I wrote this obituary for Dad, who died five years ago. It is longer and more personal than typical. The obituary received both positive and negative feedback. I was grateful for this as it seemed to make Dad’s life more memorable.
Harold Laverne Crouch
Harold was a prominent Douglas County rancher. He had been living with the progressive symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease for several years. He died July 2, 2009 at age 93, at the Veterans Administration in Roseburg, Oregon.
Harold was born August 30, 1915, the fifth child of Orra Odell Crouch and Blanche Graham Crouch of Wichita County, Kansas. Orra and Blanche were children of homesteaders who migrated from Ohio and Wisconsin to the Great Plains of Western Kansas.
The Crouch family survived the great depression and the severe drought of the dust bowl years without losing their farm. But this time of travail caused missed opportunities. When Harold graduated from the eighth grade at the one-room Lone Star School, his formal education ended and he remained on home on farm, where he helped with farming, animals and machinery.
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Harold enlisted in the Army and was sent to boot camp at Fort Lewis. On weekend leave, Harold took an opportunity to drive South to see agriculture in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He was impressed with the beauty of Oregon and the farms that he saw.
Harold met Grace Brandner on his visits to the Post Office in Leoti, prior to his enlistment. During his tour of duty, Grace enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. They corresponded during their years in the service, and Harold saved letters from this time. Grace and Harold were married at on August 21, 1946 at Manitou Springs, Colorado. Dreaming of a better future for their family, Grace advocated for moving away from the harsh environment on the Great Plains.
Shortly, after Grace’s discharge from the Army they traveled to Oregon in search of farmland. They purchased a 350 acre farm along Calapooya Creek between Umpqua and Sutherlin. The farm came with a small house, but was nothing to write home about. When Grace’s mother, Pearl Brandner, came to visit in the winter of 1946-47, she exclaimed, “Well Harold, I see you bought a shack in a mudhole.” With profits from the Kansas wheat harvest in the spring of 1947, Harold worked to rebuild his neglected farm. He began construction of a three-bedroom ranch-style house, which became their home in 1951. Wisely, he constructed the house atop a broad mound of fill, mined from Calapooya creek. Thus the house stood about 3 feet above the plain. Waters from many floods of the 1950s often surrounded the house, but never invaded it.
Farming in Douglas County is different from Great Plains farming. Harold quickly saw that much of his farming knowledge would not work here, and he sought advice from experienced neighbors and the County Agent at the Oregon State University Extension Service. He believed in adopting innovative modern practices whenever practical.
Harold preferred crops that could be handled with machinery, but local folk wisdom is that Douglas County is livestock country. To achieve a more stable source of income, Harold raised sheep for more than 10 years. Many winter nights were spent scouting for new born lambs. Many spring days were spent doctoring the flock. Harold kept meticulous records and attempted to improve the health of his flock through selective breeding. After practicing sheep husbandry for several years, he concluded that sheep are not well adapted to profitable ranching in Douglas County. He converted his operation to cattle, which are stronger and less prone to disease than sheep.
Despite the demands of farm, home and family, Harold provided time to give back to the Community. He and Grace attended most of the events at the Calapooya Club House, including the Farm Bureau, Calapooya 4H, birthdays, showers, potlucks and socials. Harold and Grace attended the Community Presbyterian church in Oakland. He provided extra effort in the 50’s, working with hammer in hand to help construct a new church. He also led Sunday School classes and advocated that the church do more to help the needy.
Harold shared knowhow, tools and farm equipment with neighboring farmers. Sheep ranchers having trouble with their operations sometimes visited, seeking help. He showed them how to pencil out a strategy for land and stock, using figures to be more realistic about costs for improving pastures, providing feeds, and buying stock. This helped them aim for ways to profit, always depending on the vicissitudes of the livestock market.
Harold’s talent for farm management was recognized by the community and he was recruited to the board of the Production Credit Association. He disdained the long meetings, but enjoyed the opportunity to review farming operations of loan applicants.
People may dispute what farm crops will grow in Douglas County. But nobody disputes that Douglas Fir grows well over most of the County. Experience with the timber on the adjacent Moore place proved to Harold that timber could provide an income to supplement other crops. His interested in forestry gradually grew.
With able help of Emmit Churchill, Harold added the Elkhead and Drain Hill tree farms in the 1970s and 80s. Many winter days were spent planting seedlings. Unlike most men his age, Harold preferred to work with the planting crew, carrying trees on his back, and a planting hoe in his arms. Because of his reforestation efforts, Harold was recognized as Douglas County Tree Farmer of the year in 1982.
At age 65 Harold retired and sold the family farm. Rather than adopt a life of leisure, he purchased a tired, brush-covered ranch from the Baimbridge family and set about to improve it. On this property, Harold brushed, worked and fertilized the soil to make it productive. He experimented with productive combinations of grasses and achieved remarkable grazing conditions. He added a paddock system of electric fences to easily relocate Cattle and give the grass a rest between grazings. With these achievements in place his son-in-law Randy Harper said, “Nobody can believe that Harold can produce so many grass-fattened feeder cattle on such a small property.”
Although Harold usually registered as Republican, he often thought more like a Democrat. This was most noticeable in his support for a government role of redistributing wealth from haves to have-nots. When Bill and Hillary Clinton assumed their first term, Hillary was tasked with leading badly needed health-care reform. Unfortunately her efforts were opposed by powerful corporate interests and failed to generate a groundswell of support in the Congress. Harold penned a letter to her, expressing his support for her efforts and his empathy for the failure that she sustained. Hillary replied in writing: “Thank you for your thoughtful letter. Your words of encouragement and support mean a great deal to me.”
Well into his 80’s, motorists passing the farm via Stearns Lane could see Harold harvesting hay, doctoring cattle at the squeeze chute, or herding animals with his three-legged dog and ATV.
The family is grateful to the caregivers who provided in-home assistance for a year and a half, and the staff at the VA Protective Care Unit in Roseburg, who assisted him in the last two months, for their remarkable care and attention to Harold’s needs.
Harold is survived by his wife, Grace Brandner Crouch, of Oakland, Oregon, their four children: Martin David Crouch of Portland, Kathleen Marie Knee of Oakland, Glen Roland Crouch of Salem, Annette Louise Harper of Oak Hill Road, 12 grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren.
Please join the family at a Memorial Service on Sunday, July 12 at 3pm, at the Community Presbyterian Church, on SE 8th Street, in Oakland, Oregon. A light dinner will be served at the church, following the service.
Contributions may be sent to the Community Presbyterian Church or Oakland, Oregon or to the Oregon Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, http://www.alz.org/oregon/in_my_community_donate.asp.