PENDLETON — An estimated 10,000 people recall being picked up in George Robert “Bob” Winn's berry bus and taken to his farm to get some jingle in their pockets.
The 84-year-old man who died Oct. 7 employed many Eastern Oregon children as strawberry pickers on his Weston farm for 50 years, resulting in a legacy of hard work that has lived on.
“He gave me a real sense of work ethic,” Deb Brumley, 56, said of her boss when she was just 11. “He was really kind to us. He made us feel important.”
Bob Winn inherited the farm from his father in the 1940s, but his grandfather Jesse Winn founded the farm in 1875. He would send out a bus at the crack of dawn to pick up children from towns such as Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston to come pick berries at his farm. They were paid by the flat — about 12 pints. Some children would pick 15 pints an hour; some would pick one.
“We always remembered the fast pickers from each season,” Bob's youngest son Preston Winn, 56, said.
Preston, who teaches agriculture at Blue Mountain Community College, now lives on the family farm. He and his wife Arlene run Winn Homestead Events using the refurbished barn built by his grandfather in 1916. He said there is something special about stepping out in the morning and walking on the same ground his great-grandfather walked on.
“My dad was proud of that,” Preston said. “It was his hope that people will never lose the understanding that we need to love the land and be good stewards if we are going to continue as a human race.”
Preston Winn boiled down a few more of his father's values to faith, family, fun, education and music. Of course, Preston said “fun” was spelled w-o-r-k in his family.
“We worked together and laughed and cried and we saw at the end of the day we got something accomplished,” Preston said. “That was fun to us.”
Bob was married to wife Imogene, 82, for 65 years before he died. They had three other children in addition to Preston plus 12 grandchildren and 15 great-granchildren.
Bob went on to obtain five degrees at BMCC after retiring from farming in the 1980s. Preston and Arlene continued the strawberry business until 2002, when they let it go because an increased deer population destroyed half the crops for four straight years.
Preston remembers his grandfather exhibited similar values as his father.
“Grandpa never turned people away,” Preston said. “If people turned up during the Depression needing help, he'd have them work a half hour then feed them a good meal. That's the way that dad was, too.”
Preston hopes he measures up to the legacy.
“He was one of my heroes, truly,” Preston said of his father. “I want to be the same type of man.”