Faith Dorothy was taken by surprise when she noticed her name in an article that appeared in the Oregonian during the summer of 2013, about the Oregon Army and Air National Guard. It took a moment to sink in as she was referred to by her maiden name, Faith Hunsdon, in the piece. Her claim to fame: In 1958, 1st Lt. Faith Hunsdon became the first woman to join the Oregon Guard.
By Dave Fisher
Faith’s military career as a nurse actually began a few years earlier in 1952 when she joined the US Air Force, serving two years active duty and subsequently becoming a member of the reserve. Upon moving to the Portland area, she remained with the Air Force Reserve meeting in Vancouver once a month, but soon decided it wasn’t her cup of tea and she transferred to the Oregon Air Guard.
“There’s a picture of me in full uniform and high heels standing on the wing of a jet with Governor Holmes,” said Faith of the occasion that marked her acceptance into the Oregon Guard. “Here I was in dress uniform wondering it the Governor was going to fall off the wing, but we made it.”
Years earlier, and just out of nursing school, Faith wanted to see the world. She applied for the Air Force and another position with Shell Oil in Saudi Arabia. Both were two-year stints and she decided to go with whichever program accepted her first. It turned out to be the Air Force, just barely. Two days later, she learned she had been accepted to the Saudi Arabia position as well.
“I always wondered what would have happened, how my life would have been different, if I had taken the other assignment,” said Faith.
As a flight nurse, Faith assisted doctors onboard aircraft that transferred patients from one location to another. Her experience ultimately led to a position as a nurse practitioner for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Portland, where she would finish out her career.
“Speaking of firsts, I was among the first nurse practitioners in the state of Oregon,” said Faith, “which just goes to show I’ve been around too long. Those were the days we (women) had to break a lot of ceilings.”
She retired in 1986, joining her husband, Verne, of 31 years, to enjoy doing other things without the obligations that come with a career. Verne’s first name was Marion, but he chose to go with his middle name because, with a last name of Dorothy, it helped eliminate confusion as to who he really was, said Faith with a laugh. It has been a challenge for her as well, as she has been more apt to be called Dorothy, instead of by her first name. “It’s not a very common name,” she says.
Looking to settle on the Oregon coast, the couple landed in Wheeler three years later, after a lot of looking, buying a house that overlooks Nehalem Bay and offers spectacular views of the surrounding hills. Verne died in 1994, but Faith still remains in the house they purchased.
“I love it here. I like the slower pace of life and we’re still relatively close to Portland, by there’s just too many people for me there.”
With energy to burn, Faith became knee-deep in a variety of community activities, becoming a member of the Canon Beach Chorus (which she still is 20 years later), the Lower Nehalem Community Trust, and the North County Food Bank board of directors. She even dabbled in politics, securing a spot on the Wheeler City Council and serving a short time as interim mayor, shortened because she was recalled.
“I didn’t last too long…I was still somewhat of an outsider, a foreigner. I was labeled quickly and should have known better,” she recalled. “I was partly at fault, but it was an experience and you learn.”
Up until a few years ago, Faith enjoyed kayaking Nehalem Bay. An avid birder, she still keeps an eye out for the comings and goings of various species throughout the year. Bird feeders line her deck outside her living room window, while, inside, she peers at her fine-feathered friends through a scope mounted to a tripod. Born and raised in Vermont, the native New Englander, having seen a bit of the world, is quite at home on the Oregon coast.
“I did enjoy the camaraderie within our medical unit,” said Faith looking back on a military and professional nursing career lasting over 30 years. “Some of the doctors were VA employees and really sharp in their fields. You had to communicate with them at their level…but they were great people with a good sense of humor.
“We all worked hard. We just did it, no matter what the job was and what it took to get it done.”