Veteran's daughter horrified to learn father's remains left on funeral home's shelf
MSullivan / MICHAEL SULLIVAN
Nancy Gile holds a photograph at her Sutherlin home on Tuesday
of her late father Robert Young who passed away in 1982.
Carisa Cegavske / Courtesy photo
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.
In 1975, two World War I veterans, James Miller and Adam Heussner, died in Douglas County. Both had been born before 1900. Both were cremated, and then their ashes were set on a shelf at Wilson’s Chapel of the Roses waiting for relatives to claim them.
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.