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After 90 years, Woodburn resident still keeps active lifestyle

by: LINDSAY KEEFER - Phyllis Cochran, a Woodburn resident turning 90 on Thursday, poses with a 70-year-old photo of herself.Phyllis Cochran is celebrating her 90th birthday Thursday, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her.

The longtime Oregonian has kept active her entire life, whether it was helping with the war effort at an Air Force Base in California, working the tractor on her 40-acre farm or hand-stitching hundreds of quilts despite experiencing arthritis.

Cochran was born Phyllis Davis in Hood River, but her childhood was spent moving from house to house along the West Coast, totaling at least 25 different homes, she said.

“My mom had itchy feet,” she explained, referring to her mother’s desire to constantly be on the move.

During the Depression, her family lived with an aunt and uncle in Seattle, who ran a thrift store and helped the needy as part of their Quaker ministry. Along with her older brother and younger sister, young Phyllis would take the wagon down to the docks when the fishermen came in from the sea, and every so often a fisherman would toss them a fish.

“That was a real treat,” she said.

Her teenage years — and time during World War II — were spent in California. After watching her older brother go into the Army, Phyllis felt she needed to do something worthwhile too. So she became a “Rosie the Riveter,” working on B17 Flying Fortress airplanes at Lockheed in Burbank.

“I was actually not a riveter, but what you call the bucker,” Phyllis explained. “I would hold the steel bar they put the rivet in and hold it so it would flatten the rivet. It was quite the job.”

Being around planes certainly made her dream of becoming a pilot one day, but that was never to be.

“My brother talked me out of it,” she said simply.

But years later, she was given the opportunity at Aurora Airport to fly in a B17 airplane as part of a vintage airplane show. It only took nearly 70 years to fulfill her dream, she said.

“She’s always been fascinated with airplanes,” said her daughter, Karen Livingston. “When we lived in Las Vegas near Nellis Air Force Base she would always go outside when she heard a plane flying overhead.”

After a couple years, Phyllis took a less strenuous job working in printing in Pasadena. Little did she know that the work on blueprints she was doing was for the atomic bomb.

“You would never know what you were looking at because it was never one complete picture,” she said. “No one knew what they were looking at. Sometimes it was an 8-by-10 sheet, sometimes it was as big as a table.”

Things slowed down after the war, and Phyllis became homesick for Oregon. So she joined her parents, who were working at a market in Monitor. That’s where she met her first husband, Wayne Livingston.

“He came in to get lunch meat and bread,” she remembered.

The single father of two married her shortly after and brought her to his 40-acre farm on Barlow Road, where she lives to this day.

To help the family’s budget, Wayne had a job outside the home during the day. So while he worked, Phyllis plowed the wheat and oat fields. When he got home, he took over and she’d focus on the cooking and cleaning indoors.

“Once I was plowing, and it stopped working, so I took a part to the machine shop; when I left, the guy there said, ‘Now, that’s the kind of wife every man should have,’” she remembered. “I got it all done before my husband came home.”

When their two daughters, Arlene and Karen, were old enough to go to school, Phyllis took a job as a teacher’s aide at North Marion Grade School, then at Canby High School.

Working on and off the farm, in addition to sewing their clothes, didn’t leave a lot of free time.

But if there ever was down time, it was spent with the Silverton Horse Club or playing canasta, Karen said.

“But we never knew we were poor,” Karen said.

And eventually, Phyllis took up sewing quilts as well, all done by hand.

After Wayne died in 1985, it was harder for Phyllis to get everything done around the house and farm. She answered an ad in the paper for a handyman to come out and help. That man was Verl Cochran.

“He would never give her the bill,” Karen said. “He would always come back for some reason.”

The couple was married in 1987 and so, in addition to her two daughters and two stepchildren, Phyllis acquired another stepdaughter.

Even after Verl’s death in 2002, the family has remained in touch, with Verl’s daughter in Louisiana and Wayne’s children from his first marriage in California. And both of Phyllis’ girls are living with her at the moment.

“Even though they died, we’re all still family,” Karen pointed out.

In all, Phyllis said she has 15 grandchildren and countless great-grandchildren.

Ever since moving to Woodburn, Phyllis has attended Hoodview Church of God. In fact, her first husband’s father was one of the founders of the church in Woodburn.

“Mom has held every office there,” Karen said. “She’s still a greeter and on the outreach committee.”

The church is the site of an open house celebration of Phyllis’ birthday on Saturday between 2 and 4 p.m. Guests are asked to not bring gifts, only memories.

Even though she’s 90, Phyllis still drives and still remains active.

“I’m not giving up; if you do, you just collapse,” she said. “You can’t keep an old lady down.”