Mona Waibel was faithful supporter, chronicler of her town

Always positive.

That’s what I remember most about Mona Waibel, who passed away last week after several years of decline.

Mona was one of a kind. She was energetic – a real go-getter whose range of activities was dizzying. She was opinionated but very careful with whom she shared rgiaw thoughts. She was a driving force behind many things that make Sweet Home a better place to live today.

Recently arrived in town, I really didn’t know her well when we decided to figure out a way to beef up our monthly Senior Section back in 2006. In those days it was simply the Senior Center Calendar and a few items, such as the menu for the month.

One of our staffers at the time, Firiel Severns, who had a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of what was going on in Sweet Home, suggested we talk to Mona about doing a monthly column.

Mona decided she was in – and she was.

She wrote 100 columns over eight years under the title “Remembering the Good Old Days,” from January of 2006 to April of 2014, documenting her recollections and research of Sweet Home history. She spent a lot of time at the East Linn Museum and on the phone, tapping into the collective memories of the generation she’d grown up with.

Her youth, she recalled, was not privileged. For much of her early growing-up years, she and her family lived in rather spartan conditions in a cabin on her grandparents’ property, off Oak Terrace. But she didn’t remember those as bad times.

“We were happy children!” she wrote in a 2006 column. “Not always good, but always happy. Sweet Home was a very fine place to raise children. Everything we actually needed was provided.”

She would reminisce about picking berries and hops – the fact that the state laws have curtailed young people’s ability to work at such jobs during the summertime was one of her regular complaints.

She wrote about the pioneer families of the community, early logging and most of the sawmills that dotted the region around Sweet Home, local businesses – some from the pages of history and others that continue to exist, the U.S. Forest Service history and lands around Sweet Home, institutions such as the LBCC, the Chamber of Commerce and local post offices, and just about every country school that ever existed around Sweet Home.

She devoted entire columns to local personalities such as Dr. Robert S. Langmack, Klondike Kate, Sam Cairnes, Jim Riggs, Indian Lize. She frequently referenced her husband Bob, who was internationally known for his logging competition skills.

She chronicled memories of the building of City Hall and the dedications of Foster and Green Peter dams.

She wrote about the origins and early days of the Oregon Jamboree and Chips ‘n’ Splinters, and local festivals like the Holley Fair, the Calapooia Roundup in Crawfordsville and Frontier Days, which have been replaced by others or relegated to the pages of history.

One event I remember her recalling with particular fondness and enthusiasm was Sweet Home’s hosting of a caravan of 27 foreign diplomats in 1972.

She frequently wrote about the many friends she had over the years. I particularly recall her telling me about the two theaters in town when she was young – the Roxy and the Rio. She told us she was good friends with the daughter of the owners of the Roxy and how they would let her watch movies for free.

Needless to say, she covered a lot of ground, not just in her columns but in person. I rarely attended a public event where she wasn’t present.

“I just wanted to write about all the old things I know,” she told me when she called it quits in 2014. “I figured I wouldn’t last very long.”

She often would tell me stories of local history, which she said she couldn’t put in her columns – the back story of Sweet Home, so to speak. One that I recall in particular involved the mysterious appearance of a pond in Ames Creek in the middle of the night – apaprently after a very enjoyable local get-together involving alcohol – behind what is now the Community Center. I believe at least one backhoe was involved in that celebratory event.

Mona seemed very cognizant of the details.

Her columns were popular. I’d hear occasionally from individuals who’d question the accuracy of some of Mona’s details, but by and large everybody took them in the spirit in which I think they were intended: simply her recollections the good ‘ol days gone by. I heard from a lot of people that they enjoyed reading them.

Over the years she would stop by to drop off photos to run with her column and she’d tell me about various adventures and events of her life.

The time she nearly drowned swimming across the then-free-flowing South Santiam River.

Those spectacular Chips ’n’ Splinters shows, back in the day.

Her experiences as director of the Chamber of Commerce.

Her enthusiasm for Sweet Home never flagged, though her eyes would grow a little sad as she recalled how the spotted owl shutdown of the national forest to logging impacted a once-thriving local business community.

I don’t recall all the jobs she said she had over the years, but they were many and varied.

I do remember she had particularly fond memories of attending first grade in the one-room Beulah Land schoolhouse out in Pleasant Valley, where her grandmother had once taught.

Mona had deep respect for her ancestors – great-grandparents John and Martha Thompson, who arrived in Oregon on a train in 1882, and Lettie and W.S. Sankey, after whom Sankey Park is named, and her mother, Audrey Sankey Bryant. She saw them as examples – her great-grandmother was the first woman to be elected to the City Council in Sweet Home and her grandmother was the city’s first female mayor.

She was proud of their accomplishments and those of her children. Her son Rob was a top logging competition competitor, and her granddaughter was named Portland’s Rose Queen.

Ever one to recognize an opportunity, she collected her original columns and published five volumes of them, which sold well and produced revenue for the East Linn Museum, where they are still on sale.

The onset of age was a real bummer for Mona.

“I wish I wasn’t so old and can’t think good any more,” she told me when it became clear that she would be unable to continue writing her column. “You get old and you know you’re messing up. I think I can go back and be the chamber manager. But I can’t do that.

“I loved doing the column. If I wasn’t so old, I wouldn’t think about stopping.”

That was Mona.

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