Hobart native celebrates 100th birthday today
By TJ MARTINELL
Covington Reporter Reporter
November 11, 2011 · Updated 6:16 PM
Woodrow Joseph Dougherty is nearly five times older than the city of Maple Valley.
A Hobart native, he was born 100 years ago today, Nov. 11, 1911, the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year.
With old age comes certain bragging rights. Dougherty is able to say things — such as attending high school during Prohibition — which few others can.
He is also able to say he bought a house during the Great Depression when everyone else was losing theirs. Living on a farm in Hobart for 40 years, he can recall a time before there was an urban growth boundary and when the Maple Valley Historical Museum was still a schoolhouse.
Life, as he would put it, has been good to him. At 24, he married his high school sweetheart with whom he had seven children. He and his wife are weeks away from their 76th wedding anniversary.
“I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said.
From a South Dakota orphanage to Seattle
Dougherty was born John Julius Vandeviere, in Garretson, S.D., to Belgian immigrants Ed and Mathilda Vandeviere.
His father was a horse trainer and helped domesticate wild horses. When he was 1, his father moved up to North Dakota for work. After he left, their mother sent both Dougherty and his 2-year-old brother, Spencer, to the Children’s Home Society, an orphanage in Sioux Falls.
The exact reason for this is not known for certain, though a precise explanation really doesn’t matter to Dougherty.
“She couldn’t hack it, so she put us in an orphanage,” he said of his birth mother.
Sometime later, their father was killed when one of the horses he was training kicked him in the head.
After only three weeks in the orphanage, Dougherty was adopted by Joe and Ruby Dougherty and his name was changed to Woodrow Joseph Dougherty.
The Doughertys were unable to adopt his older brother.
“They wanted to adopt both of us,” he said. “They saw us both there. They wanted to take care of us, but someone had already come and adopted my brother.”
He would not see his brother again until 1958.
Although this occurred before Woodrow Dougherty could remember, the split between him and his brother — all while their mother was still alive — is something he rarely talks about.
His new father, Joe, was a traveling salesman, and when Woodrow was 8 the family moved from South Dakota and settled in Seattle, an event which he still praises the family for.
“I thank God for the Doughertys,” he said. “They got me out of South Dakota.”
They lived in the White Center area where he attended West Seattle High School. One day, he met a girl two classes below him named Margaret Bingham. Both of them were turning opposite corners around the school building and accidentally bumped into each other. Bingham was carrying her textbooks in her arms and dropped them all over the ground, which Dougherty picked up for her.
Initially, nothing seemed to come of it, until one of Dougherty’s friends developed a crush on Bingham’s best friend. Nervous about meeting her at her house, he asked Dougherty to go with him, to which he agreed. There Dougherty met Bingham again.
“The rest is history,” he said. “It just seemed we had the same interests.”
Both Catholic, they married on November 23, 1935 at the Holy Family Parish in Seattle. Their first child, Susan, was born the next year.
While Dougherty claims his accidental collision with his wife “had nothing to do with our relationship,” his daughter, Betty Dougherty Richardson, said it has since remained in family history.
“Mom must have told that story a thousand times,” she said.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
After Dougherty graduated from West Seattle High in 1930, he moved into Fauntleroy, a Seattle neighborhood. By then, the stock market had crashed and the preliminary signs of the Great Depression were beginning to show in the form of unemployment lines and house foreclosures.
“It was hard to find a job,” Dougherty recalled. “There was a lot of homes that were vacant. People lost their homes. God, yes, you couldn’t find a job anywhere.”
Yet, Dougherty managed to find work, first cleaning firs at a fir shop in downtown Seattle near the 5th Avenue Theater. In 1932, however, after a year, the owner went broke and Dougherty found himself out of work. He was able to obtain a dish washing job at a restaurant near the site of his future employment, the Boeing Company, which still operated out of the Red Barn in Renton. The barn was eventually moved to Seattle and is now featured as a part of the Museum of Flight.
With money tight and employment rare, he took any work he could find, including a job cleaning at a drugstore at the West Seattle Junction.
“I did everything,” he said.
At the same time, Dougherty was blessed with a number of opportunities. While other families were losing their homes, he was able to purchase a
house in Arbor Heights for $3,500 — the equivalent of $55,000 in 2010 — without putting a single dollar on the down payment.
“They were in a hurry (to sell it),” Dougherty said of the owners. “It was God-given.”
WORLD WAR II
In 1939 and the outbreak of World War II, Dougherty was hired at Boeing to work as an expeditor in the fabric upholstery shop.When the draft came in 1940 - the first peacetime draft in American history - Dougherty was classified as a 4F, which deferred him from enlisting.
Unsatisfied with the work and pay of 93 cents an hour at Boeing, Dougherty learned from a friend about Todd Pacific Shipyards, which paid workers $1.39 hourly, an offer he couldn’t refuse.
After he quit and went to work for Pacific Shipyards, however, he found the task of installing machines in the engine rooms even less satisfying.
“I didn’t like it,” he said.
It was also unhealthy, as the pipes would be covered with asbestos as he worked, which also got into the air. Years later, he would learn that it had gotten into his lungs. Fortunately, it did not have a permanent impact on his health and was unrelated to his decision to became a charter member of Renton’s Group Health, along with his wife, in 1947.
“I never thought about it (asbestos),” he said. “That never bothered me.”
