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Creek Pays Homage to Widel

Columnist and author Elizabeth Widel, who died at age 100 in 2017, wrote more than 3,000 columns for The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle. Last month the state Board of Natural Resources approved the naming of a previously unnamed stream in the North Cascades in her honor.
Photo courtesy of The Chronicle

A previously unnamed stream in the North Cascades Mountains has a new name and pays homage to a former Omak author and newspaper columnist.

Elizabeth Creek commemorates Elizabeth (Barta) Widel, who wrote a weekly newspaper column, “Exploring the Okanogan,” starting in 1957.  Widel produced over 3000 weekly columns in The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle, often including geographic features in her articles.

In 2015, Widel wrote a column highlighting a waterfall she had visited many times on an “unnamed creek” at milepost 143 in Skagit and Whatcom Counties.

The state Board of Natural Resources approved the naming recommendation by the Committee on Geographic Names at the board’s regular meeting on May 14, 2024.

The newly-named Elizabeth Creek, is a 2.5-mile long stream, which begins in the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest north of Gabriel Peak and flows northeast to enter Granite Creek. The creek is located in the heart of the rugged North Cascades Mountains and was mostly inaccessible until the completion of the North Cascades Highway in 1972.  

The creek was historically used by Native Americans, miners, surveyors, and explorers who passed through the Granite Creek valley heading east through the mountains. The creek is now crossed by Highway 20 and is viewed by countless travelers as they navigate the scenic byway.

The naming effort, which has been a work in progress for several years, was spearheaded Widel’s longtime friend and companion Marsha Aufenkamp. She told local media that a celebration will be planned at the creek as soon as the state Department of Transportation erects signs.

Widel, an award-winning journalist, philanthropist and Omak resident - died Oct. 24, 2017, at age 100. At the time she was one of the oldest working journalists in the nation.

She began working for The Chronicle in August 1954 and had been writing her column, “Exploring the Okanogan,” since May 9, 1957. Her final farewell column (No. 3,154) appeared Nov. 1, 2017.

Widel was born July 8, 1917, in Chicago, Ill., to Marie and Deszo “Dave Darius” Barta. She had three younger siblings, Bob, Dave and Barbara. The family later moved to Lombard, a suburb west of Chicago.

After high school, Elizabeth Widel attended a church-supported college for two years before transferring to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where she completed her teaching degree and received academic and vocal music honors.

She arrived in Okanogan County in the early 1940s to teach typing and business at Brewster High School, taking on additional subjects during World War II as male teachers left for military service.

Widel briefly returned to Illinois to work as a registrar at Roosevelt College School of Music before coming back to Okanogan County.

On October 9, 1954, she married Glen Widel, who worked for the Brewster newspaper and later became The Chronicle’s shop foreman. That August, Elizabeth began working in The Chronicle’s front office, eventually serving as typesetter, society editor, reporter, copy editor, proofreader, photographer and columnist.

She also became a stockholder and managed the paper’s finances for more than two decades.

The Widels launched their column, “Exploring the Okanogan,” on May 9, 1957.

After Glen’s death in 1961, Elizabeth continued the column alone. Known for her passion for photography, she captured everything from pets to landscapes and everyday objects, often trekking into difficult terrain for the perfect shot.

She particularly loved the North Cascades and admired the engineering of the highway built through its rugged peaks.

Widel’s column offered a positive, thoughtful view of her adopted county and state, highlighting its natural beauty, geology, and local life.

In 1997, she received the Dixie Lee Bradley Award from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, and in 2023, her column won first place in the general interest category at the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association’s Better Newspaper Contest.

The newspaper dedicated its 100th-anniversary book, “Chronicles of the Okanogan,” to her in 2010, and Omak Mayor Cindy Gagne declared Feb. 9, 2011, “Elizabeth Widel Day” in her honor.

Widel was also recognized by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for her contributions to journalism and the Okanogan community.

Newhouse referred to her as “one of the most senior journalists in the Pacific Northwest. She has shared her love of the outdoors, her photography, and passion for all things concerning the Okanogan community.”

“Her down-to-earth words of wisdom and her curiosity of the world around her, Elizabeth has shown a profound connection with the Okanogan Valley and has inspired generations of readers and those who know her,” Newhouse said to his congressional colleagues. “Please join me in celebrating the contribution and dedication of this remarkable lady, and explorer of things great and small.”

A devoted member of the Omak United Methodist Church, Widel served as a lay speaker, bulletin editor, treasurer, and received the Bishop’s Award for her service. She was active in the P.E.O. sisterhood, supported the arts, and volunteered with the Okanogan County Historical Society.

Widel’s diverse interests included geology, woodworking, music, hiking, and reading.

She authored two books, “Okanogan County … a profile” and “Exploring the Okanogan,” with proceeds from the latter supporting the Omak Performing Arts Center Foundation.



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