Marcus Larson/News-Register##Though he’s now retired, Vern Hinshaw visits Parkway Natural Foods several times a week for lunch and conversation. His daughter, Kathy, runs the store.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Though he’s now retired, Vern Hinshaw visits Parkway Natural Foods several times a week for lunch and conversation. His daughter, Kathy, runs the store.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: A wholesome life

Vern Hinshaw's story is one of driving cross-country, farming, baking bread, running a health food store and reading the Bible on a daily basis.

At 89, the McMinnville man describes himself as low-key and calm, the latter possibly related to his decision to skip having a television set or cell phone.

His health is good and his memory impeccable.

"I say I have my own teeth, good hearing, good eyes and half a brain," he quipped. "I'm doing pretty good."

All joking aside, he said, "I've had a full life, a good life. "I've been able to help people."

The joys of family, work, travel

Vern and his family have owned Parkway Natural Foods in McMinnville since 1972.

He worked long past typical retirement age, but finally hung it up. His daughter, Kathy, is running the store.

Stopping By

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996.

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Still, Vern comes in three or four times a week for lunch and conversation.

He chats with friends who have been customers for years. In fact, some are second- or third-generation customers.

During a recent visit, a woman dropped by to say hello and introduce her husband.

"How are you?" she asked Vern.

"I'm doing great," he told her. "I've done a lot over the years, and I've been very blessed."


Vern grew up in a Quaker family. He spent his early years on a dairy farm perched on the banks of the Willamette River just south of Newberg. As a little boy, he watched, then helped, milk Jerseys by hand.

One day when he was 7, his dad needed to move the tractor up to the barn. He handed young Vern the keys to their Model T and told him to drive the car back to their house by himself.

"He'd already taught me to drive," Vern recalled, so that first solo trip didn't seem like any big deal.

He would be in the driver's seat of an Allis-Chalmers tractor at age 9. By 12, he'd be driving the tractor to fields all over the northern Willamette Valley for his father's commercial threshing business, started after the family left the dairy.

The same year he first drove a car by himself, Vern's family moved into Newberg, which then had a population of about 3,000. Vern walked to classes at Mabel Rush Elementary.

Later, he skated to school. Even later, he pedaled a bike. He never rode a school bus.

Sometimes he was loaded down with both his school books and his band instrument. Vern started out playing clarinet, then switched to saxophone.

He still loves music. He took his sax out and played on his 89th birthday last July 21.

After he finished his sophomore year in Newberg, Vern's parents sent him to a boarding school in a Quaker community in Idaho. "They dreamed I'd go to college, so they wanted me to be ready," he said.

From there, he went on to a private Quaker school in Barnesville, Ohio. He headed for Ohio in August 1945, driving a 1928 Chevy.

He was accompanied by his sister and a young married couple they knew. They fueled up with 19 cent a gallon gas, then set out at 2 a.m. on the 2,500-mile, five-day trip.

They'd only reached Albany when their windshield broke, and replacing it cost $8.

For much of the trip, they limped along on bad tires. The war was on, so new tires were impossible to find, Vern said.

They were able to get a used tire here and there, though, and that was good enough to carry them along.

In Ohio, Vern sold his car. His dad had ordered a new, two-ton truck through a relative in Lansing, Michigan, and he planned to get by without a vehicle until it was ready the following June.

But when he took a steam train to Lansing at the end of his school year, the truck still wasn't ready. So he bought a 1941 Plymouth and drive it back home to Newberg.

Ten days later, he learned the truck was finally ready. So he set out by bus for Michigan. 

The return trip with the new truck was leisurely.

"Back then, they told us  not to go faster than 25 mph for the first 500 miles with a new vehicle, then to add 5 miles an hour for the next 500, and so on," he recalled. As a result, he said, "I really got to see the country."

He stayed in Oregon a few weeks to help with the prune season, then drove the truck to Iowa to pick up a piano. From there, he headed to  Ohio.

The 19-year-old had a big date in Barnesville. He and his fiancé, Edie, had scheduled their wedding for Oct. 9, 1946.

