Written and presented by Lee Schrepel, June 22, 2012
Our family farm was born from a gift. Our great-grandfather left school at 15 to work and, when he’d accumulated the cash, bought an 80-acre farm near Yamhill. Growing tree fruits, hops and livestock and diversifying himself vertically with a prune dryer, he managed to accumulate another 500 acres.
When his only daughter married a fellow student at Oregon Agricultural College, he gave Anne and Oliver Schrepel $1,000.
In 1919, after Oliver completed World War I Navy service, our grandparents bought the farmland that began our family business. We are now just a few years short of qualifying as a “Century Farm”!
Oliver and Anne were hard workers and have been described as “hustlers” and “survivors” during tough times. My father (Keith) and his sister (Ruthmary) did not know “want” during the Depression. In fact, Aunt Ruthmary recalls a ceremonial burning of the mortgage during those very difficult years! It is said that many a person in need found support in some fashion, a ride, a meal, a place to sleep or a job, from the Schrepels.
As our parents finished high school, Grandpa Oliver and Grandma Anne Schrepel were growing fruit, processing prunes, logging and expanding the farm locally and as far away as Corvallis. With Keith and Ruthmary attending Oregon State College, Oliver was building the operation for the possibility of a generational transition.
Though Keith had driven a tractor from the time his legs were long enough to reach the pedals, milked the family cow, hauled logs and otherwise helped his father with farm work, he had not intended to return to the farm. But newly married to Kay, graduated from Oregon State and discharged after World War II, he returned to partner with his parents. The family farm was destined to live on!
Keith was a great support for other local growers returning from the war, sharing what he had learned in college. Keith and Kay hosted an aspiring, young orchardist from France as part of an Extension Service program. The entire Schrepel family was committed to assisting a family Keith had met in Germany. This support fostered an international relationship that continues to this day and across four generations! Schrepels’ pattern of giving back was well-established.
The Schrepels and others delivered their “pie” cherries to Bradley Pie Company in Portland. Bradley had a pitting machine. Keith’s cousin recalls delivering cherries to Bradley in the back seat of his dad’s car during the 1930s and that each grower received a day-old pie!
In 1950, Bradley asked the Schrepels to take the cherry pitter to the farm and deliver pitted cherries in cans to a Portland cold storage warehouse. As “generation three” was being born, “generation one” was retiring and a new phase had quietly begun in a shed that still exists on the farm: the Schrepel family was now a cherry processor!
By today’s measure, our grandparents and parents never borrowed much, but certainly risk, challenge and change were a very large part of their lives.
In 1954, recognizing the need for a more secure source of water, Keith and Kay, my parents, bought a “retired” sawmill site at Yamhill for $12,000. Served by city water, some of the sawmill structures were remodeled to serve as a farm shop and a primitive fruit processing facility.