Many different things can define a life: genetics, circumstances, experiences, choices made. I was born in the midst of the Baby boom generation, November of 1950, and many things have defined my life.
My parents married at the conclusion of WWII. Both parents were 19 and, like so many of the young adults of the day, at the end of what has been called the “Great War,” they began to look for work and a place to call home. I heard their stories of those early married years where employment was scarce and moves were frequent. After some time working in the forests of southwest Washington with my grandfather, my father, Ernest, was hired on at Weyerhaeuser’s Longview sawmill where he eventually became the head saw filer and stayed working until the mill was closed and he retired. My family moved into a small house nearly within sight of the main gate of the big sawmill. Thus began the setting of circumstances that led to experiences and choices for the next years of life.
My early childhood memories are precious and I have many fond ones. Neighborhood pals, church friends and family gatherings with my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles for birthday celebrations and holidays made for some great stories, as did the times spent hunting and working in the forests alongside my father, cousins and grandparents. Summer days, starting long before dawn, were spent waiting for the berry and bean picking bus, boarding with the 30 or 40 other young people, and traveling to the fields for a day of work. We must have been old enough then, as today we likely wouldn’t be.
Siblings play an important part in shaping our lives as children. Children of a two child family develop a unique bond that continues throughout their lives. Included in that bond of support comes a certain amount of teasing and tattling, which my older sister, Karen, would say was entirely one-sided. She has been such an important supporter of me, both through childhood and through my adult career.
I think I raised nearly every small pet possible, from many chickens, to rabbits, ducks, pheasants, parakeets, canaries, a crow, a chipmunk and of course my constant companion, Tinker, my mutt of a dog. I can remember even trying to make a pet out of a raccoon and an opossum. Tinker and I spent many hours and days hiking and fishing on the banks of the big Columbia River. I have often thought that everything I ever learned about responsibility I learned by caring for these animals.
Probably the most influential part of my years growing up was that my parents were devout Christians and the family attended church every Sunday morning and evening, as well as going to other special events held there during the week. Both my father and mother were dedicated Sunday school teachers and my mother was often a featured soloist in the choir. Giving the tithe from their income to the church and having daily devotions were examples taught by Dad and Mom.
My parents also modeled a strong work ethic. Dad worked many overtime hours at Weyerhaeuser to make ends meet. The lesson of hard work was learned at a young age working alongside my father and grandfather. I remember observing from their example that the measure of a man’s value was by the amount of physical effort put into a job, and hearing the words of my father that “a job isn’t worth doing unless it’s done well.”
My mother babysat during the week to help out financially as well, and as I grew older I saw the compassion she displayed toward the children she cared for and trained. Many of those children grew from infancy to school age under her care. The memory of my mother’s God-given wisdom shown in her interaction with these children was a resource from which I have often drawn.
Pursuits during my school years were many. I played in the band and had the joy of experiencing a remarkable band instructor, Mr. Calvin Storey. Mr. Storey was regarded as the finest band director in the area and demanded that all his students give their best.
Football and my high school coaches played a big part in my school years. I was honored to be selected to the All-Conference team my senior year. Fortunately, circumstances led to choices made to not take advantage of offered college athletic scholarship opportunities. A broken arm, losing a front tooth and partial vision in one eye are scars I brought out of those hard-hitting high school football years. In retrospect, the decision to end my football career, was most likely a very healthy one.
My parents, band teacher and football coach were not the only ones who made an impression on me in my youth. Teachers, little league coaches, church camp counselors, employers and others in the community did as well.
Throughout my life I also maintained a relationship with the pastor of my childhood church who provided stability and a guiding resource to me. Pastor Paris was an influence from the pulpit, at summer church camp, and the marriage and guidance counselor to me and my wife, Kathy. When I applied for my first career job after graduating from college, Pastor Paris wrote a letter recommending me for the counselor position. I was hired because of that recommendation. Pastor Paris was still in his 50s when he passed away but his mark in my life was tremendous as it was in the lives of many others.
The courtship of my wife Kathy is nearly an unbelievable story. She was a young neighbor of 13 when we first met and her mother, wisely would not allow her to “date” until she was much older. Early in my high school senior year and her sophomore year, Kathy and her family moved to Vicksburg Mississippi, where they lived for close to three years. We wrote letters almost daily, called frequently and I even visited her for a week in Mississippi and a week in Spokane when she and her mother came to visit her grandmother. Kathy’s father was transferred back to Longview in the spring of 1971, which enabled us to be together once again! I have often said that our marriage had to be in God’s plan since the story is so remarkable.
The day of the wedding ceremony along with the births of our children, Ben, in 1977; Sam, in 1978 and Jessica, in 1982, were the four most exciting days of my life. Soon after we were married I began taking classes at Portland State University while Kathy worked in a Longview dental office. I had attended Lower Columbia Community College and a partial year at Washington State University while Kathy was away.
