Roy Wilson

Roy Wilson holds up a book he received as a gift during his 90th birthday celebration Sunday at St. Mary’s Center, Toledo. Sitting next to him is his wife, Cherilynn.

Four-year-old Roxene Wilson watched her two older brothers, Winston and Steve, run along a pier and plunge into the water at the end. She wanted to have fun too, but she couldn’t swim.

As she flapped in water over her head, her panicked eyes caught those of her father, Roy, on shore. He dove into the water and swam, lifting his little daughter above the water, just as he’d done years earlier for his son, Steve, when he had toppled into water at 18 months old.

Those large hands saved the lives of his children decades ago in Long Beach, California, and for years they’ve helped illustrate the Bible’s wisdom for congregants in churches where Roy Wilson served as a Methodist minister. Those same hands worked diligently to connect Christianity and Native American culture. They also erected an Indian longhouse, museum and library near his home in Winlock.

At her father’s 90th birthday celebration Sunday, Roxene Emmel said her frightening near-drowning experience as a child and the lifesaving actions of her father remind her of relationships with the Lord.

“He’s always watching, he had his eye on me, and he was there in a flash,” she said of her father. “That’s the way our heavenly Father is. He always has his eye on us and helps us when we flounder.”

“That was the day she learned to swim,” Roy Wilson told the crowd of more than a hundred who gathered at St. Mary’s Center. More than 75 had celebrated his birthday with him at his longhouse a weekend earlier.

Both of Roy’s sons have served as pastors. Steve and Roxene credited their parents, Roy and Martha, with providing them a firm foundation of faith in God and a strong work ethic. Winston was unable to attend the gathering, but Roy’s wife of 24 years, Cherilynn, was there. Others attending were cousins, friends and members from the Cowlitz and other tribes and the Unity Center for Positive Living in Centralia, where Wilson speaks the third Sunday of each months.

 “Roy and my dad were the twin towers,” said David Barnett, whose father, John, followed Roy’s decade of service as tribal chairman with 26 years of his own leadership.

“The true purpose of Roy’s life is that Roy has created a special bridge between traditional Christianity and Indian culture,” said Sandra Crowell, author of “The Land Called Lewis” and a Unity church member.

It’s always nice to attend celebrations to share with people how much they mean to us before it’s too late. Roy Wilson is a Lewis County treasure.


Toledo Notoriety

Elementary school teacher Shirley Grubb put Toledo on the nation’s map in the mid-1980s.

I remember visiting my sister, a flight attendant based in Atlanta, Georgia, and opening the newspaper to see a small item about Toledo — yes, Lewis County’s Toledo, where the mayor had declared open season in response to an “opossum invasion.”

Grubb, an outspoken woman with a terrific sense of humor, served nine years at Toledo’s mayor and 14 years altogether on the council. She died June 7 in Toledo at the age of 74. I attended her funeral Friday afternoon.

Shirley and I bonded over our battles with the bulge, meeting first in a weight-loss program at Centralia’s hospital in the early 1990s and later praying together during the Weigh Down Workshop at St. Francis Xavier Mission.

She was a true friend when I needed one, for which I’m forever grateful.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at

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