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Unsung heroes – Author writes stories of Silverton’s first 100 years

Norman English with his book about Silverton

By Melissa Wagoner

Norman English didn’t set out to become a writer. But when he retired from a career as a Field Officer working for Workman’s Comp of Oregon 13 years ago, writing found him.

“I’ve always liked the process of writing,” English said. Recalling, “The first thing I printed was – we had a family reunion 20 years ago and leading up to it I thought, I want to write a book about family history. It was 100 pages or so and I really enjoyed that.”

In fact, he liked it so much that he decided to publish something for the world at large and, in order to motivate himself, he put it on his bucket list. 

“I thought the chances were pretty slim,” English laughed. Recalling that, had it not been for the option to self-publish, he might have never gotten it done. 

But he did. And his first book, an autobiography, Remembering… In Plain English, came out in January 2019, igniting a fire in English to keep going. 

“I gravitate to historical books,” English, a longtime member of the Silverton Country Historical Society, said. “And I got this notion in my head about Silverton – especially the early years.”

A third generation Silvertonian whose great grandfather migrated from the Midwest in the 1860s, English began researching the history of the town and finding, to his amazement, that there wasn’t a lot written down.

“I thought, this is overdue,” English recalled. 

And so he spent the next 18 months researching, culling and eventually compiling 80 individual stories about the historical characters who helped build the town he loves. 

“This community didn’t just happen,” English said. “There were a lot of people who worked pretty hard to get us where we are today… I think sometimes people forget that.”

Which is why he thinks this newest book, They Made It Happen!, is so important. 

“My main hope – and the impetus for my writing this – is that there’s something of a historic nature that people can grab on to,” English said. The book chronicles the lives of little-known characters like the man known as “Old Ying,” an immigrant who fled China in the late 1800s.

“There was an uprising in China and some of his family were killed,” English said. “Old Ying went into hiding for several days and then pretended to be dead.”

Upon his subsequent escape to the United States, Ying initially got a job building for the railway before eventually ending up, through an unknown twist of fate, in Silverton, living in a shack near the Gallon House Bridge.

Sadly, his story does not have a happy ending.

“Eventually he wound up at the State Hospital, where he died and his ashes have been unclaimed.”

That story, as well as a host of others, enthralled English, making the decision of when to stop writing difficult. 

“You want to include everybody who needs to be included,” English said. “But all I could do was start with the ones I know and work from there.”

And that is what he did, beginning with his great grandfather and grandfather, English worked his way through the years, telling the stories of Homer Davenport’s father, the three Silverton policemen who lost their lives in the line of duty, and the many military veterans whose names are now on the wall of the War Memorial in Town Square Park, which English helped build. 

“There’s really been nothing else that honors these individuals,” English explained. 

Now there is. And it’s available to anyone who would like a copy at the Silverton Senior Center, the Silverton Country Museum or Books N Time on Water Street for $18.95. 

“If I sell out of this book I’ll be delighted because it shows that someone has an interest,” English said. 

Book Signing for They Made It Happen!
by Norman English

A showcase of Silverton’s first 100 years.

Books N Time
210 N. Water St., Silverton
Friday, Nov. 5, 6 – 8 p.m.
Author reading at 7 p.m.

Silverton Country Museum
428 S. Water Street
Saturday, Nov. 6, 1 – 4 p.m.
Author reading at 2:30 p.m.

Also available at the Silverton Senior Center
115 Westfield St., Silverton

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