July 15, 1934 - June 21, 2018
It was the middle of the Great Depression and Vaughn was the eighth of nine children born into a family who had lost everything but each other. When the family trucking business in Oklahoma collapsed, they piled themselves, another family of four, and scant belongings onto one of the flatbed trucks and headed west to find work on the farms and in the orchards of California. The truck broke down in Phoenix so they set up camp by the Salt River under the Sixth Street bridge. It was there Vaughn was born and where the family, mostly in tents in a few different locations, lived for almost two decades.
His father, Leo Merryman, soon became gravely ill so his mother, Oda, took in washing and ironing, miraculously accomplished in the desert over a wood fire. The children collected firewood, made regular trips to a loading dock where compassionate workers often dropped produce for the boys to scoop up and sell door to door on their way home. They shot rabbits, went to school, grew vegetables, did odd jobs, and celebrated holidays in the cooler mountains nearby. His father didn’t recover his health and directed comings and goings from his cot. Vaughn’s early childhood was spent this way, with this modest, loving, and fiercely independent family until he was 15. They went to Washington to pick cherries that summer and, finding the wages agreeable, decided to move there permanently.
They bought a very small house in Grandview where each of the children were given a cardboard box for their clothing and other belongings. The house had indoor plumbing and everything about it was a happy, big step up. While in high school Vaughn worked in a grocery store on weekends and every day after school until closing. Half of his earnings went into the family coffers; with the other half he bought a car, the pride of his early life. He was a somewhat quiet, serious boy who, although he was voted by his classmates as ‘most likely to end up in jail,’ was so well regarded by the grocery store owner that he was the only employee trusted with a key to the safe.
After high school he joined the navy as a radar operator, splitting his pay with his mom until he married his high school sweetheart, Adria Slotemaker, and started a family. When his tour of duty ended he enrolled in law school at the University of Oregon. With a small family to support, he again started to work after school, driving a school bus for the 4J district. When the law school dean got wind of a working student, Vaughn was called in and told that if he was serious about a degree, this working nonsense had to stop immediately. Unable to support a family without working he continued, graduating debt-free with high honors. He continued his education this way, working summers in a canning factory, painting barns with an older brother, and driving school bus in-season, earning a Doctorate of Jurisprudence in 1971.
The law school dean who had advised him to quit work his first year, at graduation recommended him to the prestigious Frohnmeyer Law Firm in Medford. After several years of practice and becoming a partner in that firm, Governor Tom McCall appointed him to the District Court in Jackson County, where he served for 13 years. He then accepted the governor’s appointment to the Circuit Court in 1981 and served with distinction as a trial judge in Oregon until his retirement in 1994.
While in Medford he enjoyed his Rotary Club membership, their good deeds, and especially their humor, as when a member’s good deeds were lauded in the local newspaper and that member was therefore fined handsomely by the club. He built a house on Old School Road outside of town where they raised Appaloosas. He and Adria had two sons, Dan and Todd, and a daughter, Leslie. They were married for 52 years until her death, and have five grandsons, a granddaughter, and three great-grandchildren. He adored his family and relished any opportunity to ennumerate their many strengths and virtues.
Vaughn had a strong and generous work ethic and loved to lend a hand, whether to help at-risk kids, friends or neighbors with projects, or just to get the next disagreeable chore out of the way. He always took the heavy end, the dirtiest job, or made the hardest choice. He was a strong, gentle man, thoughtful and extremely considerate. He especially loved wildlife and children and could watch them endlessly, absorbing their ways and taking pleasure in their innocence. He loved the outdoors and camping with friends. He had a special gift for building a fire and seemed to be able to just pass his hands briefly over a pit, leaving a roaring flame that needed no tending for a long while.
In 2010 he married Kate O’Bryant. They had a few extremely happy years together until his death. The fire he built in her heart will need no tending.