Emilie Jo Pastega was born on Labor Day, September 3, 1944, in McCloud, California, as the second child in a family of five children. Emilie Jo was named for her grandmothers—Emilia, Alma’s mother, and Giuseppina (Josephine) Mario’s mother. In 1961, the year before Emilie Jo’s graduation from high school, the family moved to Corvallis to purchase the Pepsi bottling franchise here. She stayed behind to finish school, then moved north to join the family and study art at Oregon State University. She was considered an excellent student, and many of her drawings and paintings still hang in her parents’ home and in the offices of the Pastega Bottling Company in Corvallis. Romance soon wooed Emilie Jo away from the school books, and she married Ron Simpson, a boy she’d known in Klamath Falls, in June of 1963. Ron moved to Corvallis. She took care of the accounting for all of the route drivers.
In April of 1964, the couple celebrated the birth of their son, Douglas. After the baby was born, Emilie Jo continued working, sometimes bringing Doug down to the plant. As he grew older, he knew all the drivers not only by name, but by their favorite soft drinks, and he would rush to get their refreshment as soon as they checked in. In 1967, Emilie Jo and Ron adopted a son, David. Emilie Jo continued working at the plant, helping to prepare for the move into the new building off Highway 99 and Walnut Boulevard. One Saturday Mario found her at the new building, on her hands and knees, waxing the floors of the entire warehouse. “She wanted to make it nice for us,” said her father. “She was a wonderful girl, never caused any problems to her parents,” Mario added. “She was very punctual, always at work at 3:00.”
Then tragedy struck. On May 29, 1968, Emilie Jo was late for work. Her mother, Alma, knew something was wrong because she was never late to work. Alma called Emilie Jo’s home and young Doug, then aged four, answered the phone. “Mama’s eyes are open but she won’t talk to me,” he said. Something was wrong. “When we got there she had already passed on,” her father recalled. Emilie Jo had been up in the tree house she and Ron had built for the children. She was cleaning it up, preparing for a picnic she’d planned with the boys the next day, Memorial Day. Somehow she’d lost her balance and fell twelve feet onto her back, which broke instantly. “She died on a Wednesday, and the following Tuesday Robert Kennedy was killed,” Mario remembered. “Memorial Day is something we never forget.” The local radio station, then owned by the Pastegas, provides them with an almost constant reminder. KEJO, its call letters standing for Emilie Jo, almost didn’t get its name. When the family radio station wanted to use the call letters KEJO for their FM station, they discovered that those call letters belonged to the U.S. Coast Guard. Mario contacted the officials and told them Emilie Jo’s story. The Coast Guard relinquished the call letters so that the Pastega family could honor their daughter, keeping her memory alive every hour of every day.
Mario and Alma Pastega coped with the loss of their daughter through giving to the community in Emilie Jo’s memory. “Emilie Jo was always such a giving girl, and only twenty-three years old,” Mario said. Her generosity and community spirit came naturally. She hailed from a long line of individuals who often put the interests of others before their own, sharing what they had with those less fortunate. Emilie Jo’s grandparents had immigrated to America from Italy, where a life of poverty gave her grandmother, Giuseppina, her innate common sense. Her grandfather Romano opened a shoe repair store in Weed, California, where he would shine the shoes and replace the strings at no extra cost. “Even as a young boy I remember men coming into the shop, asking for a dime to get a cup of coffee,” Mario recalled. “Sometimes their breath could knock you down. But I never saw Mama turn a fellow down, and if they looked hungry she would make them a sandwich. My father taught me how to work, and my mother taught me how to give.”
Mario and Alma Pastega established the Emilie Jo Pastega Simpson Memorial Fund in 1984 in memory of their daughter, Emilie, who died in 1968. Through this fund, the Pastega family has contributed generously to various worthy causes, including the American Heart Association; the American Lung Association camp for children with asthma; the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence; Corvallis Community Day Care’s therapeutic child care program; Wildcat Park; the Good Samaritan Foundation, and the Boys & Girls of Corvallis Club.