Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

August 16, 2002

ROY COLES of Portland, a retired executive secretary-treasurer of the Oregon State Council of Carpenters, has been selected by the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council for its Labor Hall of Fame.

Coles, 86, retired from the Carpenters' state post in 1979 after serving in that job for 10 years. For a decade prior to that he was business agent of Pile Drivers Local 2416 of Portland.

Today it is Pile Drivers, Divers and Shipwrights Local 2416. Its office is in the Carpenters Local 247 Building at 2205 North Lombard St. Coles' career as a full-time union officer spanned 20 years and 11 elections.

He was born on April 2, 1916 as Roy William Coles near Clatskanie in Oregon's Columbia County. He attended grade school and high school in Clatskanie and participated in all sports, including a local boxing program. At age 13 he started helping his mother run the family farm following the divorce of his parents. He also worked for a neighbor who was a commercial fisherman. Roy set fish traps in the Columbia River and also drove piling in the river, a job experience to which he traces his interest in pile driving as an occupation.

AFTER HIGH SCHOOL in 1933, with the country gripped by the Great Depression, Coles worked in Northwest logging camps and sawmills, and as a commercial fisherman. He married his school days' sweetheart, Fay Wood, in 1936. "We were blessed with two children, a son, Robert, and a daughter, Trudi," he said. Fay died of cancer in 1954 at age 39. "We have six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren," he added.

Coles joined the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) in 1937 as a millwright's helper at a mill in Bradwood, near Wauna. Two years later he transferred to a Shingle Weavers local, also in the UBC, upon taking a job in a shingle manufacturing plant at Astoria on the North Oregon Coast.

Two years later, in 1941, he transferred to Pile Drivers Local 2416 in Portland. In 1943, with the nation fighting World War II, Coles enlisted in the United States Army after working at Oregon Shipyard as a rigger.

"After boot camp in Texas, I shipped to England and on June 19, 1944, I landed on Utah Beach in France with the 25th Combat Engineers of the Sixth Armored Division," he recalled. The Sixth Armored Division participated in liberating France from its occupation by the army of Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany. As a sergeant, Coles fought the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and Luxembourg from Dec. 16, 1944 through Jan. 25, 1945. That military campaign has been called "the greatest battle ever fought by the United States Army."

FOR HIS ROLE in the liberation of France and in defeating the Germans, former Sgt. Coles recently received a "Thank-You-America Certificate" from the French government, which he framed so he could display it on a wall in his Southeast Portland home. His name also is listed on a memorial to the veterans of the Battle of the Bulge which stands in Orlando, Florida. Coles has not seen the memorial but was sent a photograph of it.

Coles came home from the war in December 1945 and took a job with the fire department at the Beaver Ammunition Depot at Clatskanie. After six months on that job he returned to the pile driving trade with Local 2416. He worked out of Local 2416's hall until April 1949, when he moved his family to the Coos Bay area. There, he went into the business of logging and driving a log truck until the summer of 1955. That year he married his present wife, Theda. "We celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary in July of this year," he said.

COLES RETURNED to the pile driving trade out of Local 2416 after leaving Coos Bay. He worked on various construction projects as a foreman and superintendent until 1959 when he won election as the union's business agent. "I was involved shortly after my election in the longest strike by Carpenters, Pile Drivers and Millwrights," he recalled. "I was elected as chairman and spokesman for contract negotiations and continued in that role for the following 21 years."

A notable achievement of his as Local 2416's leader was helping to set up a Pile Driver Apprenticeship Program in the early 1960s. "It was a two-year apprenticeship that was comprehensive enough to be approved by the State of Oregon," he noted.

From 1959 to 1979 Coles served as a trustee on all Carpenter trust funds, including pension, health and welfare, apprenticeship and savings. He remembers rejecting sales pitches to invest Carpenters' funds in the now-disgraced-and-defunct Capital Consultants.

OREGON GOVERNOR TOM McCALL appointed Coles in 1970 to the Oregon Workers' Compensation Advisory Board. In 1973 Coles was elected to the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board. He also was a delegate to United Brotherhood of Carpenters international conventions and was a delegate to conventions of the state AFL-CIO and to various building trades councils and also to central labor councils.

When he became the leader of the Carpenters State Council in 1969, the total wage package for a journeyman was $5.75 an hour; when he retired in 1979 it was $14.61 an hour.

On a personal note, Coles recalled that on a trip to San Francisco he looked up his father, who was a proud-to-be-union bartender who was also proud of his union son. "He wore wide suspenders that were filled with union buttons," Roy said.

CONTINUING, COLES SAID: "I am very fortunate to be one of those World War II veterans still living, and also to be a cancer survivor. I continue to attend some Local 2416 meetings, to participate and visit with old and new Brothers. I am very proud to have been a union member for 59 years and to have been able to associate with members of other unions."

Noting that he retired in 1979 "to be with my extended family and free to hunt, fish and travel the winter months in our motorhome," he added that "due to my dear wife's medical problems we have ceased traveling and now spend time enjoying family and friends."

Roy's strong feelings about union solidarity still keep him from subscribing to the non-union Portland Oregonian newspaper 37 years after 850 newspaper union strikers ended their picketing at the New York-owned Oregonian and its now-defunct partner in 1959-65 union-busting, the Oregon Journal, which the Newhouse chain junked 20 years ago.


SHIRLEY L. O'HALLORAN, widow of Iron Workers leader John J. O'Halloran, died in Portland on Aug. 1 at the age of 74. Her death came two years after his.

Mrs. O'Halloran, known as "Frankie," was born as Shirley LaVerne Van Vranken on Sept. 27, 1927 in Miami, Oklahoma, in that state's northeastern corner. Her family moved to Portland when she was a child. She graduated from Tigard High School.

A TALENTED SINGER, she had her own program on KGW Radio using the stage name Shirley Van. This was in her teen years. She married John O'Halloran in 1947.

Mrs. O'Halloran worked as a cook at the Tigard High School cafeteria and also at Portland Community College's Sylvania cafeteria. Later, she was an occupational therapy instructor at PCC. She was a gifted writer; some of her observations on her family and on life were read by her children at her Funeral Mass on Aug. 6 at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Tigard. The service was followed by vault interment at the church's cemetery.

SHE IS SURVIVED by four sons, John, Timothy, Matthew and Rory; three daughters, Frances, Kathryn and Patricia; and a multi-cultural group of 16 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.


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