‘Salt of the earth’ folks spring $1M surprise

In 2007, on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Vern and Ella Worthington posed in front of her flower garden. Though blind from macular degeneration, Ella — who was older than Vern by seven months — baked his favorite carrot cake and brought in two wheelbarrow loads of wood (split by Vern) for their woodstove. At his birthday party, Vern told family and friends that the best part of turning 100 was being able to share it with Ella. And then he took her hand.

LONG BEACH — Ella Rine Worthington and Vernon Virgil Worthington lived to be 108 and 102, respectively. They were married 76 years and, collectively, they had lived for more than 188 years near Moore’s Corner in Long Beach. They were hard workers, avid square dancers, and active, lifetime members of the local Grange. Peninsula residents who knew them invariably describe them as “salt of the earth.”

Last week, as news of their generous bequests to the Ocean Beach Education Foundation and to the Sea Resources Foundation began to trickle forth, few expressed undue surprise at news of their largesse. “Frugal” and “hard-working” were added to their “salt of the earth” description.

“The estate is worth $1.1 million,” according to Ella’s nephew Steve Kolb of Vancouver, Washington. “In addition to the $475,000 going to the Ocean Beach Education Foundation, $475,000 also goes to the Sea Resources Foundation. The difference has been set aside temporarily for taxes and any additional claims against the estate. I suspect the charities will eventually receive more monies.”

Cranberry grower Lee Crowley knew them from the time he was a boy. “The Worthingtons lived on Sandridge Road,” he said. “They were a generation older than I — friends of my parents. I remember when Vern brought his horses and plow over to the house to till my dad’s garden. It wasn’t a very big garden. Maybe a quarter of an acre. That was about 1950. Vern was training a new team.”

According to Kolb, the couple lived very simply in the house Vern had built in 1946 on his family’s 300-acre farm on Tarlett Slough. There, on the land he had helped his father clear of cedar trees using horses and hand tools, Vern raised beef and dairy cattle. He and Ella also tended a large garden that always included her favorites — zucchini, spinach, and corn.”

Vern was an accomplished hunter and fisherman. The couple’s sizable pantry included two big freezers as well as floor-to-ceiling shelves and was described as providing “canned goods storage and a way to self-sustain for months” when it was listed for sale in 2008. That year they moved into Golden Sands Assisted Living Facility where they continued enjoying life together until Vern’s death two years later.

Karen Snyder remembered that in addition to their vegetable garden, “Ella had a wonderful flower garden. She gave beautiful bouquets to her friends and to anyone who was sick. I remember, too, that she always carefully saved the seeds from her gorgeous poppies. We were all upset when some local kids tore up all those poppies thinking they were the opium variety. They weren’t.”

Vern died in 2010 at age 102. His wife of more than 76 years, Ella, died five years later at 108. Each had arrived on the Peninsula when they were young and each had attended school here. However, even though they were close in age (Ella was seven months older) and lived not far from one another, it wasn’t until 1930 that they met at the Long Beach Grange. After a three-year courtship, they eloped to South Bend and returned to the Peninsula to live on the Worthington family farm.

By then, Vern had 25 dairy cattle and, according to Ella in a 2011 interview, they had to come directly back from their elopement because “Vern had to take care of those cows.” When he sold the farm in 1977 he said, “That old milk stool got pretty hard about the time I was done milking the 25th cow.”

“There were no jobs in the 1920s and 1930s,” Ella said. “We worked in the cranberry bogs, dug razor clams, and Vern worked on the oyster beds and I worked in the steam canneries. We didn’t have time to feel sorry because we were poor. We were too busy and having too much fun with our friends.”

Said Kolb, “Aunt Ella once told me she had dug over two tons of clams in her day. I remember going clamming with her when I was a kid. She always dug in the surf and, man! Was she quick! She’d have her limit before most of us had our first clam!”

The ninth of 10 children, Ella moved to the Peninsula from Moundsville, West Virginia when she was five years old. She recalled digging “hundreds of clams” before going to school each morning but, even so, by ninth grade, her father told her she’d have to quit school and enter the local workforce to help the family make ends meet.

Ella took odd jobs and she and her mother grew produce, which they sold to local restaurants and a grocery store. But, there was always time for music. Ella loved to sing and she and her siblings formed the Rine Quartet and performed at many local functions.

Vern was born in Tillamook, Oregon and was fifteen when he came with to the Peninsula with his mother, father and four siblings. He was a 1928 graduate of Ilwaco High School where he played football and was a member of the first championship team in Pacific County.

During the Great Depression, in 1933, Vern built a 12 x 18-foot cabin where he and Ella lived for 13 years. “We’d put a curtain up at night to set off the kitchen and that was our bedroom,” she remembered. In 1946, after returning from three years overseas during World War II — first, in North Africa, then in Italy and finally in Austria — Vern worked for the County Road Department as a “jack of all trades” until he retired at age 65.

Vern was proud that he had helped build Pioneer Road as well as Highway 103 “on the ocean side when the railroad shut down.” He also helped build several bridges in Naselle and worked on the South Jetty. After they sold the farm in 1977 when they were 70, they continued many of the same activities, “but at a slightly slower pace.” They did some traveling to Alaska and Canada, but not overseas. Vern felt he had done enough of that during the war.

Throughout their lives they were active in the Grange and were enthusiastic square dancers. “I remember going to one of the Sandpiper’s square dances at Ocean Park School — probably back in the early 1990s,” said Susan Holway. “Vern Worthington was older than most all the others but danced every square dance, was polite and danced smooth as silk — outshone a lot of the younger ones… a real treat.” Susan, too, remembered the couple as being “frugal.”

Vern and Ella had no children but had a large extended family. “I’m not sure how many nieces and nephews there were on Ella’s side of the family. There were 10 on Vern’s side but only eight survive today,” according to Kolb. “My mother was Vern’s sister and our family comprised five of the cousins. We grew up in Portland. Three others grew up in Long Beach and two were from Astoria/Warrenton. As far as I know, each of us received a small bequest, but the bulk of the estate was left to the two foundations.”

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.