Don’s Oral Interview
La Center Historical Museum
Clark County Stories
Interviewer: Suzi Terrell
Narrator Name: DON ANDERSON
Interview date and time: 11/16/18 10:00am
Interview Address: 410 West 5th Street, La Center, WA
Transcriber: Sharron Sunny Cathcart June 2021
Suzi: Good morning, I am Suzi Terrell with the La Center Historical Museum. Today is November 16th and I will be chatting with Mr. Don Anderson about his time living here in the La Center. So Don, how long have you lived in Clark County?
Don: About 58 years.
Suzi: So most of your life then. Were you born here?
Don: I was born in North Dakota in 1947. I went to first grade there, a one-room school. I was in first grade and my sister was in fifth grade, so I remember that very well. Mrs. Center was my teacher’s name. We lived across the street from the school. The summer after first grade we drove to Longview, Washington where my relatives on my mom’s side lived and her brothers and sisters. My dad was born in Sweden. He came over here when he was 20 years old. And then he found my mother and married her. There are four of us in the family, we lived there until the summer of 1961.
When I turned 13 we moved here to La Center. I think my dad was working for Schneider Brothers hardware store in Longview and when he was delivering appliances out here he saw the piece of property that we later lived on. It was three miles out of town on Staunton Road. Years ago there was an old school house there. We lived in a trailer there until dad cut the roof and lowered it down to make it our house. Then he added a couple of bedrooms to it and then another bedroom and a garage after that. We lived there through high school. My first year here I was a freshman. There was a brand-new high school where the middle school now. It used to be County Road 48, everything had names and it’s now all numbers. And then you go about one mile to Stanton Road and it shoots off to the right, and it goes down to the river bottom and towards Daybreak Bridge. It was my brother and I’s first job was clearing the road so they wouldn’t hit branches underway. Now there are hundreds of houses out there.
But it was a shock going to La Center’s schools. When I was in junior high, I had art class and metal shop and came to La Center there was either sports or FAA, and I did not care for either one of those. I made it through okay. My senior year I excelled in CAD drawing. All the senior boys went over and took physicals in Portland for the draft. I went down to Clark College. I wasn’t a good student and am going to college. And the personnel person told me I had to take math and I wanted to take art classes. I didn’t want to do that, so I just went and found a job in Battleground at Shasta trailers, and I worked there until I got drafted.
I was in the Army for two years. Three months at Ft. Lewis and I went to Louisiana for three months for advanced infantry. I knew where I was going. I ended up in Vietnam in the first infantry. And that was kind of a very strange place. I lost my whole squad one day, it was terrible. That’s another thing. That is what it is. After Vietnam I went to California for six months and got out of the service. I came back and went to work at Shasta for a little while and I asked for a raise and they wouldn’t give it to me so I quit.
And then I met a gal, my now ex-wife and had two boys and that didn’t work out. I really couldn’t talk about Vietnam to anyone and I’m sure that that was part of the reason. I went back to Shasta. I tried to go back to college and it just didn’t work. I didn’t fit in for some reason. And we ended up getting a divorce. I lost the job at Shasta because the RVs were not selling at that time. After the divorce I got jobs here and there little stuff. I built boats here and there in Woodland that was a little fun. Did a lot of woodwork and stuff, the girls did the fiberglass, I didn’t really care for that … it was too messy. I knew a guy that was fishing in Alaska and so we would build boats for them. It didn’t last too long. And then my back went out it was pretty bad. I looked for work everywhere, I quit looking for work and I did my own thing with wood.
Living in La Center the population back then, especially when I first moved here was between 350 and 1400 people. Everybody knew I did woodwork and they would ask me to build things. And I existed with that and disability. After that the place where I was living was owned by a family who owned the tavern. It was a one-room studio. And Jerry Johnson bought the place and said it was okay to live there but then about a week later he said he needed it for a garage. So I went to a friends who had a house over by the fairgrounds. I lived there for about a year while I put in for more disability. I finally got that and it was pretty good after that getting a check every month I was able to buy a house in La Center. I reckon I will lay down here when the time comes. Been in my house for about 20 years. When I first moved to La Center it was a nice quiet place and we kind of grew up down on the river. There was a bean yard down there, we are always down there swimming in the summer. It was fun.
Suzi: You actually made the welcome to La Center sign that was here from 1985. When did they remove that?
Don: When they did some work on the old bank, they decided to put up the electronic sign that they have now. They took it down and put it in one of the maintenance buildings and they asked me if I wanted it back and I said sure. I figured someday maybe I’ll bring it down to the museum.
Suzi: You have seen a lot of changes to this little town.
