Joyce Beers and Willie Wornstaff


With the upcoming 117th year of the Rhododendron celebration, it was an ideal time to visit and chat with a 1952 Rhody Princess. At first, the thought for this story was to capture the experience of becoming a Rhody Princess. However, soon after the conversation began, it became apparent this was a story of unexpected romance.

Joyce Beers Wornstaff was born in 1933 in Junction City in the home of a mid-wife, which she explained, “was commonly done in those days”. Her pioneer family came to Oregon in the late 1800’s to homestead. Joyce was brought up in Indian Creek where her father was a logger for Phelps Lumber Company and Davidson Industries. She fondly recalled having enjoyed farm life surrounded by cows and horses.

“I rode my horse every chance I had when I wasn’t in school.”

Joyce attended a one-room rural school until the 4th grade. On the day we spoke, I was impressed she could easily recite the first and last names of her classmates – all 5 of them. According to her, it wasn’t difficult even after all these years, since they had all remained friends their entire lives. When the schools consolidated, she and her classmates began fifth grade at Mapleton, commuting on a school bus from Indian Creek. By contrast, the class size there for her 5th grade was 15 students.

Willie John Wornstaff was born in 1934 in Walla Walla, Washington. With his father away in the Marines, Willie was raised by his grandparents in Coquille. When his father retired, they moved to San Diego for a year. His father then purchased an interest in Camp Indiola, a fishing area between Swiss Home and Deadwood on HWY 36. By that time, Willie was about to start his Junior year at Mapleton High School.

An Unlikely First Meeting

 The year was 1950 when Joyce and Willie found themselves in the same high school class. When asked, they seemed to have a different recollection of their initial “conversation”. Joyce explained rather than a situation of “love at first site”, it was more of a “noticing at first sight”. According to her, Mapleton boys back then attended school in farm work clothes and boots. Willie however, on his first day at Mapleton High was dressed in a neatly tucked-in shirt, clean, white corduroy pants and polished shoes. Joyce was assigned the task of greeting new students and handing out a Welcome flyer. She recalls that because of the way Willie was dressed, it was easy to recognize he was a new student. As she handed him the flyer, he was reluctant to accept it and instead responded with a gruff, “what am I supposed to do with this”? Without hesitation, Joyce’s response was quick and firm. Using a pointed finger, she instructed him to enter the classroom, and “take a seat”.

At that moment in the interview, Willie offered his version of that first conversation. With a smile he added, ‘that wasn’t the end of the story’. His recollection was that she had been ‘assertive’, but he nonetheless, entered the classroom and sat at an unoccupied seat and desk. No sooner had he sat down when Joyce reported to the teacher that Willie was in her seat. To avoid a disturbance, Willie moved to another seat. The next day, Willie seated himself in the chair he last occupied the day before. Again, Joyce reported to the teacher that Willie was in her seat. Bewildered, he moved to yet another seat. At this point in the interview, Joyce had a big smile and explained to me, it was a ruse “to gain Willie’s attention”. And so began their life-long romance.

Willie was active in school sports, playing football, basketball, track, and became state champion in both golf and bowling. I took notice of a plaque on a bowling trophy which read, “Timber League 1968, 1969”. His achievements continued, and about 15 years ago, he was recognized for having caught the largest elk of the season.

A Rhody Princess and Her Prince

In 1952, Joyce was nominated and selected by her class to be a princess in the Rhododendron Court. Initially, her father tried to discourage her from participating, due to the extra cost of a new dress and shoes. Her mother however, insisted that Joyce accept the honor, despite the expense. In the end, her father was more than proud to see her as a member of the Rhody Court in her new attire. As her Prince, Willie escorted Joyce throughout the Rhododendron Court festivities.

In 1952 they graduated from Mapleton High School in a class of 21 students. Following graduation, Joyce lived with her grandmother in Eugene while attending business school. She earned a certificate and returned to Mapleton. After Willie and Joyce married, they eventually purchased a house upriver not too far from where Joyce grew up. It had a barn and 80 acres where Joyce could enjoy her horse, while Willie delighted in his love of pigs.


As a career, Willie worked in a sawmill for Davidson Industries before joining R. Hoe & Company of New York as a territory sales manager for 15 years, selling equipment to sawmills. His territory stretched from the west coast to the Mississippi, requiring travel away from home much of the time. Despite the travel, he enjoyed his job, and was sure to phone home to Joyce each night. She recalled he once called her from Turkey Foot, KY. As we chatted, it was enjoyable to hear them still share a laugh when she said that name. Having worked in a sawmill, Willie had gained valuable knowledge of the equipment and was able to utilize the experience and expertise in his sales career. As a result, he became the company’s top salesmen each year.

Joyce worked for several companies including Copa Mill and Erskin Lumber Company in Swiss Home, as well as Davidson Industries in Mapleton. She particularly enjoyed the convenience working for Davidson since it was just a half mile from their Mapleton home.

Before concluding our visit, they proudly spoke of their daughter Theresa Colleen who graduated from Mapleton High School and college in Pasco, Washington. She went on to become a nuclear engineer for a New York company and is now retired. She and her husband visit them several times a year.

On the day of the interview, both Joyce and Willie Wornstaff were generous to reveal a few precious moments in their lives. It was obvious to see their relationship and respect for each other continues even after all these years. I was grateful to share the morning with such a happy couple. It was enjoyable to meet with them and hear their story.


Story by: Deb Lobey, May, 2024
Siuslaw Pioneer Museum
Oral History Project