By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Locals remember ‘Girl From Yamhill’

Courtesy Cleary Family Archive##Beverly Cleary at work. The Yamhill native was known for books such as  Ramona Quimpy, Age 8  and  The Mouse on the Motorcycle.
Courtesy Cleary Family Archive##Beverly Cleary at work. The Yamhill native was known for books such as "Ramona Quimpy, Age 8" and "The Mouse on the Motorcycle."
Courtesy Cleary Family Archive##Beverly Cleary collects fans  letters. Her son said the family needed the largest mailbox on the block to hold all the correspondence from readers.
Courtesy Cleary Family Archive##Beverly Cleary collects fans' letters. Her son said the family needed the largest mailbox on the block to hold all the correspondence from readers.
Courtesy Cleary Family Archive##Cleary worked as a children s librarian before starting to write books herself.
Courtesy Cleary Family Archive##Cleary worked as a children's librarian before starting to write books herself.

Cleary was the author of numerous children’s books, including “Ramona the Pest,” “Dear Mr. Henshaw” and “Mouse on a Motorcycle.”

Melanie Johnson of McMinnville recalled loving the Romana books when she was a child. Her daughter and now her granddaughter have enjoyed the series, as well.

Many of the stories were set on Klickitat Street in Portland, where her family moved after leaving Yamhill.

Children’s author Stephanie Shaw of McMinnville grew up not far from Klickitat Street.

“I was convinced her characters were real and looked forward to meeting Henry and Ribsy,” said Shaw, a retired educator who was principal of Wascher Elementary in Lafayette. “I absolutely adored her writing as it captured the place and time of my childhood perfectly.”

In later life, Cleary wrote about her early days in a memoir, “Girl from Yamhill.” She also recalled her Yamhill days in a special that OPB produced in 2016, on the occasion of Cleary’s 100th birthday.

The Oregon Art Beat special was called “Lucky All the Way,” which was how Cleary described her life.

Cleary’s childhood home still stands in Yamhill: a large Queen Anne-style house at the west end of Third Street. Her grandparents had owned a house on McBride Cemetery Road that later was purchased by the former in-laws of Carlton’s Joni Marten.

One day, Cleary stopped by, asking for a tour of the house. “Tea and conversations and some book signing was involved in their afternoon time together,” Marten recalled. “Such a gracious woman.”

Cleary said her writing career started on the family farm in Yamhill. She developed observational skills there, and learned to value books when her mother, Mable Bunn, read aloud to the family each evening.

Her mother, who believed strongly in the importance of reading, persuaded the Oregon State Library to send books to Yamhill. She established the city’s first lending library on the second floor of the bank building at Maple and Main streets.

Cleary earned a degree in library science at the University of Washington after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley. As a children’s librarian, she met young readers who inspired characters in her books, including her first, “Henry Huggins,” written in 1950.

The author said she wanted to portray realistic children. Her characters’ flaws made them even more appealing to generations of young readers.

“They were kids like me, not fantasies, but real kids and real family situations,” said Sharon Buehler, who retired after many years as an elementary librarian in the McMinnville School District.

She read and recommended Cleary’s books to students. “It was such a big deal to them that she’d lived in McMinnville,” Buehler said.

In 2019, Yamhill residents celebrated the legacy of Cleary and her mother with a birthday celebration that also served as a fundraiser for a future library.

Cleary also is remembered across the nation on her birthday, April 12, which has been designated D.E.A.R. Day, for “Drop Everything and Read.”

According to her publisher, HarperCollins, donations in the author’s name may be made to the Library Foundation of Portland, Oregon, or the Information School at the University of Washington.

Cleary is survived by her children, Malcolm and Marianne, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

She was predeceased by her husband, Clarence Cleary. He is buried in the Pike Cemetery near Yamhill, where a headstone with the author’s name also is located.

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