It's not often one hears tell about someone who's worked for 75 years, let alone at the same occupation.
Native Walla Wallan Ramon L. Walters is finally hanging up his tools of the trade. His family will honor the farmer for three-fourths of a century growing wheat in the Walla Walla Valley. Daughter Debi Walters and son and daughter-in-law Rick and Cyndi Walters will host a retirement shindig for Ramon today at Stonecreek Gardens.
Ramon rolled up his shirtsleeves and started farming as a 10-year-old. Before that, his father, Charles "Curly" Walters, tended mules as a hired hand for John Ankeny, son of Sen. Levi Ankeny, one of Walla Walla's founding fathers.
The Walters family leased and worked two of their three farms from the Ankeny family and/or estate for close to 100 years.
Ramon was born Dec. 23, 1925, to Curly and Sadie Walters. Their family first farmed north of town in the Sudbury area of the Walla Walla Valley in 1922. And in 1938 they began farming a wheat ranch at Dry Creek.
At 14, "Ramon worked from sun-up to sun-down for 26 days.
"Immediately after he picked up his $26 paycheck, Ramon went to town and bought a bicycle for exactly $26," Rick said.
"Oh my dad was mad," Ramon told his kids 70-plus years later.
"He couldn't figure out why I'd worked so hard only to blow all my money on that bicycle when I had a horse that I could ride to school."
In the late ‘40s Charles and Sadie moved into town, but continued in partnership with sons Kenneth "Nuke" and Ramon. Nuke took over their operations in Arlington, Ore., while Ramon continued in this area.
When his brothers went off to fight during World War II, Ramon quit school to help on the family farm. One of his brothers returned from the war in 1945 and Ramon served his country with a hitch in the U.S. Navy.
He told his family, "I didn't see much of the world, but I saw a lot of California. I would have stayed in the Navy if it meant coming back to farm with mules," he added. "I hated taking care of those mules."
His outlook changed with emerging technology, such as tractors with internal combustion engines. "I called mom and dad from my station in the Navy and told them that if they switched to tractors, I'd come back." Curly bought one and that's all it took to entice Ramon home.
His children say their dad is an innovative farmer. "He has invented numerous mechanical devices to improve yield or efficiency, such as a two-way tillage seeding rig. Ramon is highly skilled in developing devices that enhance farming equipment or procedures."
Also progressive, he was using a state-of-the-art, global positioning system and auto-steer unit in his 460 tractor in the early 2000s. "It's why he transitioned from conventional tillage to energy- and soil-saving direct-seed technology."
Much about agricultural production technology has changed during his career. The horse- or mule-drawn tractors have given way to motorized rigs and conventional tillage evolved into direct- or no-till operations. "Ramon has worked hard to bring soil- and energy-saving technology to the land he farms near Walla Walla and Touchet."
Conservation technology was been a boon to his no-till drill operation on 300 acres of the steepest, most erodible land.
"Immediately we could see a difference. Our direct-seed ground had almost no erosion at all." A year later, Ramon converted another 300 acres.
Rick said, "Direct seeding required fewer implement passes over the land and proved to be more economical than Ramon initially believed. With an increase in the price of herbicides, the skyrocketing cost of diesel fuel, the economic scales were tilting in the direction of direct seeding. His fuel consumption decreased by nearly three quarters with this new technique. Ramon's yields have been nearly identical to those in the conventionally tilled fields."
"Breaking old traditions takes some getting used to. His fearless attitude and perseverance may have something to do with that bicycle he bought with his first $26 paycheck all those years ago," Rick said.
Ramon was still harvesting three farms spanning 2,400 acres of steep, rolling hills in central Walla Walla County at age 85. "Today, one person can farm what would have taken four or five people and 100 head of mules to farm 70 years ago," Ramon said.
Along with Rick and Debi, Ramon brought in his last crop this past summer. His "last harvest was a celebration of traditional harvest meals for the crew, many visitors in the harvest fields and family by his side.
Ramon's eldest granddaughter, Jessica Walters Boschma, carried on the four-generation tradition of wheat farming. She helped pay her way through college working for Walla Walla Grain Growers, running a wheat elevator at Paddock and Dixie. "I'm very proud that she knows how to work with her hands," Ramon said.
Walla Walla Sunrise Rotary Club has awarded $500 scholarships to seniors Megan Moberg of Desales High School and Andrew Glaeser of Walla Walla High School. Megan plans to attend Washington State University and Andrew plans to attend Oregon State University.
Sunrise Rotary Club meets bright and early Wednesday mornings at 6:45 in St. Francis Church Community Center on Alder Street, said John McKern, chairman of the public relations committee.
Sunrise Rotary was chartered in 1995, has 39 members and is open to the public, John said.
The club's new slate of officers, who took office on June 30, include Abby VanderPlaat, president; Earl Gooding Jr., vice president; Marianne Renick, treasurer; and Rich Collum, secretary. Officers before them included Craig Sievertsen, president; Hank Worden, vice president; Marianne Renick, treasurer; and Rich Collum, secretary.
For more information about this group, contact John at 509-525 6283.
John William Sr. and Lucy Jane Barnes Parks and their children are among early pioneers who arrived in Milton-Freewater in the mid-1890s, according to descendant Travis Wilder.
A Missouri native, John Sr. and Lucy had five youngsters, Tessie, Minnie E., John Jr., Albert and Arthur. Their youngest child, Dorthy, is buried in the Old Pioneer Cemetery in Milton-Freewater.
The family expanded as each child married and produced more offspring, Travis said. Parks descendants will gather for the first time ever and they hope to reunited with those who are "lost."
The Parks extended family reunion will be from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Aug. 6 at Lions Park, 801 S.E. Larch St., College Place. Local families will coordinate food for the event. RSVPs may be made with Travis at 509-522-0579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reunion hosts expect participants to come from California and around the Northwest. There are more, although others from the East Coast may not be able to attend, Travis said.
Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vt., named Jessica Arnzen as a 2011 recipient of its SMC Book Award for Academic Achievement with a Social Conscience.
Students from around the United States who have received an SMC Book Award for Scholarship and Service are eligible to apply for the college's Book Award Scholarship, worth up to $25,000 per year for four years.
Recognition goes to students who demonstrate commitment to leadership in volunteer service and academic achievement.
A senior this fall at DeSales Catholic School in Walla Walla, Jessica is the daughter of Kenneth and Tracy Arnzen of Milton-Freewater.
She received a copy of "First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers," (HarperCollins 2000) by Loung Ung.
Ung is a 1993 SMC alumna who is now an acclaimed author. She relates her autobiographical account from a child's perspective. She survived captivity during the genocidal Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Her memoir is about a family's survival and the development of her ongoing crusade for a landmine-free world.
Jessica is active in the Milton-Freewater Livestock 4-H Club and shows pigs at local fairs, her father said.
A member of National Honor Society, she participates in cheerleading, track and field at DeSales.
She volunteers for school retreats and other school functions and participates in Challengers, a volunteer-led activity where mentally challenged kids get a chance to play baseball. "Jessica really loves participating in this," Kenneth said.
She plans to pursue studies in elementary or special education, or environmental studies. She also swims year-round with Walla Walla Swim Club.
Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at email@example.com or afternoons at 526-8313.