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Joyce Saari: gardening, grandkids — and a truck museum

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - Joyce Saari continues to indulge in her passion for gardening at her King City home.

Joyce Saari’s life has run the gamut from dancing with sailors at clubs in downtown Portland during World War II to working in the legal field to starting a successful truck museum to indulging in her lifelong passion of gardening.

“I’m a Portland girl — born in Portland at home,” says Joyc, who now lives in King City.

She graduated from Commerce High School, took correspondence courses to earn a degree from Hastings Business School while World War II was raging and told her mom that she wanted to go to work.

“A military supplier took me because I knew shorthand and had business training,” she recalls. “It was a great experience. And the actress Jane Powell was from Portland and did war bond rallies with a big band, and I sang at those rallies too.

“The big bands came to play at lunchtime where Pioneer Square is now. There was a constant coming and going of liberty ships, and all the sailors came to town. I was a member of the junior women’s business association, and one night a week I would volunteer at the USO in downtown Portland checking coats.

“We would teach the sailors to jitterbug and got invited to all the ship dances at places like the Jack & Jill nightclub. I was 20 — it was a lot of fun.”

Joyce still found time to work and switched jobs to go to work for an attorney as a legal secretary, eventually becoming a paralegal and spending 35 years in the law profession.

She married her first husband and had two children before they divorced. She married Del Hewitt in 1973, and they spent many years living as “gentlemen farmers.”

“Del had been a truck driver and then started a business selling accessories for big trucks, such as a monitor showing when the engine overheated as well as air-operated devices like window lifts,” she says. “He had an airplane to be able to fly parts around. We lived at first in downtown Portland, and he kept his airplane at the Hillsboro Airport, but they kept raising the rent, so he moved the plane to the Aurora Airport.

“He found a 20-acre property in Aurora for the business with a hangar to store the plane, and we moved there in 1974 to a 5,000-square-foot home on 16 acres. It was a very nice life.”

Del also was interested in antique trucks, belonged to the American Truck Historical Society and became president of the local chapter.

“A man who had restored an old truck asked Del to store it, and that gave him the idea of starting a truck museum,” Joyce says. “Another friend in the truck club was also in a tractor club at Brooks and negotiated a lease on four acres for $1 a year.

“So four of us started a truck museum and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Of course, I became the secretary. And eventually, six of us became the co-founders. The first thing we did was build our first building that was 100 feet by 75 feet, and we opened the museum with a 1917 Gersix, built by Gerlinger Motors of Salem and the forerunner of Kenworth, as our first featured truck.

“A guy in Grants Pass donated six trucks, and from there the museum grew. We doubled the size of the first building and then added a second one and a third. There are now more than 75 trucks under cover, plus a caretaker residence.”

by: JOYCE SAARI - Three of the couples trucks are on the move in 1995.

Today, the Pacific Northwest Truck Museum is run by “a wonderful group of volunteers, and three of the original six of us are still alive,” Saari says. “We have members from all over the world, and we are still leasing the land for $1 a year. Now there are 13 to 15 other clubs on the property like a fire engine club, a motorcycle club and a Caterpillar club. Each of the clubs has its own buildings, and during the last week in July and first week in August, there is a big tractor show there, and all the clubs have their buildings open.”

Besides working on the truck museum, Joyce was busy on the home front: When she and Del bought their Aurora property, 16 acres were leased out for hay production and a noble fir tree farm.

Del sold the business in 1988, and later he became ill with a lung disease. After his death in 2004, Joyce moved to King City. Her place was right across the street from Arnie Saari, who became her third husband in 2007.

“He was the love of my life,” Joyce says. “But we only had four years together before he died in September 2011.”

Joyce still stays plenty busy. “I bowled until my children got better than me, and I like cards — bridge in particular. My hobby is painting in oil, pastel and acrylic.”

Her condo has a good-sized yard, where she can indulge her passion for gardening, and she is active in the Iota Delta Chapter of Sigma Phi Gamma, which performs service work and raises funds for many nonprofit organizations.

Plus, thanks to her two children and seven step-children, “I have lots and lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she says.