A Look Back in Time: Centralia Girl in Coma Receives ‘Chain of Prayers’ From People Around the World


In the Feb. 18, 1963, edition of The Chronicle, it was reported a “chain of prayer” was held for a 6-year-old Centralia girl who was a coma patient at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. The girl, Connie Ann Widell, had fallen into a coma shortly before noon about a month earlier after apparently falling victim to a rare viral disease causing inflammation in her brain. She had so far shown little response to treatments.

Widell was the daughter of “Mr. and Mrs. Fred Widell” of Centralia and a first grader at Centralia’s Jefferson-Lincoln School in Centralia.

“The chain of prayers was said recently by members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, according to the child’s mother. Mrs. Widell said world-wide prayers were initiated by friends who heard of the youngster’s critical illness,” The Chronicle reported. “Hope for her recovery also was expressed on a television program conducted nationally by the celebrated singer, Tennessee Ernie Ford.”

Widell had complained of feeling ill on the morning of Jan. 15 and was kept home from school by her mother, who called the family doctor after her condition worsened. 

“I talked to our little girl and noticed that she was having difficulty walking. Then Connie said she could see horses jumping through the air. … We rushed her to the hospital,” The Chronicle reported Mrs. Widell as saying.

After initial treatment at St. Helen Hospital in Chehalis, Widell was moved to Mary Bridge for exploratory surgery. 

The Chronicle reported that each day Mrs. Widell helped her three other children go to school, talked to her husband as he left for work and then boarded a bus for Tacoma to spend four or five hours with her daughter in the hospital before returning by bus to Centralia. 


Saturday, Feb. 18, 1933

• Harry Wall, 28, died on Friday, Feb. 17 in Seattle, The Chronicle reported. Wall, who had lived in Centralia “practically all of his life,” was a graduate of Centralia High School and Washington State College, today known as Washington State University. He was survived by his parents, who still lived in Centralia, and his brother C.E. Wall. 

• A woman’s divorce filing made the front page of The Chronicle on Feb. 18. The woman had filed for divorce in superior court from her husband who she had married on July 13 of the prior year. The filing accused the husband of “non-support and other offenses” and requested the restoration of the woman’s maiden name. 

• Mallissa Irish died at the age of 73 on the morning of Friday, Feb. 17 in South Tacoma, The Chronicle reported. Irish was a Chehalis pioneer, having arrived in the area 44 years earlier. She was survived by her husband, three sons, two daughters, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. 

• The Chronicle featured an Associated Press story on its front page discussing youth involvement in German politics after Adolf Hitler had been appointed Chancellor of Germany. “Hitlerism is staking its future in its youth movement and it is not difficult to conceive that if these youngsters were eligible to vote today there would be no question as to the outcome of the reichstag and Prussian diet election March 5,” The AP reported. The Nazi Party was hoping the March 5 elections would allow them to end their opponents majorities in the reichstag, which they were ultimately successful in. 

• A bill reforming state banking laws was passed without debate or amendment in the state House on Feb. 18. The bill had been passed by the Banks and Banking Committee earlier in the day and was rushed through the state House on suspension of the rules. The bill was to be sent to the Governor for signing as it had passed the state Senate on Thursday, Feb. 16. The new law required banks in “cities of the first class” to form separate departments for savings and commercial business, as well as several other reforms.

• Rev. J.C. Tourtellot of Chehalis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church was expected to give a review of “Red Bread,” a book about the Soviet Union, during an evening service on Sunday, Feb. 19, The Chronicle reported. 

• Irene Charbonean, 7, died on Friday, Feb. 17 at her family home in Riffe, The Chronicle reported. She was survived by her parents, a brother and two sisters. 


Thursday, Feb. 18, 1943

• Authorities were “at a loss to explain” the death of a few days old baby boy after his body was found in a vacant Winlock house, The Chronicle reported. According to Lewis County Prosecutor John Panesko, it was not known when the death occurred. The boy’s body was found by “Mrs. Peter Jenseth,” who was walking by the house and had decided to look through the window to see what the inside looked like. As she looked through a window she saw the baby’s body on the floor. 

• Pilot’s wings and commissions for the Army Air Force, the predecessor to the modern U.S. Air Force, had reportedly been earned by Lieut. Edwin Huber, 23, of Chehalis and First Lieut. George Richard, 24, of Centralia. Huber, a Chehalis High School and Centralia Junior College graduate, completed his flight training in Texas and Illinois. While at Centralia Junior College, Huber began his flight training through the school’s civilian pilot training program. Richard also graduated from Chehalis High School, receiving his diploma in 1934 and entering the Army in 1941 after attending air college in Missouri. He completed his flight training in Texas. 

• Registration for users of fuel oil came to an end in Centralia on the night of Wednesday, Feb. 17. An estimated 800 consumers had checked in at the Centralia High School gymnasium since Monday, Feb. 15, when registration for wartime fuel rationing had opened. Wartime administrators announced no further registration for oil rations would be done until after March 1. However, there were issues with the rationing system. “Despite the fact scores of oil consumers appeared dissatisfied or unable to understand the system of coupons they received by mail following registration, the ration board said it was utterly impossible to consider any appeals or to order any adjustments until after March 1,” The Chronicle reported. 

• The Centralia High School faculty and the Centralia School Board had agreed to end the tradition of presenting annual awards at the school’s commencement. Under the new policy, only the valedictorian and salutatorian of a graduating class would be recognized. Previously, students would be given awards for outstanding performance in “certain departments of work and endeavor,” receiving “medals, cups and honors.” Part of the reasoning for the decision, according to the school principal, was to discourage competition between students.