Newly married, they headed for Niagra Falls. "We honeymooned in a two-ton truck," Vern said.

He then drove back across the country again, this time with his bride.

Not long after they arrived in Oregon, Vern came down with typhoid fever, though. "I just about didn't make it," he recalled.

Fortunately, he recovered, and he and Edie settled into their life together. They started by buying a house.

The price was $4,000, fully furnished. Their mortgage payment was $25 a month.

They left Newberg three years later, moving to a farm in Centerville, Washington, near the Columbia River Gorge. They would grow hay and raise cattle there. Vern would join the Grange, to which he still belongs.

They drove to Centerville in January 1950, in the middle of the coldest winter in Vern's considerable memory. "As we crossed at Portland, we could see ice forming in the river," he recalled.

Temperatures recorded at Goldendale, just northeast of Centerville, remained well below zero for six weeks. 

The Columbia froze over in places. Multnomah Falls froze into a cascade of ice. Residents told stories of deer walking across the river, and Vern met a man who said he had driven across.

A few years later, about 1956, the thermometer plummeted again. The unusual chill didn't last like it did in 1950. But for a few days, the Hinshaws' old farmhouse cracked and popped as the temperature plunged to as low as 49 below.

They brought four bummer lambs into their big kitchen, the warmest place in the house, to keep them from freezing. Until the weather improved, the lambs huddled near the wood stove beside Vern, Edie and the couple's children Kathy, Phillip, Tricia and David.

"It was never that cold again," Vern recalled.


Vern and Edie ran their farm together. They harvested up to 20,000 bales of hay, "all by hand."

They canned about 500 quarts a year of vegetables from their garden and cherries and pears from their trees. They butchered their own meat, milked a cow and gathered eggs from their chickens.

The work was hard on Vern, who had injured his back as a teenager.

He drove down to McMinnville from time to time to be treated by Dr. White, who built the mansion at the Bayou golf course. Eventually, White performed an operation that relieved the farmer's pain.

But the doctor also issued a warning: Change occupations, or expect more back problems.

The Hinshaws decided to buy a retail business so they could continue working together. They considered a hardware store or candy store, but ended up buying a health food store instead in 1970 — Staff of Life in Gladstone.

The business was located on a busy street. It came with a small apartment upstairs, which was quite a squeeze for them, after life in a farmhouse surrounded by plenty of land.

Downstairs, Edie ran the retail operation while Vern baked half a dozen different kinds of bread in the in-store bakery.

"It was a major, major change," recalled Vern, who had to learn how to use a giant dough mixer and rotating bread oven. "The first six weeks, we were so tired, we just crawled up the stairs to bed at the end of each day."

But they liked running the shop. So a year later, they added a second health food store in Oregon City. And in 1972, they bought a third — Parkway Natural Foods in McMinnville.

The downtown store had opened in the early 1960s. It had since been sold twice and moved to 111 N.E. Third St.

The Hinshaws bought the Third Street outlet, then opened a branch outlet in the Town Center shopping center. That was 1976, and it's still there today.

For a few years, they managed stores in three cities — McMinnville, Oregon City and Gladstone. Vern baked for all three, producing 600 loaves a week and driving 80 miles a day to deliver it,

The schedule was tough, but he enjoyed baking, especially in the winter. It was, he noted, "nice and warm in there."

Baking reminded of his elementary school days in Newberg.

After the final bell at Mabel Rush, he'd walk to his grandmother's house. She often offered him freshly made bread, still warm from the oven.

"She'd give me a heel with butter," he said. "Man, that was good!"


Vern had no inkling then that he'd someday run a natural food store, of course. But the homemade bread he loved was indicative of the healthful food on which he was raised.

"My mother never had junk food or pop in the house," he said. His parents didn't drink coffee, either, so Vern never picked up that habit.

When he had his own family, they ate well, too. "Basic stuff," not store-bought food with additives, he said.

His wife was a very good cook, he said. She prepared meals using home-grown produce and food they had preserved. 

Still, they hadn't thought much about "health food" before buying their first store. As daughter Kathy, who now runs Parkway Natural Foods, said, the family "didn't know Vitamin A from Vitamin B" when they entered the business.  

