Ben Wirkkala, 89, a lifelong resident of Naselle, Wash., died Tuesday, April 27, 2010, in Astoria.

He was born May 23, 1920, at home, in Naselle, to Finnish immigrants Andrew and Hilda (Korpela) Wirkkala. One of 15 children, he was raised on the family farm and attended Naselle Grade School.

While a teenager, he began working in the woods as a fireman on steam donkey engines. The spirit of adventure hit in 1939, and he traveled to Alaska where he worked for a year in fish canneries. He took a coastal steamer to San Francisco, returning to Naselle, where he resided the rest of his life.

On Aug. 8, 1941, he married Inez Johnson in Naselle. She survives, residing in Naselle.

Mr, Wirkkala worked in the woods for Johnson Brothers before he and his brothers formed Wirkkala Brothers Logging. The company logged in Naselle, Deep River and Grays River, Wash., before selling to Weyerhaeuser Timber in 1955.

Along with his brothers and some neighbors, he formed the South Fork Water Company, the first community water system in Naselle. He began a new a career in oil exploration and leasing in Texas and South Dakota. He obtained his private pilot's license and flew his plane from Wirkkala Airport in Naselle. He and several partners also owned the Oregon Motor Hotel in The Dalles for a number of years.

He was one of the developers of Western Wahkiakum Telephone of Rosburg, Wash., where he was currently serving as board member and treasurer, and was proud of his record of having never missed a board meeting. 

He was a lifelong member of the Assembly of God Church in Naselle, where he served in various capacities. He also served as a trustee of Northwest Bible College in Seattle.

Family members said he took particular pride in his mechanical and machinist skills. He could make machine parts from scratch and held several patents for logging, boating and aviation parts. He was an avid reader, fisherman and hunter.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters and sons-in-law, Cathy and Rick Verbarendse of Shelton, Wash., and Sharman and Rick Horvath of Meridian, Idaho; two sons and daughters-in-law, Russell and Sirkka Wirkkala and Wally and Maria Wirkkala, all of Naselle; nine grandsons, Regan Wirkkala and his wife, Sara, Tim Wirkkala, Lamar Wirkkala and his wife, Rebekkah, Ryan Wirkkala and his wife, Erin, Guy Wirkkala and his wife, Jenny, Lee Verbarendse and his wife, Rachelle, Greg Verbarendse and his wife, Towhee, Dale Verbarendse and Michael Horvath; two great-grandchildren, Hannah Wirkkala and Nathaniel Verbarendse; a brother, Hannes Wirkkala of Vancouver, Wash.; two sisters, Eva Pellervo of Naselle and Aimee Carathers of Vancouver; and numerous others members of his extended family.

He was preceded in death by a son, Jimmy Wirkkala; a sister, Elizabeth Lindholm; and brothers Arne, Oiva, Howard, Edwin, Lauri, Albert, Martin, Paul, Fred and Urho Wirkkala.

Visitation will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Penttila's Chapel by the Sea in Long Beach, Wash., and at the church prior to and following the service.   

A funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 1 at the Assembly of God Church in Naselle. A concluding graveside service will be followed by a reception at the church. 

Memorial contributions may be made to either the Naselle Assembly of God Church or The Gideons, in care of Penttila's Chapel, P.O. Box 417, Long Beach, WA 98631.

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