With grey hair, a kind smile and a gentle demeanor, 84-year-old Myrna Shaneyfelt looks every bit of the nice grandmother she is. But what most Oregonians fail to see when glancing at the longtime Grants Pass woman is the fierceness underneath, the backbone of steel, the never-say-die energy of a small-town human rights legend.
“Myrna was fearless in standing up for those who have no voice, but she also did it with a smile,” says Marc Salvatore, a former Josephine County resident. “We jokingly called her the general because she truly was a unique leader and would not give up on getting the task done.”
Those tasks nearly always revolved around helping the unborn, women in crisis and those with disabilities. A short list of Shaneyfelt’s accomplishments: teaching thousands of Josephine County residents to swim, presenting the pro-life view in public school science classes, working right-to-life county fair booths, volunteering with Oregon Right to Life Education Foundation’s annual student contests, leading Josephine County Right to Life, speaking out against Planned Parenthood’s entrance into local public schools, housing pregnant mothers at her own home and even traveling the nation peacefully protesting at abortion clinics — an action for which she was repeatedly arrested.
For those decades of work, Oregon Right to Life (ORTL) presented Shaneyfelt with our fourth Nedora Counts “Life of Faith” award in March. Typically given at the Together We Advocate conference, the “Life of Faith” honor is bestowed upon a pro-life champion in the Beaver State.
Named after a pro-life colleague of Shaneyfelt’s who died of cancer in 2017, the award was presented by Mel Counts, Nedora’s husband, via Zoom. Oregon Right to Life executive director Lois Anderson was also virtually present to tell Shaneyfelt, now living in Texas, that she was being honored across her former state.
“Oh my goodness’ sake!” Shaneyfelt beamed. “Thank you, thank you, so much!”
Oregon State Senator Art Robinson called Shaneyfelt “the single most important figure in the last 50 years in Josephine County” at her going-away party. Longtime chapter leader Bryan Platt marveled over her ability to draw a crowd. “We in Jackson County were — and continue to be — amazed that when Josephine County did a [Roe v. Wade] event, more people showed up for it in that small town than we could muster in Medford,” he says. “It is and was a testament to the respect that the community gives Myrna.”
Steve Raycraft replaced Shaneyfelt as Josephine County Right to Life director, but he acknowledges that he has “tough shoes to fill.”
“Myrna would be the voice for the defenseless in every way she could in the community, just non-stop,” he says. “Some people come and go, but she would not give up, quit or back down, even in the face of adversity. She is just a warrior.”