Earl Stewart was a teenager, and like many boys his age was sometimes tempted to get into trouble. His father, Clint, was worried about Earl, and decided to give him a responsibility in hopes of “keeping him occupied.” Clint, the county agricultural inspector in Lane County, Oregon, volunteered to be Cottage Grove’s official weather observer. Almost immediately, he turned the job over to 15 year old Earl. The year was 1917.
Every evening at 6 p.m., Earl went into the back yard, and recorded the pervious day’s maximum and minimum temperatures and total precipitation. After carefully writing down the values on the log sheet, he reset the thermometers by shaking them. His friend Lloyd Griggs told me, “when I think about Earl I can still see him shaking those thermometers. He really got into it!”
Day after day, year after year, Earl faithfully recorded the weather readings. He seldom traveled, except to go hunting once or twice a year. He recruited a friend to stand in for him as observer on those days.
In January, 1930, a very cold Arctic air mass reached Oregon. The Climatological Data publication for that month reads, “A cold period which set in on the 5th and continued until near the close was the most persistent since statewide records began in 1890, and resulted in the lowest mean temperatures ever recorded for any month in Oregon.” Rivers and ponds froze over. Low temperatures recorded at Cottage Grove (by Earl, of course) in the 6-day stretch of January 9-14 were 19, 15, 10, 12, 8 and 18, respectively. Earl, an accomplished ice skater, decided to go skating on a frozen pond.
As he circled the pond, Earl noticed a young lady who was having great difficulty standing. He skated over and asked if she needed help; “oh, yes,” she said. Her name was Dorothy, and she had the same last name – Stewart. Dorothy recounted later,
“It was a great thrill when a young man skated up to me and asked if I would like to skim over the ice with him. I was delighted to be held up by his strong arms and go sailing across the ice in fine fashion. I felt very secure in his arms and completely thrilled to have the undivided attention of such a mature and handsome man.”
Earl was nearly 13 years older than Dorothy, and was cautious about asking her out. Several months later, however, he saw her in town and asked her to go riding in his new speedboat. Since Earl had a fine reputation in Cottage Grove, her parents allowed Dorothy to go.
They dated off and on for the next six years, and Earl eventually asked Dorothy to marry him. But they had acute religious and philosophical differences, according to Dorothy. She was from a very devout Pentecostal family, while Earl cared little about religion. Ultimately she decided that their differences were too great and turned him down. Later she met and married Larry Chapman. They were married for 46 years and had three children. Larry died of cancer in the early 1980s.
Not long after Dorothy broke off their relationship, Earl had a dream that Dorothy was coming toward him in a field, wishing to reconcile. He treasured the memory of this dream in his heart, and believed it would happen in seven years.
In 1962, the Columbus Day storm tore through Cottage Grove (as it did the rest of the Northwest – local winds exceeded 100 mph) and decimated the pear orchard on the 220 acre Stewart farm.. Earl decided to switch from pears to cattle. He kept on observing the weather.
After Larry’s death, Dorothy returned to Cottage Grove. One day she drove by Earl’s house with her friend Ona Wade. Seeing Earl’s pickup, she decided to stop and say hello to him. He was clearing a ditch with a shovel, and to get to where he was Dorothy had to cross a field – just like in his dream nearly 50 years earlier! Dorothy said to me, “instead of 7 years, it was more like 7 times 7.” Small detail.
Earl had never married, and still loved Dorothy; he called her “the only girl I ever loved.” They began to date again, and during their 15-month courtship, “Earl accepted the Lord in his heart.” A few months later, on Valentine’s Day, Earl came with flowers and stammered “Will you, will you, will you marry me?” Dorothy accepted. He was 80 years old. Earl continued to observe the weather.
In 1992, Earl was given an award by the National Weather Service. It commemorated 75 years of weather observations, and was named the “Earl Stewart Award.” I was among those invited to present Earl with the award, and it was an honor to meet him and his charming wife. So far, Earl is the only recipient of “his” award.
In 1996, Earl suffered a massive stroke, and died the next day. His “years of service” streak ended at 78. I suspect his record will never be broken.
I visited Dorothy in Cottage Grove. At90, she retained the grace and charm that captivated Earl when he met her 74 years before. She generously allowed me to borrow some materials, including books and pictures, that describe their lives. I am pleased to share them with you here.
Dorothy went to be with her Lord several years ago. I will never forget the Stewarts.