From Publisher to Priest

By Rodger Nichols

Marilyn Roth was ordained by the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon by the Right Rev. Patrick Bell in September 2017. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Roth.

“There are no second acts in American lives,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his notes on “The Last Tycoon.”

But what may have passed for conventional wisdom in the 1930s is hardly true today.

Marilyn Roth is a perfect example.

Born and raised in The Dalles, Marilyn was one of three children born to Keith and Eleanor Schwarm. She has a fraternal twin sister and a younger sister.

They grew up in what Marilyn describes as “a tiny neighborhood” near the Quinton Street ballpark. She and her sisters were the only girls in the neighborhood.

Marilyn became a good hitter in baseball and was a local marbles champion. She also developed into a skilled tennis player, and in adulthood competed in Northwest amateur tennis matches.

Marilyn remembers childhood in the 1950s in The Dalles as an idyllic time.

“It was so different then,” she says. “You rode your bikes all over town; nobody was saying you could only go two blocks. We didn’t have a phobia then. My parents asked me to comply with two things: Be sure to check in at lunch and dinner.”

Although she didn’t have a career goal in mind, she says her father instilled a system of values.

“I think because I did a lot of hunting and fishing with my dad, he just sort of taught me this rule of life that it’s more important to practice integrity in all parts of your life, and that meant you had to work hard, in whatever you did,” Marilyn says. “I knew that whatever I chose to do, I could just work hard and I’m sure I would be able to make it happen.”

After graduating from The Dalles High School in 1968, Marilyn headed off to Judson Baptist College, then located in Portland. She later took classes at Oregon College of Education but dropped out after moving back to The Dalles.

Marilyn and her husband, Mark, had recently married. Mark had finished his schooling, and his parents, Dick and Dorothy Roth, asked him to come back to The Dalles to help them with their store, Roth Music Center.

“That was supposed to be temporary,” Marilyn says.

They are now approaching 50 years in The Dalles.

Mark and Marilyn have a daughter and a son. In 1984, once the children were older, Marilyn went to work.

“I actually wanted to work for the hospital in some volunteer capacity, but it just didn’t work out,” she says. “I saw this newspaper ad, and I started working in circulation.”

The Reminder was originally a weekly shop with no news, but in 1981 added a weekly newspaper.

Marilyn is the publisher of The Dalles Chronicle. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Roth.

“I took over that position handling carriers and growing circulation,” Marilyn says. “I actually liked everything about that. But you know how little newspapers work. You work where you are needed. When The Dalles Reminder needed an advertising person, I did both circulation and advertising until finally it was too much.”

She chose the ad sales side and eventually became sales manager in 1988.

After several years, Marilyn left to work in a State Farm insurance office for Doug Sawyer—a former classmate and one of the boys she grew up with in her small neighborhood.

In 1991, she got a call from Dick Nafsinger, president of Eagle Newspapers, which owned several small papers in the Northwest. Dick asked her to come back to the Reminder, this time as publisher.

It was a good fit. Through judicious hires and a lot of teamwork, Marilyn grew The Reminder in both circulation and revenue.

She also had a chance to grow when Eagle bought The Dalles Chronicle. Marilyn became publisher of a daily newspaper that won its share of statewide awards, including the top “general excellence” award more than once.

Simultaneously, Marilyn continued her education, commuting from The Dalles to night classes at George Fox University in Newberg. After completing an undergraduate degree in business organization in 2000, she decided to go for a master’s degree in counseling. While being interviewed for an intern position at a counseling service operated by the Catholic Church, her interviewer suggested she would be better suited to going to seminary.

“It felt like she was a very wise nun,” Marilyn says. “Somehow, I just believed her. She was incredibly authentic.”

Marilyn, who had always been a student of scripture, says she never thought of herself in a leadership role. That may be because she grew up in a fundamental church that did not have women clergy.

Once she decided to attend seminary, her childhood commitment to hard work came in handy.

“Basically, all I did was study,” she says. “I started Friday night when I got home from work, would quit about midnight, and start up the next morning at 7 a.m. and go until 7 p.m. that night. Sunday, I’d go to church and then start studying again.”

Marilyn and Mark left their previous church and joined St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in The Dalles in 2001. The Episcopal denomination has had women priests since 1974. Much of Marilyn’s decision, she says, was influenced by her brother-in-law Jim Roth, who had been an Episcopalian for years.

Marilyn with her husband, Mark. Photo courtesy of The Dalles Chronicle.

“Jim’s influence on me and Mark helped to broaden my ideas on what church could be like,” she says. “Attending St. Paul’s became more than just academic learning, but a sense of relationship was built for our emotional and spiritual growth to thrive also. Throughout this time period, I was also attending seminary, so between church and learning new theology, the Episcopal Church became a good fit.

“It’s this idea of God’s image being in all people. I think the Episcopal Church really does explore that with a gentle authenticity.”

Marilyn became ordained first as a deacon in 2014 and a priest in September 2017. She served in both The Dalles and at St. Mark’s Episcopal in Hood River.

In July 2018, she was hired to fill in as a priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in The Dalles. She still serves in that capacity.

“I love being a priest, just as I thrived at being a publisher of a newspaper,” Marilyn says. “I love exploring salvation history from different perspectives because I’ve learned firsthand that Jesus’ command to love God and others is an ongoing duty to both God and my neighbor.”

Marilyn reflects on her two careers.

“With newspapers, I don’t think there’s any occupation that bubbles with such live energy,” she says. “A newspaper is about telling the stories in a community. So that shift from a newspaper storyline to honoring and respecting the stories in people’s lives really hasn’t shifted for me as a priest. The only difference is, I am free to talk about God. I love it. There’s nothing I don’t love about being a priest.