Former Pendleton residents George Waterman and his wife Ina were living in Spokane, Wash., in 1955 where George owned and operated a tavern. In Pendleton George had worked as the manager of a paint store, while Ina was an assistant in the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce office. Their pride and joy was daughter Shelley, born in Pendleton three years earlier.
The precocious toddler repaid their gift of life that year when she saved her parents from a house fire in mid-April.
Early that morning (the East Oregonian did not have an exact date for the incident) a short circuit in the family’s living room caused a desk lamp to catch fire. The fire began eating away at the wall and burned a large part of the living room floor. At about 6 a.m., Shelley got up to get herself a snack in the kitchen, as was her regular routine. She smelled smoke and went to the living room to see the flames gaining headway. Because the window in her parents’ bedroom was open, they did not smell the smoke.
Did three-year-old Shelley panic and run screaming from the house? On the contrary, she walked into the bedroom and announced calmly, “Mommy, the house is on fire.”
The Watermans fled the burning house and called the fire department from a neighbor’s home. Firemen were able to save the rest of the home, and though most of their belongings were damaged by smoke and water, the loss was covered by insurance.
Had Shelley not been in the habit of getting up early and taking care of herself while her parents slept, which undoubtedly gave the little girl self-confidence and resilience beyond her years, she might have been an orphan that day.