Margaret Colf-Hepola

Historian, philanthropist and regional treasure Margaret Colf-Hepola of Woodland died peacefully Dec. 6, 2014, at her Etna Road home. She was 97.

She was born Margaret Leona Haller on May 27, 1917, on the Birt homestead, which is now under the waters of Lake Merwin. She attended nearby Marble Creek and Clover Valley elementary schools and graduated from Woodland High School in 1934.

Her parents, Albert and Irene Mason Haller, sold Margaret’s childhood home in 1930 due to the construction of the Merwin Dam.

A prolific writer, Margaret later wrote an essay entitled “Water Babies,” her recollections of the 1930 flooding of the Lewis River Valley.

After high school, Margaret worked for several years at the farmers’ co-op store in Woodland. She met Walter E. Colf at a dance in 1940 and the couple married in 1941.

Prior to their marriage, Walter owned and operated the Etna General Store. Upon returning from their honeymoon, Margaret began managing the store and Walter began working as a logger. A short while later, they started their own logging and sawmill business. They successfully ran both businesses until 1948, when they sold the store and purchased nearby tracts of timber as an investment for the future. They continued to operate the logging and sawmill business throughout Southwest Washington. Margaret was a partner with Walter in all facets of the business, including accounting, cruising timber and even in operations.

A daughter, Sharon, was born in 1942, followed by sons Richard in 1943 and Robert in 1949. A daughter, Nancy, was born in 1951 and daughter Mary rounded out the family in 1952.

Walter died in a logging accident in 1962, leaving Margaret to raise her children, run the farm and manage the properties.

At age 47 in 1964, Margaret married Edwin Hepola who, like her first husband, also worked as a logger. Edwin died of a heart attack in 1977.

Margaret was a founding member of the Green Mountain Baptist Church and remained active in that church for 66 years.

Margaret graduated from Clark College in 1961, earning a 4.0 grade average. For several years, she took part in “Write Your Own History” enrichment classes in Woodland and chronicled her life. She enjoyed genealogical research and found that some of her family dated back to the early 1600s.

Margaret extended her interest in history to a life of philanthropy. In 1980, she spearheaded an effort to restore the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, which was rebuilt and is now operating and open for public tours.

Margaret was active in the Clark County Historical Museum, the Cowlitz County Historical Museum and the Clark County Genealogical Society for many years, and was instrumental in the development of the North Clark Historical Museum in Amboy. She was involved in the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens during its years of development. She was a lifelong member of the Daughters of the Pioneers. She donated her time as a Cemetery District 5 commissioner for the past 51 years.

With the help of her family, Margaret purchased buildings in both La Center and Woodland that now house museums. She purchased a site in La Center for the relocation and renovation of a former hospital building to become a new city library. She assisted in the renovations of the La Center Grange and Hayes Cemetery. In 1999, she donated a grand piano to La Center High School.

“There was hardly a day that Margaret didn’t write about the history of our area,” said Barbara Barnhart, president of the La Center Museum, of which Margaret was a founding member. “She loved Clark County and Cowlitz County history and supported at least five museums during her lifetime. She will be greatly missed.”

In 2010, Margaret purchased the Summit Grove Lodge with the intention of preserving the historical structure. Summit Grove has since been rebuilt into a showplace for weddings and Sunday and holiday brunches.

Margaret once attributed her love of history to the loss of her flooded childhood home. “Perhaps that’s why I want to save everything, why I love history and don’t like change,” she told a reporter in 2012. “I’ll never forget that feeling of loss, and today I’m trying to do everything I can to preserve our history, our historic buildings and our way of life.”

Over the years, Margaret received numerous awards and honors. In 2001, she was named Clark County Tree Farmer of the Year. In 2010, she was recognized for her “life works as a true humanitarian” by the Washington State House of Representatives. Upon receiving this award, she said, “You only take out of this world, when you leave it, what you have given away and the kindness you have shown to others. The most important thing you can give others is your time and concern of their welfare.” In 2012, she was awarded the inaugural Lifetime Giving Award from the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington.

Jim Malinowski, current member and former president of the board of the North Clark Historical Museum, praised Margaret’s contributions. “The thing I remember most is how she gave her time, and how she focused her philanthropy on local projects,” Malinowski said. “She had an amazing sense of history. It was a joy to get to know her.”

Margaret Colf Hepola was preceded in death by three brothers, Mel Haller in 2012, Bob Haller in 1981 and infant Albert Haller in 1915; and a sister, AnnaBelle Bauman, in 2014.

Margaret is survived by three daughters, Sharon Giberson (Bill), Nancy Colf and Mary Hayden (Dan), all of Woodland; two sons, Richard Colf of Woodland and Robert Colf (Linda) of La Center; a stepson, Larry Hepola in Virginia; nine grandchildren, Clayton Giberson (Jessie) of Portland, Forrest Giberson (Wendy) of Seattle, Annalise Galbraith (Matt) of Portland, Desery Hayden (Betheny) of Ridgefield, Wash., Benjamin Hayden (Ashley) of Woodland, Molly Hayden of San Francisco and Halle, Garrett, and Dylan Colf, all of La Center; two stepgranddaughters, Angela Hepola and Tina Hepola, both in Virginia; two stepgrandsons, Jeff Gaudet in Colorado and Steve Hepola of Portland; a great-granddaughter, Clio Marquez Giberson of Portland; and two stepgreat-granddaughters, Avari and Eden Harrison, both of Ridgefield.

A graveside service is planned for 1 p.m. today at Hayes Cemetery, three miles east of Woodland on Hayes Road. A celebration of Margaret’s life is planned for 11 a.m. Friday at the First Church of God, 3300 NE 78th Street, in Vancouver. A reception will follow at Summit Grove Lodge, 30810 NE Timmen Road, in Ridgefield, just outside of the La Center city limits.

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