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Former North Coast congressman Don Clausen turning 90

  • Former Rep. Don Clausen, a North Coast Republican for 20 years, sits at his desk at the Ferndale Historical Museum on Thursday, April 25 as he signs family cookbooks in preparation for his 90th birthday in Ferndale this Saturday. Born in Ferndale, Clausen now lives in Fortuna near his family. The desk was moved from his office to the museum. The portrait above his desk was taken in 1963. ((Kent Porter / Press Democrat))

FORTUNA — The broad smile, a trademark of his 20 years of representing the North Coast in Congress, still flashes across Don Clausen's face.

“I had a good run,” Clausen said during a 90-minute interview at the Fortuna nursing home where he has lived for the past year.

Taking cues from the photographs on the walls of his room, and with some prompting from son-in-law Jim Baumgartner, Clausen reflected on his youth in Ferndale, his prowess as an ambidextrous baseball pitcher, service as a World War II aviator, two decades in Congress and 63 years of marriage to his late wife, Ollie.

Saturday, Clausen will celebrate his 90th birthday at a public event at the Ferndale Town Hall, not far from the blue, three-story home at the edge of town where Clausen grew up in the verdant Eel River Valley.

“Lucky, I guess,” Clausen said of his longevity, but age has taken a toll on the once-energetic Republican who held office for two decades in a Democrat-dominated district from Sonoma County to the Oregon border.

Diabetes, lung disease and recurring headaches have sapped his strength, and two falls last year that involved head injuries diminished his memory.

“I don't feel like I'm as sharp as I used to be, by a damn sight,” Clausen said, sitting in a wheelchair, wearing khaki slacks, a striped shirt and nylon jacket.

Glancing at a painting of Ollie on his wall, Clausen said: “She was a jewel.”

He remembers meeting the former Jessie Oleva Piper, a waitress at the Hi-Ho ice cream shop in Crescent City, in 1948.

Clausen, who established an insurance agency and an air ambulance service in the Del Norte County seat after the war, offered to teach Ollie how to fly.

She became a pilot and a congressman's wife, hosting Hollywood stars and political leaders and compiling a paperback cookbook of family recipes that Don Clausen still autographs and hands out to people he meets.

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