A Lone Fir Mystery

Dear Liza,

On one of my walks through Lone Fir Cemetery, I investigated this tall graceful monument near the east entrance. I first noticed it because of the name, FIMPEL, which I had never seen before.

As I walked around the monument, I realized there were four names, all with different dates of death, and only two that shared a family name. Curious, I took pictures for reference and headed home to do some research.

Besides George W. Fimpel, who died in 1899 at the age of twenty, the monument remembered his father, George B. Fimpel, who died in 1886, Samuel McDonald, who died in 1898, and Laura V. Mutch, who died in 1904. Why are they all here together? I was puzzled, and the Historic Oregonian website wasn’t much help.

Grandpa Nelson and his Ancestry.com membership saved the day!

As clearly as I can understand it, this is a story of Laura V. Howell, who was born in Oregon City in 1859. She moved to Portland and married George B. Fimpel, who worked as a fireman on the railroad. They had two sons, George W. and Charles Howell. Mr. Fimpel died in an accident at work in 1886, when his son George was 13 and his youngest, Charles, was barely six months old.

Laura put up this monument to him and soon re-married, to Samuel McDonald. I cannot imagine the emotional upheaval of bearing a child, losing a husband, and re-marrying, all within the span of a year!

Laura and Samuel had two daughters, Laura L. and Mary Virginia, bringing Laura’s total to four children. Sadly, her eldest, George W, died at the age of twenty, just seven years after his father. Laura buried him with his father and added his name to the monument.

Mr. McDonald died in 1898 leaving Laura with three children, ages 14, 8, and 5. She buried him with her first husband and her son, adding yet another name to the stone.

Laura re-married again, to Mr. Edward Mutch, one year later. Mr. Mutch adopted the girls, now ages 9 and 6.

A few years later, in 1904, Laura herself passed away at the relatively young age of 45. Her surviving husband and children buried her under her family monument, adding her name (shortened to just her first name, middle initial and final legal last name), to the remaining side of the stone. What a complicated life story she wrote in just 45 years!


To bring this family story forward into my lifetime, Laura’s youngest son, Charles, lived for many years after his mother died. He survived serving in World War I and then moved to Los Angeles, where he passed away in 1962 at the age of 76. This means he and I were living in Los Angeles County at the same time!

Laura’s daughter Mary Virginia McDonald stayed in Portland, married a man named Dotson, and is buried in Lone Fir, less than ten feet from her mother, father, and step-family.

To me, this story tells a lot about the times and the people. Laura, as a widowed mother of young children, had no way to support herself or her kids. She needed to be married, so she got married. Premature death was much more common then, caused by anything from falling off a wagon to eating spoiled meat to catching one of a dozen deadly diseases common at the time, and multiple marriages were very common. She persevered and raised her kids.

I am so glad to have learned about Laura V. Howell Fimpel McDonald Mutch and her family.

Love,

Grandma Judy