Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hermiston woman reunited with long-lost son

When Evelyn May’s family broke up in 1946 in Yakima, Wash., she wasn’t sure she’d ever see her 3-year-old son Tommy Anthony DeRosa again. In 1982, after a series of phone calls and with the help of state police agencies on opposite coasts, May was reunited with Tommy when he traveled from his home in New York to Hermiston to meet her, as well as five siblings and their families.

May’s other children, including sons Walt and John Blankenship and daughters Mary Kligel, Carol Longhorn and Janet Bailey, knew they had another brother, but weren’t sure where he was. May thought Tommy’s father might have taken him to New York after the couple split up. “We used to watch American Bandstand on television, and Mom would say, ‘Watch for your brother.’ She had some baby pictures, that was all,” said Kligel.

Walt Blankenship took the initiative and began a search for Tommy. He spent $104 on phone calls and learned that there were 15 Anthony DeRosas listed in New York phone directories. When he asked an officer with the Oregon State Police in Hermiston for advice, it was suggested he contact the New York State Police.

Not only did state police in New York locate the correct Anthony DeRosa, they handed off a letter to him written by Walt. DeRosa immediately called Walt, asking, “What took you so long?” He said he had always hoped he had siblings, but didn’t know how to find them, or if they even existed. He was told as a boy not to ask about his mother.

DeRosa next called his mother, by chance on her birthday, and told her that not only had she found her long-lost son, but also a daughter-in-law, Lynn, and four grandchildren.

DeRosa flew into the Tri-Cities Airport on Jan. 17, 1982, and was immediately swept into the arms of a family he hadn’t even dreamed of just a month before. He spent two weeks getting acquainted with his mother and a few dozen family members before returning to Queens, N.Y., where he worked as a truck driver and supervisor at a dairy. DeRosa planned to bring his family for another visit the following summer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

‘The Gard’ rewarded for stellar service to county

Marie Gard is a pioneer when it comes to Umatilla County law enforcement. “The Gard,” as she was affectionately known during her career with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, was the first woman hired as a correctional officer at the Umatilla County Jail. Her dedication to the sheriff’s office earned statewide recognition in January of 1998.

Gard began her law enforcement career in 1971 when she was hired as a dispatcher. She learned about the job from a Pendleton police detective who investigated after she was held up at gunpoint at the local Western Union office, where she was the manager. When the office closed, the detective encouraged Gard to apply with the sheriff’s office.

The diminutive Gard, who stands just under 5 feet tall, maintained a gentle demeanor until she was attacked by a female inmate she was booking into the jail. She then learned self-defense tactics from her male coworkers. Gard’s work ethic so impressed Sheriff Jim Carey she was offered a correctional officer position in 1981 — and she did her job so well Carey was encouraged to hire more women at the jail.

Though most of the male inmates at the Umatilla County Jail towered over and tried to intimidate her, Gard said she was never assaulted by any of them, avoiding physical altercations by relying on her “silver tongue” to get her out of tense situations. And Gard believes women are more likely to use intuition and communication skills during confrontations with inmates.

Sheriff John Trumbo rewarded Gard’s decades of service to the county by nominating her for a statewide award. In January of 1998, after 27 years with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Marie Gard was named Oregon Community Corrections’ 1997 Supervisor of the Year.

Gard remained with the sheriff’s office until her retirement in December 1998. She continued working as a part-time security guard at the Umatilla County Courthouse in Pendleton for another 17 years before retiring for good in February 2016 — a career spanning 45 years under nine different sheriffs.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Joyriding teen vows no more thrills

A Portland teenager was arrested near Meacham after engaging state law enforcement agencies in a state-wide manhunt in 1931, and his young female passenger was cured once and for all of thrillseeking after spending time in a local jail.

Merle Smiley and 17-year-old Peggy Carnahan left Portland together Jan. 14, 1931, after “borrowing” a car from a Portland garage. The couple traded the car for another one and $20 cash in Mosier, then continued east on their joyride. Portland police posted an all-points bulletin for the pair, and a Umatilla County sheriff’s deputy spotted them near Meacham two days later, where they were arrested.

Smiley was returned home by Portland authorities the same day. Carnahan, who confided to a reporter that she had run away with Smiley because she “wanted a thrill,” had a few adventures to ponder as she awaited her own transport home. Besides two days on the lam and her arrest, she got to spend the night in jail with two Native American women as companions — one of whom told her fortune — and had an unflattering “rogue’s gallery” photo taken as part of her stay in Umatilla County.

Carnahan declared she was ready to go home, and vowed to be a good girl from then on.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Non-traditional campout rings in the new year

Snowy weather and the winter holidays provided some fun, and a chilly campout experience, for three Hermiston brothers in the final days of 1973.

The sons of Dr. and Mrs. Milton Johnson of Hermiston, including 19-year-old Jeff, Jerry, 15, and Joey, 12, spent three days in the family’s back yard building an igloo in the classic Eskimo fashion, including a tunnel for entrance and a door made out of a huge chunk of icy snow.

Inside the eight-foot-wide by four-foot-long igloo, the boys laid a carpet for a floor and lit candles for light and warmth. The ceiling, measure seven feet high in the center, was made of a few pieces of lumber covered liberally with snow.

Construction foreman was the family’s black cat, Kohoutek, named for the “comet of the century” that was due to pass by the earth in early 1974.
Igloo builders (from left) Jeff, Jerry and Joey Johnson of Hermiston show off their Eskimo-style hut in early 1974. (EO file photo)

Once the igloo was finished, on New Year’s Eve, the Johnson brothers decided to celebrate the holiday by camping out in the igloo overnight. Temperatures dropped to five degrees during the night, making it an event destined for the family scrapbook.