Don: Where we would go swimming down at the river it was all sand all the way to the end of Staunton Road. And then from there on its rock where the tide changes. It’s all Tidewater after that point it’s sand bottoms and that’s interesting. There is an old bridge up there you can still see the pilings from it. I haven’t been up there in a long time. I’m sure it’s still there. And things like that. It was fun growing up on the river.
Suzi: How was high school high school for you?
Don: I didn’t do really good in English, now they have teacher’s aides to get you through. I just wasn’t any good at it. So it was irritating. My senior year I had to take part of 11th over again. Mrs. Peterson said get your purple readers. I flung it up in the air and she said out of my class and then the principal came up and said I should hold you back but I know you won’t come back. He was probably my favorite teacher. He had a mechanical drawing class.
Suzi: Could I take you back to the military for a second. You mentioned going to Ft. Lewis. Is that where they had a Vietnam simulated village?
Don: Not to my knowledge. They didn’t have anything like that. They had a helicopter there so you could learn to jump out of it.
Suzi: Did you have to do that when you went to Vietnam?
Don: Yes, you just never knew from one day to the next. I’m sure all the jobs were hectic and some are easier than others.
Suzi: I’m curious when you came home what was that like? I know there was a lot of protest.
Don: I just turned 21, my folks picked me up at the airport and we visited, then I went down to the tavern and I had a beer. Harold was working. I was having fun playing pool and drinking a beer. And there was a guy at the bar I can’t remember his name. He had just lost a grandson in Vietnam and he asked why was having so much fun, and said why don’t you go to Vietnam. Harold spoke up and said he just got back and after that the guy bought me beer all night long. In Vietnam we had a brew 33 and when I came to La Center there was a brew 66. It was a tap beer from Ranier, that was a special beer. It was kind of funny. It was different for sure. I was treated well. La Center is a small town. Nobody looked at me funny or said anything weird. I know that some people had trouble coming back.
Suzi: I heard a lot of protests as the planes came in?
Don: It wasn’t that bad in 1968 in Portland when I came back. I was still a kid when I left. If you live through it, and you see what was really going on. I’m not going to get into that. It was an experience for sure.
Suzi: Tell me how you got involved with the museum?
Don: When they first opened up I would come down every weekend or every other week when they were open, and I had donated a couple of things. And then they asked me to be a director. And I said okay sure, why not. That’s the only other thing I belong too other than the disabled veterans which I joined in 1971, when I had my back operated on. I laid in bed at the VA for two months and they tried everything to figure out what was going on and they finally operated. It got much better after that, every once in a while it would go out. And now they want to fuse it and I’m just not sure about that. It doesn’t take very long to do. Whether or not it will turn out good is hard to say. I think I should but we will see what happens. Sometimes you have to learn to live with things the best you can.
Suzi: It’s tough sometimes, with all the changes going on in our little town. Do you remember any specific stories?
Don: When I first came here there was no police department, only a Sheriff. There was a store near the library. And then across the street was a house with the tin roof. And then there was Dave’s dad Mr. Pettit and he wore the uniform and he had a Plymouth or something like that. He was always after me and Gary Richardson. He thought we were stealing gas. He would stop us and open the trunk. We weren’t into doing that. We just had to get out. There were little schools that were shut down. They had little schools all over the area around here.
Suzi: And now we’re getting another school if they ever start on it. And that’s going to create a lot of traffic.
Don: The city limits are being expanded and housing is going everywhere … there’s a lot of changes. Can’t do anything about it.
Suzi: For all of us newbies, we’ve just been here for four years … we want to move in and then we want everything to stop. To stay the same. I guess it is inevitable.
Don: It was just a small town. Very small place. All the streets were gravel except for Fourth Street was paved. There were no sidewalks except by where the city buildings were near the stores and the tavern. The barbershop was owned by the Soehl brothers. When I enlisted I got my hair shaved off, but when I went in they shaved it again. They didn’t care, that was kind of strange.
Suzi: Do you remember who the mayor was?
Don: The City Hall was on the old Highway in a house and that’s where they would have their meetings. The only mayor I remember was Ed Siebler, he was kind of a maintenance guy. He was a very nice guy. He would spend his own money on gas and he would drive his own truck around. He helped me install the sign. Jack Wells was in there and put in the sidewalks and then came Skip Carlson … let me think of who else. We had the Podunk Tavern, we had two taverns.
Suzi: How did you feel about the cardrooms?
Don: There was a lot of controversy. Nobody wanted them. But it was revenue coming in and that was a good thing. They were so afraid of it bringing in weird stuff but it never happened. Just people who like to play cards. And then of course they built the Phoenix and then they redid the skating rink. And I think the only thing they kept was one little wall. I think they kept the floor but it’s under carpet with lots of changes.
