Written and presented by Lee Schrepel, June 22, 2012
Quoting Keith’s sister, my Aunt Ruthmary, “Mother and Dad told us they trusted us to behave properly and, until we did something to break that faith, they gave us complete freedom.” I believe the same approach was applied to our generation.
As children, Mark and I were assigned many tasks on the farm, from the most menial to the more technical. We filled and hung small bags with deer repellant in young orchard for one-cent apiece. I earned 25-cents per hour putting sugar in every pail of cherries. As teenagers, we were assigned as team leaders, working with and supervising adults. We were the first team of mechanical cherry harvesters in the state! Involving us allowed our parents to focus attention and energy on other aspects of the operation and it encouraged us to develop our own interests and abilities on the farm. Mark learned he did not want to be intimately involved with fruit processing. I learned that I did. We became a wonderfully complementary team!
At the end of 1968, the Schrepel families incorporated Fruithill. Keith and Oliver were equal owners, but Oliver immediately began to divest his interest with gifts to Kay and, eventually, to Mark and me.
We observed our parents involved in the community, serving and leading in many ways. When they supported school programs, scouting, local economic development and when the family farm sponsored sending the high school band to the state basketball tournament, Dad and Mom definitely modeled an attitude of serving & giving back.
Early in the 1970s, Mom and Dad invited Mark and me to dinner for a discussion about the future of the family farm. A farm compatible with what Fruithill was already doing, with the addition of hazelnuts, was on the market, but it would come at considerable expense. “Generation two” was looking for buy-in from “generation three” before they made this important commitment. It was an invitation to be involved, sharing responsibility and authority.
While fiscally conservative, Keith did not shy away from risk. Our mother recently said that she does not recall much discussion about significant investments, but that she respected our father’s judgment and that there had never been a failure as a result of a pivotal decision.
In 1973, Keith and Kay, with her sister and husband, bought a small hospital in Forest Grove. That was a crucial move because it allowed them to retire on their investments rather than the support of the farm.
Kay explained recently that Keith wanted to retire. Mark and I observed that he remained very closely involved with the farm emotionally and intellectually.
We have been cautious stewards. We slowly expanded the farm and completely replaced the fruit processing plant. Until we began to consider the next generational transition, we were very apprehensive about major risk.
Looking back 36 years, we observe how quickly time has flown! I returned to the farm from my military commitment that followed graduation from Oregon State University to manage processing, sales, administration and logistics. Mark, who attended both Oregon College of Education and Oregon State, was already involved in the day-to-day production aspects of the farm. Mark has greatly enjoyed nurturing our crops. We grew into our roles and have enjoyed working together with people we love and respect.
Replacement of the farm office, shop and fruit processing facility and retiring a remodeled sawmill remnant seemed like a huge and expensive undertaking in 1983, exhausting financial reserves at a crucial time. It was a two-year project, but it was worth the effort and subsequent projects have dwarfed the expense!
As Fruithill entered the 1990s, times were tough. We needed to re-energize the operation with an aggressive replanting program, but feared taking acreage out of production for at least six seasons to develop new orchards! We needed to bite the bullet!
Once we began to replant orchards, we were rewarded and encouraged when we saw how abundantly young trees wanted to set a crop! We became much more deliberate about replanting to the extent of 180 acres of cherries and nuts, plus we decided to see how compatible our operation could be with vineyard production.
We began to plant wine grapes in 1996. We learned a lot and planted more grapes. We converted some nice cherry ground into productive vineyards. We replanted some very problematic cherry ground into hazelnuts.
Through the years, we’ve enjoyed occasional recognition, with one award of particular note. Acknowledging a long and devoted career, in 1999, Keith was named to the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences “Diamond Pioneer” Agricultural Career Achievement Registry.
Though recognition is nice, our family’s aim has been to humbly serve our family and communities through good stewardship of the land, service on local school boards, involvement with church congregations, OSU Extension Service, state and national cherry industry groups, the American Cancer Society and leadership of a non-denominational community choir that supports local food banks.