The Lewiston Morning Tribune, March 7, 2021,
Former Lewiston educator, innovator and public servant Marion Shinn marks 100 years
One of the things Marion L. Shinn most regrets about the strokes he's suffered in the past few years is the way they've robbed him of being able to express himself fluently.
Although the former Lewiston educator, mayor and innovator is still filled with vigor and enthusiasm after a century of living, he struggles to put his thoughts into words.
"I've become very, very … I have very difficult … ." Shinn spoke haltingly during a recent interview at his home at Royal Plaza Retirement Center.
"I have so many things I want to say. I've got so many things I want to say and right now it takes me - very, very difficult. Difficult. Oh, very frustrating."
Shinn sighs and taps his fingernails nervously on the table.
"But that's the way it goes," he said. "I have to accept the fact that … I'm getting old."
Shinn, who will celebrate his 100th birthday Thursday, is being officially recognized by the city of Lewiston with a proclamation listing accomplishments two full pages long.
"Whereas Dr. Shinn has been a commu-nity advocate since his arrival in Lewiston in 1934; and … ."
The proclamation goes on to name Shinn's deeds as a high school state debate champion in 1938; a former chairman of the city library's board of trustees; a high school chemistry teacher and vocational education supervisor; the first director of the Vocational-Technical Education division at Lewiston State Normal School (now Lewis-Clark State College); a founding member of the Clearwater Economic Development Association; a founding member of the Nez Perce County Historical Society; the possessor of the first doctorate of vocational education by the University of Idaho; a community philanthropist and on and on (the proclamation can be found with this story at lmtribune.com).
"Now, therefore, the Lewiston City Council recognizes and appreciates the outstanding services of Dr. Marion Shinn to our community and wishes him a very happy 100th birthday."
It's signed by Lewiston Mayor Michael Collins.
Life in a great, but tough, world.
Shinn was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Canfield, a small, isolated community in southwestern Idaho County on the Doumecq Plains. He and his three older siblings were first educated in the Canfield school where teachers - who sometimes included his mother, Ethel - often lived with their students' families because there was no other housing available.
"It was wonderful, a wonderful place to live," Shinn recalled. "We lived in a great world."
After Shinn completed eighth grade, he and his siblings moved to Lewiston to finish their education. They rented an apartment, and their parents, who remained on the Canfield ranch, bought them groceries and visited when they could.
At Lewiston High School, Shinn became active in speech and debate and was part of the debate team in 1938 that won the state championship and went on to compete at the national debate championship in Ohio.
Two years later, following classes in education at Lewiston State Normal School, he was offered a teaching job for about 10 students in a one-room schoolhouse in Dixie. His students were children of miners and often didn't complete the school term. The next year, Shinn taught in a one-room school at Melrose, a farming community north of Craigmont.
"I suddenly became a teacher," he said. "Well, I was a pretty punk kid, and things were pretty tough everywhere because life was tough. Because the world itself was tough."
Off to war
Money was tight, and Shinn said he lived on a salary of about $100 a month.
By then the U.S. had entered World War II, and Shinn joined the U.S. Navy. He was trained to operate and repair radar equipment and was assigned to a submarine, the USS Guavina, and served on five of her six patrols in the Pacific theater.
Shinn said the world war was an eye-opener - not only for himself but for the whole world.
"The world was very difficult," he said. "Nobody knew what this whole concept was (of war; of the wider world). We didn't know anything about the world. The world was so brand new that nobody knew anything about the whole concept of the world."
Radar itself was an innovative weapon and, using it, Shinn helped his shipmates detect the presence of Japanese merchant ships.
Were they shot at?
"Oh, lots of times," he said. "Lots of times. Boom, boom, boom and so suddenly you got the hell out."
The Guavina itself downed 19 Japanese ships.
"And here we were, boom, it's done," he said. "We just took them out, just like that."
The crew also helped rescue downed U.S. airmen.
During one of the Guavina's dockings at San Francisco for repairs, Shinn married his college sweetheart, Lorena Frances Neumayer, before going back out to sea for one final tour. When the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945, the war was over, and he finally returned to civilian life.
Back to school
He enrolled at Washington State College (now Washington State University) and earned a bachelor's degree in production management. After graduation in 1948, he was offered a job at Lewiston High School, where he taught chemistry for 17 years.
The principal of the school, "he knew me and he said, you can do the job," even though Shinn had no background in teaching chemistry.
"He said, 'You'll be all right.' Suddenly (I) became a chemistry teacher. And away I went."
Shinn also was the supervisor of the newly emerging trade and industrial education program.
Those years of teaching, Shinn remembered, were some of the best of his life.
"Oh, it's the kids," he said, his face lighting up with delight. "I love the kids. Anywhere I love kids. They all stay in touch with me. And all these kids I taught - they'd take me anywhere. All these kids. I taught hundreds of kids."
In 1965, he was hired to start a vocational program at Lewis-Clark Normal School. During his time as dean of the program from 1965-79 Shinn led his staff to create curricula including auto mechanics, Native American crafts, office occupations, police science and practical nursing. He also was the general education diploma tester and wrote grant proposals to fund construction of the college's Mechanical Technical Building and the Sam Glenn complex.
In 1971, he received a doctorate from the University of Idaho. He was a charter member of the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center board of directors, helped establish the Clearwater Economic Development Association and served on the Lewiston City Library board.
He also was elected to the Lewiston City Council in 1980 and served as mayor until 1989, when he and five other councilmen were recalled from office.
Shinn's perspective on that episode is that the council was trying to be progressive but were perhaps moving too fast for the likes of some citizens.
"We were doing the right thing, and down we went," he said, philosophically. "Oh yes, we got recalled. It's all right. It's what you want to do. You want to do things, and suddenly out we went. So it doesn't matter. One win, one loss."
Adventure is his theme
Sometime during these action-filled years, Shinn and his family packed their bags and moved to Glacier National Park in Montana, where he worked as a park ranger for 10 years.
Adventure has always been his theme. After retirement, he and Lorena started traveling, visiting some 70 countries and all continents but Antarctica. Shinn said they had a "wonderful" time globe-trotting.
The couple settled back in Lewiston and lived there until Lorena's death, at age 93, in 2014. Shinn has continued his scholarly work through a number of publications, including the Golden Age magazine for the Nez Perce County Historical Society.
These days, he keeps in shape riding the stationary bicycle at Royal Plaza for 45 minutes twice a day. He also stays in touch with his family and many friends over the phone or occasionally in person.
And other than the difficulties of speech, his attitude remains upbeat and positive, generating the same confidence and optimism he sought to instill in his students years ago.
"I had a very wonderful time, because I have an awful lot of people that come over and take me there," Shinn said. "I do that partially because I'm interested in the people. And the people are extremely interested in me.
"And they're ready to go with me. They listen to my stories. We have a great time. I talked to a lot of people, and I'm sorry that I'm unable to talk to them. I have so many interesting things to say to them. I've got so many things to say."