Suzi: It’s too bad that the skating rink is no more. That seemed to be a real hub.
Don: I would go skating there when I was in school. I didn’t do well, I would fall down a few times. The bridge that was here when I first moved here was a steel bridge that went over to Daybreak. They built the old cement bridge and the bridge part went to Daybreak until they tore that down and then of course now we have a new bridge. I imagine someday it’ll probably be too small.
Suzi: I heard that there was a commune that was here. And Bill Walton was a member of that?
Don: It was some up somewhere in the Highlands.
Suzi: Was that during your time here?
Don: The hairdresser was there, there were some hippies that were there, and Bill Walton would come into the pizza place, I didn’t really know what it was about. I remember there was a big house. I’m trying to figure out where it was that I cannot think of it now. Somebody probably can look back. They cut a wall between the tavern where you could buy food and pass it through the tavern. You know you could open that front window to order hamburgers. And you could get a liverwurst sandwich that he was famous for.
Suzi: I heard that when they put the sidewalk in front of the tavern that a bunch of the patrons came and signed their names in the concrete?
Don: I’m not sure about that, they redid it a couple of times. The steps going into the tavern have names or bricks. I didn’t put my name in there but a lot of people did. I think there was a little saying. A lot of those folks have moved away. Most of the people who put their names on their have either moved away or passed away. There were a lot of characters in La Center in those days. Leftover Smith.
Suzi: Was that his name?
Don: Yes, there was the Johnson brothers, most of them had to do with logging. They were wine drinkers, they liked their fortified wine. They had the Texaco station. I’d go down there and have coffee, and I think his name was Tony, his hands would shake and Harold would have a glass of wine for him. I remember I’d pull up there to get oil and he’d say you know where it’s at. And then he’d reach down and pull out a bottle of whatever he liked. Most of those things are all gone. The houses there but it’s been redone, the bakery is still there. There used to be gas pumps there for some time. I think they took the tank out too.
Suzi: Is that where he had a monkey too?
Don: I wish I could remember her name, yes she did. I guess she came over on a covered wagon around the turn-of-the-century.
Suzi: Was she a midwife? Mattie Shelton?
Don: That is it. And there was Bessie McCutcheon’s, she had some property, she lived across the street from the little general on that side of the street. As long as I’ve lived you’d think I would know the name. It’s right next to that place. And then they tore down and then it was a church and it is still there and they are redoing that.
Suzi: Isn’t that just a private residence?
Don: Yes, some rented rooms. That used to be a church and then the parsonage was right next to where the coffee shop is. At one time there was a preacher there I cannot remember his name. He would have us write letters that would say “It’s not too late to change”. He said “I see all kinds of bad stuff from my window”. He was a character. That was a long time ago.
Suzi: Did they have a newspaper when you’re in town?
Don: They didn’t. The gal at the real estate office her name was Mary, was right next to where the telephone company was that is on Fourth. When you drive-in. Now it is just grass. There’s a sign there. That was weird, there was a real estate office and a little library. That was interesting. She was a nice gal and she lives where Carla Carlson lives up on Aspen. Where the police department is, there was an old building there that was falling down when I first moved here. And where the new church is, there was a building there and it’s falling down. A lot of it has been redone.
Suzi: And now there’s more changes. The old TDS building the city just purchased and that will be the new City Hall.
Don: If they combine everything that’ll be good. It’s always changing … how bad can it be? That is the way life is. Everybody talks, you have those who want to keep La Center small and then you have others who are all but demanding a grocery store to come in. It would be nice as far as not having to go anywhere to get groceries but it’s just as easy to run to Woodland or Battleground. And we really do not have the room. Maybe out where the new school would be. I don’t know if that would work or not?
Suzi: I think it would have to be out there at the junction if they ever get that going.
Don: We will see what happens.
Suzi: Don I appreciate you coming in and talking and telling me your story. If you have anything more … I could stay here all day.
Don: I don’t know what it would be. There’s so many stories. My memory is not what it used to be.
Suzi: And that is okay with all of us.
Don: After Mr. Pettit there was Lori Benefit as Sheriff. And then Tim Hopkins was a deputy under Lori and then when Lori quit he took over. And then when Tim quit then they had Mark. And that’s how that has worked. Mark is the only one that I know now. He is no Jerry – he is retired.
Suzi: I kind of hope to never know. If you need them in an emergency I am glad they are there. But I don’t want to see them pull me over!
Don: The are an important part of what is going on. Other than that I cannot think of much else.
Suzi: I will go ahead and sign this off then. Again thank you very much for your time.