Audrey Wirkkala

Audrey Wirkkala was crucial in organizing and running the Appelo Archives Center in Naselle, Wash.

It’s easy to imagine some child a half-century from now sitting on her grandfather’s lap as they look through a scrapbook of his high school achievements: the winning lay-up in a championship game or the time he was crowned Homecoming King.

Those images and thousands more will be there thanks to a humble and smiling woman, Audrey Wirkkala.

From 1979 until 2003, Wirkkala had more photographs in the Na-Hi-An, the Naselle High School Yearbook, than anyone else. She did every thumbnail photo of every student for those years and beyond. She was a tireless and faithful photographer of sporting events for the Comets.

She rarely had to do anything to make her subjects smile, as they just took a look at her ever-present smile and they responded in kind.

For decades, she took photos at the school and throughout the Naselle Valley for the Chinook Observer. Later, Wirkkala’s work at the Appelo Archives Center was equally as dedicated and professional. Her table at the Finn Fests with her myriad of historical photographs, all expertly matted or framed, was among the most popular at the event.

Audrey Wirkkala was able to capture on film Naselle’s people and places so well because she not only knew her subjects, she loved them. And they loved her. Her funeral in June 2010 was held in the School Commons, and elicited as many laughs as tears.

During her life, she always went about her business and didn’t want to be the center of attention. But at the end there was no avoiding the obvious conclusion: She was a heroine.

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