead,” she said.

Gile was shocked to discover that her dad’s ashes had never been scattered. She said there were always members of the family in Sutherlin, and any of them would have picked up his remains if they’d known.

“We would never have forgotten our dad. We would have never left him there. We wouldn’t have. Our family is too important to us,” she said.

During the interview, she expressed concern about her sister’s miscarried baby, who died just short of reaching full-term and a couple months after Young died. She said the Chapel of the Firs director had told her family that the baby’s ashes would be scattered along with Young’s.

However, a member of the Veterans Forum said she was able to find a record for the baby, and that he had been cremated but there was no indication his ashes had been scattered. Gile emailed The News-Review on Tuesday to say that she had spoken with Wilson’s and the family will soon be able to pick up the baby’s remains.

“They are being very helpful and supportive in our search and also where my dad was concerned,” she wrote.

The Veterans Forum plans to hold memorial services in mid-May with full military honors for the 28 long forgotten veterans. After that’s done, Gile plans to take her father’s ashes back, and then she and her siblings will spread his ashes in a meadow near Lemolo Lake, just as he had wanted.

Gile said she is very thankful the Veterans Forum found him.

“I just hope this doesn’t happen to other people,” she said.

Firefighters use old Safeway for training

The Roseburg Fire Department and Douglas Fire District No. 2 are using the old Safeway building in downtown Roseburg for two weeks as a training facility.

Firefighters divided into teams of three or four and practiced entering a burning building without the fire. They planned their entrance and tools, set up a ladder, looked for signs of damage, then used specialized chainsaws to cut smoke holes into the roof.

“We’re using operations for ventilating the building during a fire,” Battalion Chief Drew Fairbairn said. “The classroom portion is over safe practices, instruction over good communication skills, key points to hit on communication with people who are on the ground or above the ground.”

The crews are not using smoke or fire on the building for the roof portion which will continue until Thursday in order to get all of the shifts of firefighters. He said they are constantly analyzing the building for safety as they use it.

He said the fire stations have been pretty fortunate with property owners allowing them to use the buildings for training, including the Windmill Inn which was used for about three months last year before it was demolished. It’s a chance for crews to use the skills learned in a classroom during realistic controlled training scenarios.

When they weren’t walking through scenarios, firefighters were watching the training from the ground, checking equipment and gearing up for their turn on the roof.

“It’s something we don’t do a lot of,” Lt. Scott Radmer said. “The thing about our job is you have to be proficient right now, at 2 o’clock in the morning, I mean, all times. We work all the time so when it’s muscle memory, you don’t think about it, you just do it.”

The training will continue through May 1 and will utilize large volumes of water. The building has a demolition permit but there is not a determined demolition date. The building was built in 1963 and has been vacant since 2006.

Roseburg City Council wrap-up: City Manager Lance Colley praised at last meeting

Before naming Paul Eckert as the final city manager candidate at its meeting Monday, the Roseburg City Council commended Lance Colley for his seven years as city manager.

It was Colley’s last city council meeting — his official last day is April 30.

“This is a happy day for Lance as he enters the retirement phase of his life,” Mayor Larry Rich said. “This is also a very sad day for Roseburg, because we are losing an excellent city manager.”

Audience members gave Colley a standing ovation, and several city councilors teared up during Rich’s comments. Several of Colley’s friends came to watch his last meeting.

Colley thanked everyone for allowing him to serve the community.

“This is a little harder than I actually thought it was going to be, and I thought it was going to be hard,” he said about speaking at his last city council meeting.

Rich gifted Colley a framed picture of his city headshot, a key to the city and a watch. The city is holding a reception for Colley at 3 p.m. on Thursday in the Ford Community Room of the Roseburg Public Library.

After praising Colley’s work, the City Council named Public Works Director Nikki Messenger as interim city manager, approved funding sources to repair the Stewart Park Pavilion and accepted contract agreements for other city projects.

Messenger will be city manager for more than 30 days between Colley’s last day and the new city manager’s first day, according to Human Resources Director John VanWinkle.

“There’s really one clear choice for that appointment,” VanWinkle said. “Nikki Messenger has been with the city for a total of 20 years. She has experience working with each of our departments.”

Messenger will receive a 10% pay increase, taking on the full duties of city manager while maintaining her normal public works role.

The City Council then authorized city staff to apply for a $75,000 Oregon Parks and Recreation Local Government Grant to renovate the Stewart Park Pavilion, which Messenger said has exceeded its initial lifespan.

“It’s getting pretty aged,” Messenger said. “The roof has four leaks that we’ve identified, it has that heavy tile roof on it. So we would like to apply for a grant to renovate it, see how we can get some more light into it, do something with the fireplaces that are pretty defunct in the middle of it, pull that roof off and probably put a metal roof on it that’s lighter.”

The city has already applied for the parks department’s local government grant in the larger category — more than $75,000 — for renovations at Beulah Park.

The pavilion project would cost $125,000. In addition to the grant, the city would use $25,000 from the Stewart Park Trust Fund and another $25,000 from economic development and park improvement funds, which the city approved immediately after the grant discussion.

The City Council also awarded $519,829 to Kunert Electric LLC for several traffic safety improvement projects. The projects will be partially funded through a $462,946 grant the city has received from the Oregon Department of Transportation’s All Roads Transportation Safety Program.

“The intent of that program is to reduce serious injury and fatal accidents,” Messenger said. “So you look at crash data within the city, you look at what they call crash reduction factors, and we work with a consultant to put in these grant applications.”

The projects will include a pedestrian activated warning system and raised median refuge on Northeast Stephens Street near Northeast Roseland Avenue and pedestrian countdown signal heads on Northwest Stephens Street at Northwest Edenbower Boulevard and at Northeast Newton Creek Road and Northeast Stewart Parkway, among other improvements at major pedestrian areas.

Additionally, the City Council agreed to contract with Adapt’s Compass Behavioral Health program for a mobile crisis intervention program, which will be funded through a three-year $750,000 grant the city received from the Oregon Department of Justice.

The program allows Compass personnel to respond to calls for service that involve mental health, substance abuse or domestic violence with the Roseburg Police Department. The program has been in effect since March 1. Since then, Compass has been deployed between noon and midnight, because that’s when the data show the greatest concentration call involving mental health crises.

“It has been very successful,” Colley said. “Chief Klopfenstein, I think, has been really appreciative of the hard work that the folks at Compass are doing. In the very near future they hope to have two different people that will be deploying with us seven days a week.”