Baker Valley farmer celebrates 100 years

April 23, 2002 11:00 pm
Ferdinand Boesch, a long-time Baker Valley farmer and the author of two books on history, turned 100 years old Tuesday. The occasion merited a letter from President Bush. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).
Ferdinand Boesch, a long-time Baker Valley farmer and the author of two books on history, turned 100 years old Tuesday. The occasion merited a letter from President Bush. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).

By CHRISTINA WOOD

Of the Baker City Herald

The year 1902 was a relatively quiet one in history. Theodore Roosevelt was the president, having succeeded William McKinley who was felled by an assassin's bullet in September 1901. It would be years before the planet was rocked by World Wars I and II and the coming of the Atomic Age.

Ferdinand Boesch was born April 23, 1902, in West New York, N.J., to Fridolin and Anna Boesch, joining an older brother, Fred. When he was three months old, his family migrated to Salinas, Calif., and later to Baker Valley where he has lived for the past 90 years. The family immigrated originally from Lustenau, Austria.

The Boesches bought a farm at the foot of Hunt Mountain. The first year they raised potatoes which sold for 20 cents a hundred-weight, sacked.

A luncheon in Ferdinand's honor was held April 14, with his daughter, Dora Gourley and her husband, Wayne, from Durham, along with granddaughter Brenda Deskin and her husband, Larry, from Tualatin, in attendance.

According to Dora, Ferdinand attended Lone Pine School and helped with the family farm chores. As a young man he developed a love for the outdoors when he ran trap lines in the Anthony Lakes area. Later he became the first modern bow hunter in Baker Valley bagging many deer with his favorite bow and arrows which he fashioned himself. Always a slender man, he nevertheless often carried the whole, gutted deer carcass out of the woods on his back.

As a hobby, Ferdinand took an interest in photography and purchased a camera with a time-delayed action. As Dora writes, "He would set the timer and make a mad dash — placing himself in the photograph, arranged as casually as possible on a high cliff or rock overhang."

She said he later worked for Ed Coles in Haines milking cows and feeding hogs for Glen Duncan. He met Bertha Warfield and they were married in the Haines Methodist church in 1932. The couple were married for 66 years before Bertha passed away in 1998. Together they reared four children, with seven grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, according to Ferdinand.

The couple rented several farms in the Haines area until 1944, when they acquired a farm on Mansfield Lane, which Ferdinand still owns.

Dora said her father always had time to take in his children's plays, PTA functions and musical entertainment. He came from a musical background and could often be heard singing one of his favorite songs, "Red River Valley."

After his wife died, Ferdinand moved to Settler's Park Assisted Living Facility in 17th Street. He is a popular resident there, according to Sharon Mansfield, a spokesperson for the facility. He is well liked for his wit and good humor.

Ferdinand said the only thing he misses about the old days is his youth. "I really like the conveniences we have today over the old days."

He keeps up with the latest news, reading newspapers and magazines and watching the evening news on television.

He doesn't like what he hears about terrorism. "It looks like the whole Arab world is against us because we stick up for Israel," he said. He added that it seems to be an old problem in the Mid-East.

"They've been fighting each other for hundreds of years even before the times of the Crusades. Richard the Lionhearted tried to put a stop to it, but he never succeeded either."

Ferdinand said a typical day for him is getting up, showering and shaving before breakfast, after which he usually reads in his room, and reads and writes his correspondence for the day. "I write a lot of letters, so I get a lot of letters back. And junk mail, I get lots of junk mail."

"I like it here," the gentleman said of Settler's Park. His room he said has the best view of the Elkhorns and an open field behind the building. "In winter the deer come out and walk along the ditch and I like to watch them out the window. It's strange how they've built all those houses up there on that hill."

A farmer all his life, Ferdinand worries that all the farm land in Baker Valley is being tied up in non-farm related ownership and the valley might one day become just one big city.

Ferdinand is the author of two books on history, "In the Old Days," and "Ox Teams and Covered Wagons." Both books have been sold to interested readers from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts and most recently in the town in Austria where many Boesch relatives still live. There are still signed copies available at Betty's Books in Baker City.

"I should have written more when I was younger," he admitted, "but I didn't have the time for it. I used to get up at 5 a.m. on the farm and worked until 7 at night. Now I don't have the memory for writing."

Ferdinand had a special visit from Baker City Mayor Nancy Shark the evening of his birthday and she will join many others, including President George W. Bush, who sent a congratulatory letter and photograph to him, in wishing the centenarian a happy birthday.

During a recent interview by a group of young people, Ferdinand was asked how he lived to such a magnificent age.

He replied, "You just keep on living!"

Of course, Dora said, never smoking or drinking, only cussing in moderation, plenty of fresh air and sunshine, hard work and a positive outlook on life didn't hurt either.

Not only is Ferdinand celebrating his birthday at his residence, but he will be the guest of honor Saturday at the birthday potluck dinner at the Haines Baptist Church.

The descendants of the Boesch, Warfield and Saunders families will welcome family and friends to honor both Ferdinand and other "long-lived" residents of the Muddy Creek, Rock Creek and Haines areas who have lived to an enviable age from 91 to 103.

Florence Daugherty, Wilma Henner, Joan Boyer, Georgia Scott, Irma Heard, Helen Fisher, Hazel Toney and Alice Loennig will join Ferdinand at the event. Anyone interested in joining the celebration can bring a dish to share while the women of the Haines Baptist Ladies Aid Society will provide the turkey, ham and birthday cake. The meal will start serving at 11:30 a.m.