Starla Pointer/News-Register##Ellen McMurray keeps a positive outlook, no matter what happens. “Don’t hold a grudge,” she advises. The 90-year-old is a regular volunteer at the Yamhill-Carlton Food Bank.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Ellen McMurray keeps a positive outlook, no matter what happens. “Don’t hold a grudge,” she advises. The 90-year-old is a regular volunteer at the Yamhill-Carlton Food Bank.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: Helping others and holding no grudges

“My life has been an adventure,” the Yamhill resident said. “My life has not been tranquil, but I’ve had an interesting, varied life. A good life.”

She’s working on recording her tales. She’s taken the “Write Your Life Story” course at Chemeketa Community College several times, and taught a similar class herself. 

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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She has notebooks filled with recollections, many of them cataloged by year and month. She also developed her own system of triggering memories — a page with the main topic in the center, surrounded by spokes on which to write details.

For instance, she might label a page “2005” and put “Statue of Liberty” in the center. Then she could cover the spokes with memories of the 80th birthday gift her children gave her, a trip to New York City to see the symbolic lady.

The more details, the better the finished story, said McMurray, who calls her own story “Growing Up Me.”

“I’ve always been interested in autobiographies,” she said. “I’d rather read something that teaches you something, rather than a novel.”

She also has a lifetime hobby of collecting quotations, beatitudes and sayings. “I find them anyplace, every place,” she said. She carries several books of quotes with her. “The big notebook is at home,” she said.

Among her favorites: “Life is a leaf of paper white, whereupon each of us must write.”

Another: “I believe very strongly every action in our lives will touch some chord that will vibrate through eternity.”

Other sayings address the idea that everything we do touches someone. “We never know the results of our actions,” for instance, and additional quotes that urge us to make those actions positive.

McMurray knows those sayings by heart, and she takes them to heart, as well.

That’s one of the reasons she spends each Wednesday morning volunteering at the Yamhill-Carlton Food Bank.

She arrived at the site, behind Carlton Community Church, a little after 9 a.m. on a recent rainy Wednesday.More than a dozen people were already lined up for the produce and baked goods distribution; later, families would come to pick up boxes and bags of food.

“Oh, boy, looks like I need to be here!” McMurray called, looking at the stacks of empty boxes that needed to be filled.

She’s the box wrangler. She also keeps the area organized and helps put out the produce on days when she’s not busy with an interview.

Other volunteers greeted her warmly. “We love Ellen,” Carolyn Ohlhauser said, and her sentiment was echoed by several others.

McMurray said she became a volunteer at the Yamhill-Carlton Food Bank five or six years ago, when it was still called Joseph’s Storehouse. The nonprofit program needed volunteers.

“You cannot take without doing,” she said, reflecting on times when others have helped her.

She spends most Wednesday mornings at the site, located behind the Carlton Community Church at Fifth and East Main streets. She took an “intermission” from the volunteer job in 2011, when she was dealing with blood cancer, then resumed her faithful service.

McMurray was born Ellen Payne on June 7, 1925, “in the mountains” west of Carlton and Yamhill. “You go out past Moores Valley” and keep going, she said, describing her childhood home.

She was the first of eight children.

“I didn’t wait for the doctor to get there,” she said. “Dad delivered me.”

When she was 3, their house burned down. They stayed with her grandparents until her dad finished building a one-room log cabin. As more children arrived, he added on — a second room, then another and another, until they had a spacious four-room house. 

Outside, they had cows, horses and pigs. Inside, they had lamps and a woodstove. Electricity wouldn’t reach their place until 1951.

She and her siblings went to a one-room school close to their home. Often, there were no more than eight students, most of them her brothers and sisters. Helen Walters is the teacher she remembers best.

When she reached high school, she rode a bus into Yamhill for her classes.

“That was really scary — 250 kids!” she said. “They tried to civilize us hillbillies.”

She eventually got used to the “city” school, from which she graduated with the Class of 1944.

While still in school, she volunteered as an aerial observer watching for enemy planes.

She and a friend had the 4 to 8 p.m. shift. They’d walk through the woods to the observation post on a hill three miles from home. 

“One night, we were walking in the snow and we heard crunch, crunch, crunch behind us. When we stopped, the crunching stopped, and when we went on, it started again,” she recalled.

She told her father, and the next morning he went out looking for their tracks. He discovered what was following the girls — a mountain lion.

McMurray, who had taken care of her brothers and sisters all her life, left home at 16. Still in school, she supported herself by babysitting and waitressing at the Douglas Cafe in downtown McMinnville.

After graduating, she moved to Portland to spend World War II working in the shipyards. Her job was installing insulation in new Liberty ships.

She and a friend were walking through downtown Portland one day when they met some sailors fresh off a ship docked on the waterfront.

One of them was Billy Bob McMurray, her future husband. He was a Navy gunner who had just returned from fighting in the Pacific Theater.

He was a very determined man, she said. “He was determined he’d marry me!”

They went to Oklahoma, his home state, for their 1945 wedding. Both were 19.

“That wasn’t too young,” she said. “Remember, I’d been making my own decisions since I was 16. And I was pretty much mom to my younger brothers and sisters.”

Since he was still in the service, they moved to a Navy base in Nevada.

She found a job boxing up mine parts to ship overseas. She had to wrap the boxes with masking tape, then dip them in wax so they would stay dry.

After his discharge, the couple moved back to Portland. They soon had six children.

Feeling flush in September 1955, they bought a new car. Two months later, Billy Bob came down with polio, changing their lives.

His health improved, though, and he was able to resume his work as a logger. He served as a Scoutmaster for many years as well.

In 1958, they had another life-changing experience when they met a group of Mormon missionaries and joined the Latter-day Saints Church. McMurray said her strong faith remains the core of her life. 

The McMurrays went on to have two more children, for a total of eight.

For their kids’ sake, as well as their own, they decided to leave Portland in 1964 and return to the Yamhill area. She’s been there for 50 years now.

While her husband worked in the woods, McMurray raised the children.

She also took various jobs, including selling cosmetics or photographing children with Santa. She liked the variety, she said, and besides, “I kept finding things with more meaning.”

She and her husband oversaw crews of teens who moved chickens and did other tasks to earn money for a new roof on their church. The youths also were able to save some of their earnings for college, cars and clothes.

For a decade, she was in charge of the motel at the Flying M Ranch, she said. She also worked in the lodge as needed.

Another time, she worked in a care home. “I’m very glad for that experience, because I got to be with my mother when she passed,” she recalled.

McMurray lost her husband in 1998. He’d spent the last seven years of his life in a care home.

She’s pleased to say that all of their eight children are doing well.

One son, Eldon, is a college professor in Utah. Their youngest daughter works in fiber optics. Their oldest daughter, Patricia Schutz, works at the hospital in Newberg.

She has 37 grandchildren and more than 60 great-grandchildren.

Her first great-great-grandchild was born last October. To celebrate, she and her daughter Pat, the great-grandmother, flew to Fort Gordan, Georgia, to pose for a five-generation photo.

Her next great-great-grandchild is due in March.

McMurray would like to give those great-greats a piece of advice. 

“Don’t hold grudges,” she said. “That’s very important.”

She doesn’t, despite some pretty bad things that have happened in her life. 

“I could’ve been bitter,” she said. “I could have been.

“But I’m not. I just feel sorry for those who hurt me.”

And McMurray has another bit of advice: Stay positive.

“I’ve always tried to look at the positive,” she said. “If you don’t like it now, wait a while and it’ll change.”

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



Lovely story. You go girl...Ellen McMurray!!! :)

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