They learned quickly, though.

The son of Staff of Life's original owner stayed on as manager, and he taught the Hinshaws about everything the store carried. He also showed them how how to package bulk items, and shared the recipe for the store's popular granola. 

Vern said that learning about natural foods and products changed him somewhat. To this day, he said, he probably exercises more and drinks more water than he would have otherwise.

He's quick to recommend drinking the number of ounces a water equal to half your body weight every day -- 50 ounces of water for a 100-pound person, for instance.

"It's good for you," he said. "It's better than pop or coffee. Those have caffeine, and maybe sugar."

He believes "keeping your mind active" is another key to good health. In addition to his daily Bible readings, he reads plenty of nonfiction, ranging from newspaper and magazine articles to memoirs and other books. 

"Keep a positive attitude," as well, he suggested. "Reduce stress and watch what you put in your mouth."

Love is another important factor in good health, he said. "We need to love ourselves," he said, as well as loving others and letting them love us.

Self-love is especially important, he said, and people who've had it rough in life may need to work hard to "rise above the negatives." If they cannot, he said, they may be caught up in destructive behavior, such as taking drugs, drinking or smoking. 

His own childhood wasn't easy: He grew up during the Great Depression in a one-room tarpaper shack. 

But they had their faith and each other. And they had the dairy, so no matter how tough the times, "We always had milk."

Comparing life today to back then, he said, "We live like kings." But he said all the stuff that crowds our lives and takes up our time doesn't necessarily make our lives better.

"Your health is the most important thing you've got," he said, "except the Lord."

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or


The joys of family, work, travel

Leaving home to go to boarding school turned out to be a lifechanging experience for Vern Hinshaw.

Vern worked part time in the kitchen, in addition to concentrating on his studies. And he became acquainted there with Edie, older by a couple years.
Already finished with her studies, she had returned to work with her mother at the Barnsville, Ohio, school, preparing meals for the students.

Not long after they met, Edie hinted to Vern that “there’s a girl here who likes you.” He went down the list of female classmates’ names, guessing that each was the one. Edie kept saying no, and finally he’d run out of other possibilities.

“You?” he asked her, and she said, “Yes.”

“She was the one who started it,” he said.

Edie knew what she wanted, and soon Vern was convinced, too. They started going out in January 1946. By the end of March, they were engaged.
In the six months before they married, Vern was away for weeks at a time, driving back to Oregon to help with the prune harvest and other work.
During their separation, Edie wrote him seven love letters.

She didn’t mail them, though. She just tucked them away with her private papers.

After Edie died in 2003, three years shy of their 60th anniversary, their daughter, Kathy, found the letters. They provided her with a poignant reminder of her parents’ courtship.

Though the Hinshaws were quick to wed, their marriage lasted. They raised four children, and Vern now dotes on 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, with one more on the way.

Vern and Edie loved working together in the family business. They kept going well past the age when many people finish careers.

“Edie said the Bible doesn’t say ‘retire at 65,’” Vern noted.

He has great memories his late wife. And he fondly remembers family activities, including crosscountry trips.

One time, Edie and the children took a train to Ohio to visit her parents for the summer. Vern arranged to join them in Ohio, then drive a 46-passenger school bus from a factory there back to Washington.

As summer came to a close, he loaded up his family and boxes of canning jars, which Edie had filled during her “vacation,” and they headed west, detouring though Yellowstone National Park.

He and Edie and the children also took trips purely for pleasure. He toured New England by car, drove Highway 101 all the way to Mexico, stopped in Florida to see a space launch, and cruised through the Panama Canal.

Three years ago, he and daughter Kathy drove the Alcan Highway up to Anchorage, Alaska, then boarded a cruise ship to return to Vancouver, B.C.
Given all those trips, Vern has seen much of the country and continent. “It’s pretty hard to beat the Willamette Valley, though,” he said.

And not just for the scenery, he said, observing, “We don’t have too many bad storms. We’re close to the ocean. And there’s not too much humidity or too many bugs.”



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