In 1974, shortly after graduating from Portland State, I was hired as a counselor at Toutle River Boy’s Ranch, which was located about 30 miles from beautiful Mount St. Helens. The Boy’s Ranch was a residential treatment center for delinquent boys who were placed by the courts and probation counselors who believed they would benefit from intensive counseling and hard work planting and thinning trees in the nearby woods. I rose quickly up the ranks and was named the executive director in 1977. I reported to a mixed board of men and women and would call upon that experience in the future.
Once again, my God had to have a plan for me. How else could a young man of 26 be trusted with the lives of over 30 boys, 20 staff, and a nonprofit with more than a one million dollar annual budget?
There were many areas of the Boy’s Ranch that required constant monitoring. Seeking the necessary financial support of those in the surrounding communities, following government controlled guidelines, managing the boy’s required work program, monitoring the evening school program along with the counseling the boy’s received all were part of my busy daily routine. I brought to that position the lessons about forestry, logging and tree planting I had learned from my father and grandfather, and I developed an intuition about what a boy might be thinking, good or bad, partially from time observing the children that my mother babysat. Applying those experiences, coupled with my aggressive personality, enabled me to keep the program going during some very tough times in the economy, with social changes and with environmental issues. During that time, I pursued and received a Master of Education degree from the University of Portland, graduating in 1978.
On May 18, 1980, the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s volcano caused a mudflow that destroyed the Toutle River Boy’s Ranch’s entire compound. (Interestingly, it was later noted that the Ranch had been built on mudflow from a prior eruption.) Had the eruption occurred any other day than that Sunday morning, staff and the boys would likely have been seriously injured or worse, lost their lives, as they would had been planting trees inside the blast zone, much of which was destroyed by the eruption.
This was certainly an event that shaped my life. Our immediate focus was the safety of our residents. Just prior to this, because of concerns with Mount St. Helen’s recent activity, I had prearranged to evacuate the boys if necessary to another unoccupied facility that was deemed a safe distance from the mountain. That unforgettable Sunday morning as we were leaving with our children to go to church, I looked up and saw the mountain’s summit engulfed in a gigantic, churning plume of volcanic ash with huge bolts of lightning flashing throughout it. As was reported later, as the mountain erupted there was no sound heard by those of us living on the opposite side of the blast because of the vacuum created by the explosion. I quickly told Kathy to pack some things and take our children to my parent’s house in Longview, then I rushed off to implement the evacuation plan for the Ranch. I did not return to meet up with them at my parent’s until early the next day. The mud flow that swept down the Toutle River totally destroyed the Boy’s Ranch, the temporary home for 32 boys and place of employment for 20 adults.
On a daily basis, the Ranch board and I made “executive” decisions in the rebuilding process. We had to purchase land, answer questions of concerned neighbors, drill a well, design and construct a new facility, write grants and raise the more than 1.2 million dollars to fund the project debt-free. The stories of the twists and turns with the state of Washington, FEMA, the Corp of Engineers, as well as staff and boys are just too numerous to tell.
In 1982, the Toutle River Boy’s Ranch was reopened at their new location well away from the dangers of any possible future Toutle River overflow. After the reopening, life there settled down somewhat into a recognized routine of helping young men who had been in some sort of trouble find a way to re-enter society. With guidance and counseling given by the dedicated employees of the Ranch, many of the residents went on to become useful and civic-minded citizens.
In 1987, I received a call from a company hired to recruit qualified candidates to be considered for the executive administrator position at Hutton Settlement in Spokane. The presiding administrator, Robert Revel, was anticipating retirement in the next few years and it was considered prudent to bring someone in to train under him so that the transition of leadership might be as smooth as possible. Qualifications being considered were: experience in the day-to-day maintenance of a children’s facility, a knowledge of building and real estate operations, an ability to report to and respect the Hutton Board as their “boss,” and, most important, to have a love for children and their welfare. I was hired and in January of 1988 began working as the assistant administrator. Mr. Revel fully retired in 1995.
I have often said that at Hutton Settlement “children are our mission.” Having maintained that conviction at the Boy’s Ranch and at Hutton Settlement, I have daily sought to put the children first who have been under our care and protection.
I have seen the successes and the failures that can occur in any family and I am a dogmatic supporter of Hutton’s “family” structure and the children’s well-being within it. The children who have gone on to lead successful lives have given a sense of fulfillment to me and the others who give their time and energy helping them attain that goal. I most desire that our Hutton children can go on to be mentors, teachers, good parents and respected examples to others just as many were in my life. Those children who need extra guidance and concern, even after they graduate and leave Hutton, I desire that they have an advocate as well. That dedication was forged out of my circumstances, experiences and choices. I remain determined to support and encourage the greater good of family and children.
As a clear result of past experiences and circumstances, my overwhelming concern is the welfare of children. It is my life’s God-given purpose. For me, to have tried to go in any other direction in my career would never have happened. Being endowed with an inner drive, a history of wonderful mentors and a spirit for service has continuously pointed me to making children my life’s mission.
I often remember a poem that I first heard in my early teen years. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost ends with the final prose that explains my life:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by
and that made all the difference.
To learn more about The Hutton Settlement, visit www.huttonsettlement.org
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