Brian Mittge Commentary: Legendary Living Ladies of Lewis County


I hope many of you have had a chance to visit the Lewis County Historical Museum and its new exhibit on our area’s most noteworthy women, past and present.

For those of you who missed last week’s column (but surely none of you would do that!), I listed the museum’s current honorees and offered my own suggestions for other women in history who deserve recognition.

This week I continue with a look at some of our community’s remarkable women who are still alive and well. I should note that while most of them continue to live in our area, some of them have taken their talents out into the world and haven’t (yet) come back home. They still qualify.

Reading through this list gives so much reason for hope and optimism. These are people who teach, who lead, who build up our shared life together while in so many cases also working hard every day sustaining their families.

Women in general still bear by far the biggest share of child care in our culture, and working women (like my mother was and my wife is) carry a huge burden. The respect I have for them is immense and grows as I mature into a fuller understanding of just how much weight they carry, how much good they do and how in the the heck they make it look so easy.

Here, then, are some amazing living Lewis County women, in no particular order:

1. Joanne Schwarz, Lewis County’s first female county commissioner and a longtime community leader;

2. Bonnie Canaday, longtime Centralia civic leader and volunteer;

3. Samantha Styger, businesswoman and entrepreneur;

4. Janelle Williams, a teacher of English for 53 years at W.F. West and mentor to future Chehalis benefactor and school namesake James Lintott;

5. Mary Anne White, a 50+ year teacher in the Centralia School District and founder of the district’s Hi-Cap program;

6. Margarita Ayala, La Tarasca founder and head cook; matriarch of la Familia Ayala;

7. Heidi Pehl, longtime businesswoman, former executive at the Port of Chehalis;

8. Dr. Jennifer Polley, co-founder of Northwest Pediatrics;

9. Olga Miller, longtime Republican party leader;

10. Jan Nontell, artist, businesswoman and longtime Democratic party leader;

11. Amy Larson, Onalaska farmer and leader of the Newaukum River Band;

12. Connie Bode, Chehalis Foundation stalwart, major force in rebuilding the Chehalis pool;

13. Michelle Schilter, Adna dairy farmer and internationally active agricultural activist;

14. Sandy Marth Hill, 1965 Miss Lewis County, who went on to a career in television, including co-hosting Good Morning America;

15. Lori Fast, Centralia School Board member, longtime church leader;

16. Colleen State, longtime Centralia teacher, Chehalis School Board member;

17. The Rev. Alta Smith, now retired as pastor of Centralia United Methodist Church

18. Ruth Peterson, Boistfort community leader, conservative political activist;

19. Julie Shaffley, owner of the Good Health Nutrition Center, Port of Centralia commissioner;

20. Mary Garrison, Winlock business leader;

21. Angela Meade, international opera star originally from Centralia;

22. Laura Dowling, former White House chief floral designer, originally from Chehalis;

23. Jill Anderson, Chehalis City Manager;

24. Lindsey Senter, businesswoman, member of the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team;

25. Amanda McDougall, Centralia photographer and school board member;

26. Julie Pendleton, president of Dick’s Brewing Company and Northwest Sausage & Deli;

27. Vicki Pogorelc, co-founder of North Fork Timber Co; vice president of the Centralia Community Foundation;

28. Angela Wilcox, local arts, theater and homeschool education leader;

29. Amanda Hubbert, financial controller, Tires, Inc., and Chehalis Foundation board member;

30. Susanne Weil of Onalaska, a Centralia College professor of English and a longtime former secretary of the Lewis County Beekeepers’ Association;

31. Katherine Humphrey, Ceres farmer and longtime Boistfort School Board member;

32. Brandy Clark, originally from Morton, country singer/songwriter;

33. Sarah Jenkins, former editor of The Chronicle in the 1990s;

34. Marcy Anholt, stained-glass artist of national standing;

35. Christine Fossett, first female publisher of The Chronicle, now foundation leader for Centralia College;

36. Melissa Henderson-Hyatt, farmer and farm-to-table host; and

Honorary mention: Gina Smith of Vader, who in 1986 went on strike for 18 days to teach a lesson to her unappreciative children. She carried a sign reading “Mother on Strike” and put a sign around the dog’s neck reading, “I’m for Mom.” The stunt earned her a trip to The Tonight Show and eventually persuaded her children to sign a list of rotating chores. Twenty-years later, the now-grown children said it was embarrassing but necessary to get the point across.

I know I’ve left many worthy honorees off of this list, and I’d love for you to remind me of women who deserve to be included. Please send me a note at the email address below with your suggestions.


Dad joke of the week

This one comes from our 13-year-old daughter. A few weeks ago our family was cycling out the Willapa Hills Trail. We detoured off to pedal down Spooner Road. I was impressed by a line of stately Oregon white oak trees in a precise line along the road, and I said so aloud.

Me: “Wow, kids, look at this great straight line of oaks. What do you think of that?”

Our daughter: “They’re oak-ay.”


Brian Mittge writes for this hometown newspaper every Saturday. Drop him a line at