• Ernest Solberg, 56, had died in a local hospital on the night of Wednesday, Feb. 17 following a lingering illness. Solberg was born in Oslo, Norway on January 10, 1887. He was survived by his wife, a daughter, a brother, and multiple half sisters in Norway. 

• A “fine” six-room home, two blocks from the city center in Chehalis was listed for sale at $4,500 in The Chronicle. The house included a full basement, a furnace and two fireplaces. 

• Chris Neilsen had filed for re-election to a three year term on the Winlock School Board, The Chronicle reported. At the time, Nielsen was serving as the chair of the school board. 


Wednesday, Feb. 18, 1953

• George Literal, 65, had reportedly died on the morning of Feb. 18 in St. Helen Hospital in Chehalis. The Chehalis resident had been taken to the hospital around noon the day prior. Literal had lived in Lewis County since 1914 and operated the Literal Motor Company since 1946. He was born in Johnson County Kentucky on March 21, 1887. Literal served as a Lewis County Commissioner for eight years. He was survived by his wife, a step-daughter, a brother, four sisters, a half brother, a half sister and three grandchildren. 

• Lewis County’s legislative delegation was expected to meet with Gov. Arthur Langlie in Olympia on Thursday, Feb. 19 to discuss whether the Boy’s State Training School in Chehalis should be abandoned. State Reps. Ed Mayes, Harry Siler and Joe Chytil were to join state Sen. Dale Nordquist in the meeting with Langlie. According to The Chronicle, Langlie believed it might be possible to reduce the school to a maximum security institution. A report from a citizens committee the week before had described the school as being “badly in need of repair” and said some areas were dangerous. 

• Two women in the Twin Cities were in hospitals following two separate car accidents in which both were “painfully but apparently not seriously injured.” One woman, “Mrs. Frank Pakar” of Chehalis, was taken to St. Helens Hospital by ambulance after a crash north of Tenino where her car “went out of control on an icy spot.” Edna Starr, a Centralia resident, was hit by a car while crossing the street at the intersection of West Main and Pearl streets. Starr was taken by ambulance to Lewis County General Hospital. 

• Howard Extine, a Salkum man, was injured in a logging accident on the morning of Feb. 18 while working near Mayfield. He received chest and internal injuries when two logs rolled on him. 

• A variety of businesses were expected to be closed in the Twin Cities for the upcoming Monday in honor of George Washington’s birthday. However, due to the actual day of Washington’s birthday falling on the preceding Sunday, Lewis County students would have to attend school that Monday. 

• Johnny Morris Jr., well known at the time for his role as a bellhop who shouted “call for Phillip Morris,” was expected to be in Chehalis on Thursday, Feb. 19. He was expected to appear at a noon luncheon of the Chehalis Kiwanis Club. Morris, still a boy, was 47 inches tall and weighed just 57 pounds at the time, The Chronicle reported. 

• Ed Leonard Jr., the son of “Mr. and Mrs. E.W. Leonard,” was awarded the Eagle Scout award during an “impressive” ceremony in a courtroom of the Lewis County Superior Court during the evening of the previous Saturday. Leonard, a Winlock resident, was the first Lewis County boy to have earned the Eagle Scout award in several years, The Chronicle reported. 


Monday, Feb. 18, 1963

• Dick Bickford, the Lewis County Forester, urged active support by the county for a legislative proposal “retaining and strengthening” the contemporary system of forest land and timber taxation. Bickford said Senate Bill 349 was the solution in a fight over another proposal to establish a flat rate of timber taxation that Lewis County Assessor John King said would “wreck Lewis County.” The first hearing for SB 349 was scheduled Feb. 18 with more later in the week. Bickford urged Lewis County residents, especially those involved in timber, to write in support to the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Joe Chytil of Chehalis. 

• Two Centralia hikers arrived in George Washington Park on Saturday, Feb. 16 after a 50-mile hike. Mike Wheeler and Larry Ledbetter, both Centralia College sophomores, had gone from Centralia to six miles west of Oakville and back in 18 hours and 18 minutes. “If not fast, the pace was blistering. Oh, you should have seen those blisters!” The Chronicle reported. The pair were the first in Lewis County to achieve the 50-mile hike President Kennedy had apparently suggested for Marines. Kennedy reportedly “wanted to know if they were made of the stuff they were in Teddy Roosevelt’s day.” Wheeler and Ledbetter had sprinted the last 200 yards as they had promised to do, “But the sprint was more like a stagger.” The Chronicle also reported advice the two had given: “Don’t try it.”

• State Highway Department crews were expected to close the Riffe bridge over the Cowlitz River for three weeks. The closures were to be in effect Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 12:30 to 4 p.m. The closure was for decking and stringer replacement. 

• Three individuals were in custody for the “brutal” beating of a Toledo station attendant on Dec. 28, 1962, The Chronicle reported. Henry Smith, 29, of Tacoma; Shirly Harding, 25, of Portland; and Cecil Scott of Los Angeles, had all been brought to Portland and were facing potential transfer to Lewis County to face charges. The arrests were made after an investigation that covered the west coast of the U.S. 

• A Portland driver had been sentenced 30 days in jail and a $210 fine after being found guilty of three traffic violations over the previous weekend. The driver was to serve another 100 days if he didn’t pay the fine. He had been accused of drunk driving,  driving without a license and driving a car in violation of the state Safety Responsibility Act. 

• A Centralia father and son had been arrested on Sunday, Feb. 17 by State Game Department officers on charges of illegal possession of deer meat. Officers had obtained a search warrant to enter the house of the father and son, where they found the deer meat. 

• Kenneth Young, the nine-month old son of “Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Young,” died in a Centralia hospital on Sunday, Feb. 17, The Chronicle reported. The boy was born on April 11, 1962 in Mountain View, California. He was survived by his parents, a sister, a brother, his four grandparents and two great-grandparents.