Joyce Saari's life full of gardening, grandchildren and a truck museum
King City resident has flowers to grow and places to go
Joyce Saari's life has covered the gamut from dancing with sailors at clubs in downtown Portland during World War II to working for decades 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," said Joyce, who now lives in King City. "My mom was one of 13 who came from Canada, and we all lived within two blocks of each other."
Joyce, who 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," Joyce recalled. "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.
On the personal front, Joyce married her first husband and had two children before they divorced. She married Del Hewitt in 1973 and was married to him for 35 years, spending 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," Joyce said. "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 said. "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) non-profit 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."
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," Joyce said. "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."
Admission to the museum is free, but there is a gate fee, according to Joyce.
Besides working on the truck museum, Joyce was busy on the home front: When the couple first bought their Aurora property, 16 acres were leased out for hay production and a Noble fir tree farm.
"There was a 1946 Jeep on the property, and Del loved to drive it and haul hay," Joyce said.
Over time, they turned the 16 acres into a beautiful garden that included two ponds, one filled with catfish and one filled with koi, plus there were rhododendrons, azaleas and many other plants.
"Gardening is my passion," Joyce said.
One year Del put in a gazebo for Joyce's birthday, and they had a flock of geese. "We bought two from the neighbor and ended up with 35," she said.
In 1988, Del sold the business, but Joyce noted, "Together, we had accomplished many goals."
Eventually, Del became very ill with a lung disease and over the course of a year, his health declined so much that he spent time in St. Vincent Hospital. When he moved to a nursing hone in Oregon City, Joyce put the farm up for sale and moved to Oregon City to be near him. Del, who needed specialized care, went back to St. Vincent and then a care home in Gresham before dying in 2004.
While Joyce could have lived anywhere, "King City sounded like a good place," she said.
In 1968, Joyce had joined the Sigma Phi Gamma International Sorority and through the organization met Elsie Battaglia. They became friends, and when Joyce was looking for a place to live, Elsie, a King City resident, was wintering in Desert Hot Springs, and rented her place to Joyce in November of that year.
By the first of the year in 2005, Joyce had found her own place, right across the street from Arnie Saari, who became her third husband in 2007.
"We didn't meet right away, and he didn't ask me out for eight or nine months," Joyce said. "We were at a Western party at the King City Clubhouse, and he said, 'Aren't you my neighbor?' He said we should have dinner together, and I said I didn't cook, which was a lie.
"This was August 2007, and we started eating together every night and got married in November. His wife had died about the same time as Del with the same kind of lung disease."
They each owned a one-bathroom condo and wanted one with two bathrooms, so they each sold their places and bought a two-bathroom unit together.
"He was the love of my life," Joyce said. "But we only had four years together before he died in September 2011."
As far as activities and interests, Joyce said, "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."
Plus, thanks to her two children and seven step-children, "I have lots and lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren," Joyce said.
Her condo has a good-sized yard, where Joyce 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 non-profit organizations.
And there is always the truck museum to visit, which today has trucks made by GMC, Freightliner, International, Kenworth, Mack, Peterbilt, long-gone Autocar, Moreland, Samson, White and Yellow-Knight.
For those interested in visiting, the museum is located at 3995 Brooklake Road NE, Salem 97303. For more information, visit www.pacificnwtruckmuseum.org or call 503-463-8701.
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