By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping by: Faith and family

Rusty Rae/News-Register ##
Nancy and Tom Paul do almost everything together, from reading the Bible to watching their granddaughters’ soccer games. Lucy, their Bichon Frise, is sitting on the couch to Nancy’s right.
Rusty Rae/News-Register ## Nancy and Tom Paul do almost everything together, from reading the Bible to watching their granddaughters’ soccer games. Lucy, their Bichon Frise, is sitting on the couch to Nancy’s right.

Tom and Nancy Paul celebrated their first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife 50 years ago.

They’d been married for two months. They were wed on Dec. 6, 1969, by a justice of the peace in Louisville, Kentucky. The churchgoers chose a quick ceremony for convenience, since Tom didn’t have much time off from his duties with the Army.

Nancy wore street clothes, rather than a wedding gown. Tom wore his uniform.

In those early days together, they were poor, Nancy said. She recalled how the rug froze to the floor of their mobile home.

Still, she said, “we had a wonderful time.” And when they could, they exchanged Valentine cards or little gifts. Nancy once gave her husband a bouquet made from Snickers, Butterfingers, PayDays and other candy bars he liked.

“Now Tom’s not supposed to have candy,” she said, noting that she’s a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup fan herself.

Most of all, on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year, the Pauls have enjoyed the gift of their shared Christian faith.

“God has been involved all the way through,” Tom said. 

“We just need to trust in the Lord whenever we have a question. He’s the Almighty,” Nancy said.

That goes for major life issues and for little ones, too. Tom kids his wife about losing things around the house, such as her phone. When that happens, she said, “I pray for the Lord to help me find it, and he does.”

Nancy said God helped them raise their seven sons, as well. “All the boys are Christians. They all love the Lord,” she said. “We all trust in the Lord.”

Their faith is their foundation, and it has helped them through good times and bad, including the loss of two of their boys.

“It’s a blessing to know our sons are in heaven, and that we’ll see them again,” Nancy said.

Her husband added, “When we lost our sons ... without having Christ to go to and talk with, we might not have made it. That’s the only way we made it through.”

Faith brought Nancy and Tom together in the first place. Both grew up in Willamina, and they met as young teens at Willamina Methodist Church.

The church no longer exists, but their memories of those days do.

“He was skinny and ornery,” Nancy recalled, smiling. “He used to bug me a lot. Teased me, all in fun.”

She added, “He was kind of flirty.”

Tom admitted that he was a tease. “It seemed like fun at the time,” he said, admitting that teasing gave a teenage boy “a way to be around her.”

They ended up good friends, and after five decades of marriage, they still are. “Friendship is very important,” Nancy said.

So is spending time together, she and her husband said. They read the Bible together and attend church every week, just as they did when their sons were growing up.

They’ve always had dinner as a family, whether that meant nine people around the table when their sons were growing up; nine-plus when the boys brought home friends, future wives and, more recently, some of their 13 grandchildren; or just the two of them these days.

“Family time is very important,” Tom said.

The Pauls have always loved to travel together, too. Last September, Tom and Nancy spent five weeks driving to the East Coast, where they visited relatives they hadn’t seen in decades. Lucy, their Bichon Frise dog, went along for the ride, which also took them to Portland, Maine, and to Niagara Falls.

When their sons were still at home, the whole family went to Disneyland every year. Tom’s parents joined the rest of the crew in their large van.

Tom and Nancy still love Disneyland. In fact, they went to the Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Day.

When Disneyland staff members found out the Pauls were celebrating their golden anniversary, they led the couple to VIP seats with the best view of the evening fireworks.

“So cool!” Nancy said.

She and Tom had celebrated their anniversary a few weeks earlier at the Baker Creek Community Church, which they attend. Former church leader Bard Marshall is their Sunday school teacher. Both Pauls have served on the Bethel Academy school board.

The church’s reception room was filled with family members and friends for their 50th.

“It was great, it was fun; everybody had such a good time,” she recalled.

They celebrated again on their way to Disneyland, stopping at a son’s place in Indio, Calif., for an anniversary dinner.

“Whenever we’re with family, we have a really good time,” she said.

