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Donna Willette will be the 50th woman to be recorded in the books as Pioneer Queen. During Willette’s crowning ceremony, Putnam Centennial Center, decorated with pictures of Willette and her various hiking trips, camping-related gear and pine cones, was filled with nearly a 100 people from the surrounding communities.

For the past 72 years, Donna Willette has called the little town of Cle Elum and the thousands of trail systems within the Cascade Mountain Range her home. On Saturday, Willette was crowned Cle Elum’s 2019 Pioneer Days Queen, thus honoring her for being a key figure in betterment of the community.

Each year the community of Upper Kittitas County crowns a Pioneer Queen from Cle Elum, South Cle Elum, Roslyn, Ronald or the surrounding area. Since its inception in 1969, a lady has reigned over all the communities in the Upper County.

According to the Pioneer Queen Committee, in order to be considered you must be 75 years old, have lived in the community for 40 years and had strong community involvement for a number of years. This year Willette will be the 50th woman to be recorded in the books as queen.

During Willette’s crowning ceremony, Putnam Centennial Center, decorated with pictures of Willette and her various hiking trips, camping-related gear and pine cones, was filled with nearly 100 people from the surrounding communities.

Willette is originally from Clifton, Colorado where she was raised by her grandparents who were fruit orchard farmers before deciding to move the family to Cle Elum. “I just remember there were rows and rows of peonies,” Willette said.

Willette said she also has a few memories of families working on farms.“It was such an old way, you know. They picked the corn and threw it in the wagon that the horses were pulling.”

Despite experiences and trips outside her new home state, Willette said Washington’s views and scenery always pulled her back and reinforced a lifelong commitment to this area.

As a young girl Willette was born with a passion for the outdoors and continued to pursue her love for hiking until her body could no longer withstand the vigor of a rough trail.

“I was born with that passion for the outdoors ever since I was a young girl and I’d drag anybody I could up a mountain because I just have always loved to climb and walk,” Willette said. She knew in the woods she could always disconnect from the worries and stresses of life and its daily commitments.

Reflecting back, Willette said she sees big differences in the culture and the childhood she was privy to; in her childhood years the norm was to play long hours outside without the worry of something bad happening.

“We were free,” Willette said. “I think that our poor, wonderful children have lost a lot of that these days.”

Willette said although she loves the convenience of grocery stores and having whatever she might want at the touch of her hand, she misses how modern technology has taken away some traditions.

“We lived the old-fashioned way. We grew all of our food in the garden and I baked all of our bread and all of our pastries, and you taught the kids the old ways, too,” Willette said.

Willette played a variety of roles and worked a number of different jobs as a wife and mother, as an egg delivery woman, an EMT, a medical assistant in a clinic and the director of an ambulance company before retiring.

For 12 years Willette delivered eggs in Upper County for a chicken farm near Vantage and became the courier for the towns.

“I got to meet all these old-timers,” Willette said. “Most of them are gone now — the ones that had come to help from Roslyn and Ronald and Cle Elum.”

According to Willette, by delivering eggs to the homes of people who used to work in the mines, restaurants, stores and taverns in the area, she was able to connect in a deeper and broader way with her community and the people who helped run it.

Today, Willette said she spends most of her time gardening, doing yard work, and meandering around town when she feels up to it. Willette said, “I don’t have a day when I sit around and say, ‘Oh, what am I going to do today?’ or ‘I think I’m through living; I just wish I could go.’ I enjoy every day.”

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