Finally he returned to Boeing on New Year’s Day 1945. His work there did not last much longer, however, as the war production was slowly grinding to a halt. The government canceled orders for more bombers and Dougherty joined another 70,000 people who lost their jobs at Boeing.
“Everybody got a pink slip and got laid off,” he recalled.
Up until 1945 Dougherty had had no experience with farming. He had never milked a cow or fed chickens. But when he visited his in-laws in Auburn, he got a taste of the farming community, and was smitten with it.
“I think that it started right there,” he said of his love of farms. “I just loved it. We’d go out to visit and travel on the West Valley highway. The air was so good. I though ‘This is where I would like to live.’”
Then Dougherty learned of an 11 acre farm in Hobart which was for sale for $6,750. The family who owned it had moved out of the city, but, the wife had grown tired of it and wished to come back.
Selling his Arbor Heights home, which at that time was worth $6,500 — nearly double its original purchase value — Dougherty bought the farm in June 1945, with a monthly payment of $25.
By then, two more children had been added to the Dougherty family — Betty (1940), Ceclia (1943), while Margaret was pregnant with Colleen, who was born later that year.
After he was laid off from Boeing, he moved with his family to the farm. The transition from the Seattle metropolis to the rural area of Hobart was quite dramatic, according to Dougherty.
“I had to learn to milk a cow right away,” he said.
Although the war was on its last legs, rationing was still in effect, which limited the amount of food a family could purchase. On the farm, however, this limitation did not apply.
“When we got on the farm we had everything we needed,” Dougherty said. “I think that farm saved our lives.”
Aside from farming, Dougherty got a job working for the Hobart School performing a variety of jobs - bus driver, janitor and the baseball coach. The school house was simple and basic, only two classrooms and a furnace that burned coal, which Dougherty had to start every morning before he drove the kids back to the school on the bus.
The baseball team played hardball, literally and figuratively.
“We won all of our games,” he said.
The boiler room served, interestingly, as the location for some of Dougherty’s fonder recollections. If a student got a 100 percent on a test, they were allowed to go down there to join Dougherty, who had a radio tuned into sports events, such as the World Series.
Work on the farm could be difficult, however. His next door neighbor, Hubert Peacock, was a farmer who made a living selling milk. One night, they invited the Doughertys over for dinner and informed them that Hubert Peacock had contracted tuberculosis and was forced to go to a sanitarium in north Renton for isolation. With no one to milk his cows, he planned on selling them, until Dougherty stepped in.
“The next day the dealer was going to come and pick up the cows,” he recalled. “And I said I would come over and milk the cows.”
While it doesn’t sound like an arduous task, Peacock owned 20 cows, which required Dougherty to get up at 5 a.m. every day, first to light the fire in the furnace at the school before he came back to milk the cows. Then he had to grab the bus at the Maple Valley School — now the Maple Valley Historical Museum — and pick up the Hobart School students.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Three more children were born while they lived at the Hobart farm: Timothy (1948), Teresa (1951) and Mary Joe (1956). The Doughertys resorted to some unusual means in order to cover the costs of delivery for their children. When Teresea was born, for example, the family sold $50 worth of cherries — $415 in 2010 when adjusted for inflation — to pay for it. They also sold eggs, milk and fruit on the side when was money was short on hand.
Raising seven children was a big task Dougherty said, the success of which he credits to his wife.
“Margie did a fantastic job with those kids,” he said.
Living in a rural community, there was not much entertainment to be had for miles, outside of radio and what they made for themselves. In the Dougherty house they had a music room where Dougherty would sing and his wife would play the piano.
All of this changed with the advent of television. Dougherty purchased an Admiral TV in 1950. As the first person in the entire area to own one, the other farming families would flock to their house to watch, rather than hear, entertainment programs.
An avid sports fan, Dougherty remembered watching the first televised football.
“All you could see was little specks running around,” he said.
Despite being separated from his brother, Spencer, as infants, Dougherty was able to stay in touch with him through their wives, who wrote each other Christmas cards every year. In 1958, after 40 years of separation, Spencer traveled from South Dakota to visit him in Hobart. By then Dougherty had learned that their mother had been killed in a train wreck in South Dakota when she was 38.
“I think I talked to him about what kind of car he had,” Dougherty said. “He had an Oldsmobile while I had a Ford.”
In 1968, Dougherty sold most of the farm to a couple from Switzerland, keeping three acres for himself while he took care of his aging stepmother. At the same time, they purchased a small beach house in Cannon Beach, Ore. where they lived from 1974-77 after Dougherty had retired. However, they eventually came back to live on the farm before moving into an apartment in Maple Valley.
Now, Dougherty lives with his daughter, Teresa, and her husband in SeaTac.
“They’re taking good care of me,” Dougherty said. “I still feel good. I still enjoy sports. I’m pulling for the Seahawks all the time.”
For his 100th birthday, he said he plans to keep it traditional with cake and ice cream.
“I’m not going to get crazy,” he said.
His wife, meanwhile, lives in a family home only five minutes away. He visits regularly. Suffering from dementia, she nevertheless still plays the piano and has no trouble recognizing her husband of nearly 76 years, according to Richardson.
“She still kisses him as if he is coming home from work,” she said.
Dougherty said his wife was the glue that held his life together.
“I give credit to her on our marriage,” Dougherty said. “Margie and I lived through the best part of our (nation’s) history. We just think we’ve seen all the best of it. We were lucky. I was lucky.”
Contact Covington Reporter Reporter TJ Martinell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-432-1209 ext. 5052.