When they were raising their kids, she and her husband also attended the boys’ sporting events as a family. They were co-presidents of the local booster club in The Dalles.

They were spectators at every game and match, although that was complicated, sometimes. At one point, four sons were playing baseball for five teams, so it seemed they needed to be everywhere at once. “But it was fun,” Nancy said.

Basketball also kept them on the road a lot.

Nancy recalled driving to Portland for games on treacherous winter roads in the Columbia River Gorge. One snowy day, all they could see were two tire tracks, she said. But they made it to the game.

Whatever their boys needed, the parents supported.

“Nancy always felt caring for the boys was very, very important, so she helped with the finances,” Tom said.

She became a state-certified day care provider, welcoming six other children into their home. At the time, the Paul family was small.

She and Tom didn’t know then they would soon have seven boys of their own, three from her first marriage and four from their life together.

They listed their sons by birth order: Tim Hamilton, a shop manager for a paving company; the late Tom Hamilton, who was a low-voltage electrician; Rick Hamilton, a manager for Oroweat; John Paul, who works in finance; the late Jason Paul, who was a high-voltage electrician; Jeremy Paul, a captain with the Portland fire department; and Joel Paul, finance manager for The Bible Project in Portland.

Their mother joked that each time the family moved over the years, another child arrived. “So we stopped moving,” she said.

The eldest and the youngest were born in the old McMinnville Community Hospital, located where Walgreens now sits.

The first three boys graduated from high school in The Dalles. The younger four graduated from McMinnville High School.

The Pauls remember every competition and accomplishment from their sons’ school days.

For instance, when Jason was a student in Dean Wimer’s small engine repair class, he won state and went to nationals in FFA competitions. Joel played basketball for the Linfield College Wildcats.

Another story involving both Jason and Joel: Jason was a teenager when Joel was born, and he loved taking the toddler with him. “Joel was so cute,” Nancy said, indicating that Jason may have used him to attract attention from girls.

It didn’t surprise her. “All my boys were adorable,” she said. “They still are.”

She recalled dreaming of her future family when she was a teen herself.

“I wanted five boys. God blessed me with seven,” said Nancy, who, out of necessity, keeps a calendar to remind her of birthdays, marriage dates and, now, events such as two granddaughters’ soccer games.

In another bid to earn money while staying home with her children, Nancy also mended and made alterations for a local dry cleaner. And she took in sewing, making custom garments.

Finally, she decided to start her own business, Seven Suns Embroidery, which she and her husband still run out of their McMinnville home.

She’d been doing embroidery by hand, and decided to try using a machine.

“I’m kind of a perfectionist,” she said.

Nancy started with a single-head embroidery machine and now has a six-header, which can produce six pieces at a time. She’s recently been working on patches to go on uniforms of her son Jeremy and other Portland Fire & Rescue employees — elaborate, densely stitched pieces with a red rose at the center and other symbols in four quadrants.

She also embroiders names and logos on all sorts of items, such as vests, shirts and mementos.

She doesn’t do hats, though. Tom, who sews by hand, is in charge of those.

But when they’re sewing, as when they’re doing almost anything else, they are together.


Army engineer to watermaster

Tom Paul’s Army service included deployment to Vietnam, where he built roads with an engineering battalion. After he returned to the U.S., the Pauls moved to Oregon for good.

He took a job with the State Engineers Office, now called Oregon Water Resource. The agency regulates water rights, water use by farmers, well construction, dam safety, stream flow and other issues.

After four years as a field tech, he was named watermaster in The Dalles. It was an interesting but sometimes harrowing job, he said.

One day, for instance, a farmer called the Paul house and threated to hurt Tom. Nancy and their eldest sons, 8 and 10, were frightened. “It’s a very scary business,” she said, recalling those days.

Tom left The Dalles after 11 years to become a manager, and later deputy director, at the state headquarters in Salem. Not long after his move from the Gorge, his replacement was assaulted — by the same farmer who’d made that threat against the Pauls.

Nonetheless, Tom said he has enjoyed the water agency. After 49 years, he still works part time.

Starla Pointer, who believes 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


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