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Friends of late Corvallis activist Ed Epley turn out to pay their respects
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Friends of late Corvallis activist Ed Epley turn out to pay their respects

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On the way to his final resting place, Ed Epley paid one last visit to the Benton County Courthouse.

Epley, a dedicated anti-war activist, helped organize the peace vigil that has been held outside the downtown Corvallis landmark every day from 5 to 6 p.m. since Oct. 7, 2001, when the United States launched an invasion of Afghanistan in reaction to the 9/11 attacks.

On most of those days, the vigil began with Epley pulling to the curb in his vintage Volkswagen bus and passing out signs to his fellow protesters.

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Now they’ll have to go on without him. Epley, 83, died on Jan. 26.

On Monday afternoon, Epley’s red and white ’61 VW, with his son, Mitchell, at the wheel, made several circuits around the courthouse en route to the Odd Fellows Cemetery, with Epley’s mortal remains riding in the back, wrapped in a shroud.

More than 60 people had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the building, waiting through a steady drizzle for the chance to say goodbye and waving in farewell as the van drove past.

Some, like Isabella Ayala, knew Epley from the daily peace vigil.

“I was walking downtown and stopped to talk, and he gave me a sign,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I’m out here every day from 5 to 6,’ and I just kept coming back. He let me pick a different sign every time.”

Ayala, holding a sign that read "War is not the answer," said she found Epley's dedication inspiring.

"Nineteen years he was down here," she said. "He stood up for what he believed in, no matter the consequences."

Bill Glassmire, one of the original organizers of the daily peace protest, said it was Epley who made sure the vigil continued when he and others had to step away.

“Ed just kept that vigil going singlehandedly,” Glassmire said. “There were a lot of other people who chipped in, but Ed was the one who was there virtually all the time.”

Others — such as Jim Hagan, who knew Epley as a member of the morning coffee contingent at the old downtown Beanery, and Russell Ruby, who knew him from EMT training sessions — rarely if ever attended the daily peace vigil, but they came out in the rain on Monday to pay their respects.

“It was just real nice to be around Ed and talk to him,” Ruby said.

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Prior to his retirement, Epley had a varied career that included working as an electronics technician for Bell Telephone, nine years as a radio and electronics officer in the Merchant Marine and some time as a handyman. He briefly owned the West Bank Café in Corvallis in the 1970s and later acquired a number of rental properties around town.

Epley was involved in other causes besides peace. A familiar figure around Corvallis with his white ponytail peeking out from under his scarlet skullcap, Epley could be seen at climate change demonstrations, Black Lives Matter marches, anti-nuclear protests and the annual commemoration of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.

His activism sometimes got him in trouble with the law; starting with a sit-in at Portland General Electric’s Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in the mid-70s, Epley’s acts of civil disobedience got him arrested numerous times over the years.

But as he told the Corvallis Gazette-Times in a 2016 interview, he was willing to go to jail to stand up for his beliefs.

“I thought the cause was good,” he said. “So it was worth it.”

Epley was a dedicated community volunteer. A regular blood donor, he gave more than 80 gallons over the course of his life and frequently drove blood and plasma from Corvallis to Portland for the Red Cross. He also gave his time to the Grace Center for Adult Day Services.

Helping the homeless was a longtime priority for Epley. Years ago he helped staff the emergency phone line at Sunflower House. Later he worked overnight shifts at the women’s cold weather shelter, and more recently he had been delivering donated bagels and pizza to the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center.

But his most enduring contribution to the city’s unsheltered population may be Partners Place.

When fire damaged a small apartment complex Epley owned at Northwest Harrison Boulevard and 17th Street, he could have used the insurance money to repair the structure and continued to manage it as an income property. Instead, he approached the Corvallis Homeless Shelter Coalition about the possibility of turning it into a home for street people.

Epley negotiated a purchase arrangement with the coalition, which was able to access grant funding to swing the deal, and since 2011 Partners Place has provided permanent supportive housing for people who otherwise would be chronically homeless.

“It all came together at the right time, but it wouldn’t have happened without Ed’s generosity,” said Aleita Hass-Holcombe, a former member of the coalition who now serves as board president for the Daytime Drop-In Center.

Hass-Holcombe, who also knew Epley through his antiwar work, was one of the people standing outside the courthouse on Monday, carrying a “Witness for Peace” sign and wearing a red felt hat under the hood of her rain jacket in honor of her friend.

She said it was not surprising to her that Epley was involved in so many different causes, from battling war and combating poverty to protecting the environment and standing up for social justice, because really they’re not so different after all.

“All of those things are so connected,” Hass-Holcombe said. “That’s what Ed did — he made those connections in his head, and he addressed them all.”

As Epley neared the end of his life, his son, Mitchell Epley, who lives in California, and daughter, Leanne Epley-Pressman, who lives in New Zealand, came home to Corvallis to spend time with him. Epley-Pressman said she was moved by the outpouring of love her father received from the community.

“It was really humbling, this last couple of weeks, being with Dad,” she said. “The sheer volume of people who came to see him in his last days — you suddenly realize he wasn’t just your dad, he was someone special to all those people.”

Bennett Hall can be contacted at bennett.hall@lee.net or 541-812-6111. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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