Statement in Remembrance of Betty Lou Collins Merkley

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley released the following statement in remembrance of his mother, Betty Lou Collins Merkley:

My mother, Betty Lou Collins Merkley, passed away early this morning. Here’s a little more about her life:

As she wrote in an introduction to a collection of her life stories: “I have lived a full life, blessed with my wonderful husband Darrell, and the joy of raising two children and the opportunity to share in the lives of their children and grandchildren.”

Betty was born into hard times in rural Kansas.

When her dad, Thomas Collins met her mom, Leona Cullison, he was a widower. His first wife Daisy had died in 1918 at age 31, leaving him six children to raise.

Her mom, Leona Cullison, had been abandoned by her first husband, leaving her with three children to raise. She was living in a train car and surviving by hand washing clothing for other families when the county took away her children.

Thomas and Leona had four children together, of which Betty was the oldest. When she was seven, her mother Leona died in an operation. Shortly thereafter her dad moved the family to rural Arizona outside Clay Springs, where a son from his first family had a property where they could dry farm and live.

From that challenging start, Betty had a good childhood. She recalled moving into town in Clay Springs and then Pinedale with a life full of community ballgames, camping, family adventures, and school activities.

There was no money, but they lived simply and Betty recalled that they never went to bed cold or hungry.

She met Darrell, the love of her life, when he rolled into Pinedale to visit his family. He offered her a ride on his motorcycle and the rest is history. They married on Christmas Eve of her senior year of high school in 1944 and had 62 wonderful years together.

They had many adventures in their early married years as Darrell moved between contract logging and jobs as a union mechanic.  In 1948, they decided to visit family that had moved to Oregon. They loved southern Oregon and decided to stay, finding jobs at Harbor Plywood’s veneer mill in Riddle: Darrell on the green chain before becoming a millwright, and Betty in the office.

So long to Arizona and the heat in Mesa and Phoenix!

They built a home on Mill Creek; were flooded out; bought a home in Myrtle Creek; made many great friends; and loved the community dance club. They would have stayed in Myrtle Creek forever, but the mill closed, so they moved with the timber economy to Roseburg and then east Multnomah County.

One thing was missing from their lives. They deeply desired children. While waiting for the stork to deliver, they hosted foster children and explored adopting children. But the stork finally arrived, bringing first my sister Linda and then me.

We could not have asked for better parents. Betty prepared us for school with math flash cards and nightly book reading, hosted campfire girls and Boy Scout patrol meetings, and led the local PTA. She loved to garden, watch tennis, play pinochle, track genealogy, and read novels.

Together the family enjoyed camping, sailing, and racing quarter midget cars. In later life, Betty and Darrell played a huge role in helping raise their grandchildren: Linda and John’s children Erin, Lauren, and Stefan; and Jeff and Mary’s children Jonathan and Brynne.

Mom’s philosophy for her children was: Do your best. Do what’s right. And never step on anyone else to get ahead. She would often say, just follow the Golden Rule to treat others as you would want others to treat you.

Betty was the last alive among her twelve sisters and brothers. She is survived by her children, her grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.