Woodburn resident reaches 100th birthday
Wencel Doubrava, a longtime resident of the Hubbard and Woodburn area, turned 100 on Sept. 18.
Doubrava was born in Texas but moved to Oregon when he was still a toddler.
He was raised on his parents' farm in Hubbard, where his family grew many different crops. That included prunes, which Doubrava's daughter Susan Frank said were exported internationally.
"His father didn't have much, but he was sort of an entrepreneur," Frank said.
Doubrava grew up helping with farm work and going to school. His parents were Czech and Doubrava grew up speaking that language. When he started school, he didn't speak any English.
He still remembers one time a teacher asked him if he had the chicken pox. Doubrava said he replied, "We have chickens, but we don't keep them in a box."
Doubrava grew up playing with what was available. That included a game in which he and his friends would throw a knife into a circle drawn on the ground. He also played football, a game that he always loved.
While still in school, Doubrava and his brothers started a band, with Doubrava on the guitar. He still remembers that they won a school talent competition playing Czech-style music.
But, as Doubrava said, it wasn't always happy growing up. His family was hit hard by the Great Depression. "My father lost all of his money," Doubrava said. "We had to start over." His father was determined not to go broke, though, and made sure to continue earning enough for the family to get by, Doubrava said.
When Doubrava was older, he stopped going to school and worked on the farm. A bit later, he got a job in Eastern Oregon. But before long, World War II broke out. "I decided the best thing to do was enlist," Doubrava said.
He became an artillery soldier and served for four years. Two of those years were spent training. During that time, Doubrava was assured by an older member of the military that, "You will not die until it's your time."
Frank said that was a saying Doubrava has repeated often throughout his life. It's still something Doubrava thinks about to this day, especially now that he's reached old age.
And it became true during his time in the military. He had a number of close calls, especially when it came to diseases. He contracted dengue fever while abroad in the Philippines.
And he remembers the 49 days he spent on the ship traveling to the Phillipines. Though he didn't have any close calls on the journey over, he remembers the soldiers weren't allowed to light cigarettes on the deck at night for fear of being seen by enemy forces.
Doubrava doesn't really remember when he found out the war had ended — he just felt relieved. He was able to return home to the U.S. For a few months after the war ended, he worked as a mechanic in Texas. He eventually moved back to Oregon, and it was during that drive home that he contracted malaria.
For days, he drove. The disease made him delirious, and he had no idea where he was. "Suddenly, things were turning green," he said of the scenery. He realized he had made it to Oregon. He took 99E into Hubbard and came home.
When Doubrava was 29, he married his wife Dorothy Pirkl. He had known her family for many years. Frank said that her mother's family was also Czech, and though the families lived states apart, the Doubravas and the Pirkls would visit often. In fact, her father wasn't the only Doubrava to marry a Pirkl — one of her uncles and two of her aunts also married people from the Pirkl family.
To marry Dorothy, Doubrava had to travel to North Dakota, her home state, for the ceremony. The two went back to Oregon after the marriage.
Ten months later, they had their first child, Susan. They were still living with Doubrava's parents and realized it was time for them to find a place of their own.
At first they rented a farm, but eventually he bought a 22-acre berry farm near his parent's home in Hubbard.
And, for the rest of his working life, Doubrava worked as a berry farm. He and his wife raised his children on the farm as well. They had a total of four children, three of whom are still alive today.
In 1990, Doubrava sold the farm and moved with his wife into a house in Woodburn Estates & Golf. Dorothy Doubrava passed away in 2015.
Doubrava now lives in Cascade Park in Woodburn. He's still in good health, and he enjoys some modern technology—Frank said he enjoys using FaceTime on her iPad to talk with some far-away relatives.
He said he doesn't know why he's lived so long. Frank doesn't have any theories, except for the fact that he's always had a calm demeanor.
"He is an extremely endearing, kind gentleman," Frank wrote in an email. "I have never heard him use a 4 letter word in my entire life or raise his voice in anger, yet he has a charming way of making his point."