The passing of the generation shaped by childhood in the Great Depression and young adulthood in World War II crossed another sad local milestone with the death on May 17 of Frances ONeil in Chinook.
Born in Astoria in 1926 to William and Edith (Lundquist) Winn, from infancy Frances lived on the Peninsula, first in Nahcotta and then for decades in Long Beach. As for many of her friends and classmates on this coast, the Depression was tough but not depressing. Strong families and the innocent pleasures of growing up at the beach more than made up for economic scarcity.
Her memorial service in Seaview last Friday was a testimonial both to Frances herself and to the powerful bonds she forged throughout her long life. The large room was filled to capacity with those touched by a life rich in human connections. Active and alert will always be words that come to mind in describing Frances, her bright eyes and brain always questing for ways to be engaged in community life. She was the kind of person who helped bring institutions like Washington State International Kite Festival to life, and who then helped keep them healthy, volunteering into her 80s.
Frances and Wayne ONeil, who she married in 1948, will perhaps always be best remembered in a public sense for their stewardship of the Chinook Observer for 21 years, ending in 1984 with the newspapers sale first to Craig Dennis and then to EO Media Group. They ran a great community paper, but one that wasnt averse to making difficult news choices. Wayne later said they sold because of fatigue with constant criticism, but they have since come to symbolize a cherished past in which hometown-owned newspapers were for all intents and purposes the sole source of local information. That the Observer continues to prosper is in no small part due to the traditions the ONeils established.
Frances is admirable for her decades of dedication to the Ocean Beach Rebakahs #313, her service as the de-facto dispatcher for the Long Beach Volunteer Fire Department, her volunteer activities for summer festivals and even her intense sportsmanship on bowling lanes and golf courses. All these speak to her love of life and complete participation in it. No wallflower was she.
In our time of countless distractions and demanding work schedules, Frances set an example that is hard to copy but we should try.