August 13, 1920 - July 17, 2016
Willis Raymond Grafe was born in Mill City, Oregon, on August 13, 1920. He was the child of Leroy and Gladys Grafe, and brother of Herman and Louise. Gladys died when Willis was 8. At age 13, he placed his faith in Jesus Christ at a revival, and by age 16 was leading music with Louise at a local church. At Gates High School, Willis played basketball and baritone. After his siblings graduated and his family members moved away for school and work, Willis, having one year left of high school, slept on a neighbor’s back porch in exchange for room and board. To complete his first year of college, Willis spent three winter terms at Oregon State College, working springs and summers at a sawmill to pay his way through. He signed up to go to the Yukon Territory and Alaska, working on the advanced survey crew for the ALCAN Highway connecting the continental US with Alaska. Afterward he enlisted in the Navy, which sent him to boot camp at Farragut, Idaho, and on to train at Texas A&M University as a radio technician. He spent several years stationed in Pearl Harbor in the mid-1940s, and he was active there in the Methodist Church, before returning to OSC (later named OSU) on the GI bill to study civil engineering. He served as class president his senior year. During his college summers, he worked for the U. S. Bureau of Public Roads in Oregon, Washington, and Montana. At OSU’s Weatherford Hall, Willis met Beverly Ann Scharf in the living room of the house mother. Ann was there with a friend, and Willis offered them a ride home in his new Studebaker to save them the bus fare. Afterward, he asked her out, and their first date was a clam-digging adventure. In 1950, Willis received both a BS and a BA degree from OSC, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Nu, Tau Beta Pi, and Blue Key Honor Societies. Upon graduation, he worked for a number of companies before returning to the Bureau of Public Roads, later renamed the Federal Highway Administration, where he would work for more than 40 years. But back in 1952, Willis and Ann drove away from their wedding in the new Studebaker, and before long the government sent them to live in a cottage without a bathroom at the south end of Glacier National Park, near where Willis supervised a survey crew. The couple bought their first home in Portland, but during the seasons when mountain roads could be built, they lived in a trailer in Steamboat, Alma, and Lebanon, where their two sons, David and Steven, were born. When the couple were raising three children in the trailer—having added Carolyn—Willis was transferred to work in the Vancouver, Washington, office and later the Salem office. In 1957, he and Ann bought a house on five acres on the Willamette River with a one-acre garden and rows of Bartlett pears which Willis turned into a pear and a Christmas-tree orchard. Two more children were born—Sandra and Mary (“Betsy”). The seven Grafes camped, hiked, climbed mountains, sang accompanied by Willis on the autoharp, and made annual clam-digging trips. They started with five kids in tents and later graduated to travel trailers. The men in the family also took annual hunting trips to northeastern Oregon forty miles from a paved road. In 1968, Willis volunteered for a transfer to the Washington DC office to “expose his children to culture.” While there, he took the family to museums, historic sites, and free concerts; and to compensate for the lack of mountains, he took up white-water canoeing, winning the title of senior championship canoer at Great Falls, Virginia. After seven years in Washington DC, Willis took early retirement and moved the family back to Oregon, where he took a job in the Linn County engineer’s office and settled in Albany. He retired from that job after nearly ten years at age 65, having also served as president of the Oregon Association of County Engineers and Surveyors. During his second retirement, he and Ann relocated to Woodburn 21 years ago. Willis published Gates and the North Santiam and An Oregon Boy in the Yukon. He spent his entire life walking the mountains, from age 16 on. He made his last vigorous hike at age 89, having backpacked the Grand Canyon, and led and participated in numerous hikes with the Chemeketans, summiting many of the major Cascade peaks, including Mt. St. Helens multiple times, both before and after the eruption. He returned three times to the Yukon. In his civic life, Willis traveled doing missions in Mexico and Haiti, serving on water development projects. He was active in Rotary—traveling to Haiti, and at age 89 to Thailand. He was a Friends of the Woodburn Library volunteer, and he collected and delivered for the local food bank until age 92. Willis was also a lifetime member of the Mill City Masonic Lodge 180, and for many years he served as an elder at Mid-Valley Community Church. Willis is survived by his wife Ann of 64 years; son David of Portland; son Steven and wife Christina of Goldendale, Washington; daughter Carrie of Vancouver, Washington; daughter Sandra and husband Gary of Mesquite, Texas; and daughter Mary and husband Mark of Richardson, Texas; and grandchildren Heather, Roy, Caleb, Julia, Jonathan, Devin, Erin, and Alexandra.
Willis Raymond Grafe was born in Mill City, Oregon, on August 13, 1920. He was the child of Leroy and Gladys Grafe, and brother of Herman and Louise. Gladys died when Willis was 8. At age 13, he placed his faith in Jesus Christ at a revival,... View Obituary & Service Information
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