This year’s Camas Days may have been canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and statewide ban on large gatherings, but the Camas Days 2020 Senior Royalty Court lives on.
The Camas-Washougal chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs this week named Ann and Kay Prouty, of Washougal, the 2020 Camas Days queen and king.
“Even though Kay and Ann are ‘older people’ in the neighborhood, they help out in any way they can,” stated a senior royalty nomination form for the Proutys, written by Bob and Mary Lou Peake of Washougal. “Being active and involved … comes naturally to them.”
The couple has been involved in community volunteer work for more than 50 years — founding and leading a 4-H club when their four children were young; teaching Bible study classes (Ann), making floral arrangements, driving the “Joy Bus” to pick up children en route to Bible study, reupholstering pews, helping with building and ground maintenance, and donating months’ worth of electrical repairs for the Washougal-based Church of Christ; sharing produce from their garden with the Inter-faith Treasure House; and, for the past seven years, driving their pickup truck to procure food from the Clark County Food Bank for the seniors who gather at the Washougal Community Center every Monday.
“When someone in their church family or someone they know in the community has been sick or has had a loved one pass away, (the Proutys) always reach out to them, making sure they have food or (asking) if there is any other way they can help,” stated the Peakes in their nomination form.
For the Proutys, who grew up less than a mile away from one another on large Idaho farms and were high school sweethearts before marrying in 1958, the question of volunteering in their community has never been, “Why should we?” but always, “How can we?”
“I guess we’ve just always liked helping people,” Ann, 81, says. “We’ve always had a lot of enjoyment volunteering and visiting with people.”
The couple moved to Washougal in 1969 to take jobs at the local Pendleton Woolen Mills — Kay as the mill’s head electrician who led a team of four electricians and was on call pretty much 24/7, and Ann as a secretary in the dye house.
“Washougal was quite small then, maybe 4,000 people,” Ann says. “We had two children in school when we came here. And our neighborhood was all older people. We were the youngest ones.”
Despite working long hours and raising four children — one boy and three girls — the Proutys still made time to help the seniors in their immediate community and at their church.
Recently, Ann says, she realized how much her neighborhood has changed over the years.
“I told my daughter, ‘I was looking around for all the older people and couldn’t find them, then finally realized we are them!'” Ann says, laughing.
The journey from the youngest people in the neighborhood to the honored king and queen of the Camas Days Senior Royalty Court, however, has been a happy one.
“We do miss being in the country with property (Ann grew up on a 700-acre farm and Kay grew up on a 2,700-acre farm), but we love Washougal,” Ann says. “We made up our minds that wherever our job was, we’d be happy there. A lot of people would say, ‘It rains so much,” well, yeah, it rains, but we had good jobs and we were happy.”
The couple rented for a couple years when they first moved to Washougal, but eventually found a home with three-quarters of an acre, where they promptly built a garden.
That home and garden has helped them during the past three months’ worth of stay-at-home orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“We’ve got our garden and we’ve been doing yardwork,” Ann says. “We both grew up on farms, so we weren’t used to going out and socializing too much. So (the shutdown) really hasn’t bothered us too much. Our daughter has been coming and helping with a lot of the weeding, and our grandson came and ploughed for us. Hopefully, we’ll have a good garden this year.” Last week, the Proutys returned to their beloved Church of Christ, where parishioners are allowed to gather again, with precautions such as a cap of 50 people or 25 percent of the congregation, the wearing of masks and physical spacing in the pews.
“It was small and we didn’t do the classes, just the preaching service and there was no handshaking or hugging, and everyone wore masks,” Ann says, “but it was good to get out and see people again.”
The COVID-19 pandemic does mean the Proutys will not get to enjoy the traditional celebration of the Camas Days Senior Royalty Court — being feted at the annual dessert reception at the Columbia Ridge Senior Living Center, riding in the Camas Days Grand Parade or gathering for a luncheon with past Camas Days royalty following the parade — but Susan Bennett, vice-president of the local General Federation of Women’s Clubs, said the group is trying to find a way to honor the Proutys while still adhering to state and local public health guidelines.