Nothing slows him down

By Lisa Britton August 04, 2010 02:36 pm
At 98 1/2 , Sherm Allen stays busy volunteering around town

Sherm Allen offers a friendly smile to visitors at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, where he has volunteered since the Center opened in 1992. He joined the Trail Tenders with his late wife, Pansey. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins)
Sherm Allen has earned the right to take it easy, but you can’t tell this man to slow down.

At 98 1/2, he still spends Monday mornings as a volunteer Trail Tender at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, and every day he heads to the Senior Center for lunch.

Just this summer he decided to hire out his yard work — but he still likes to water his own grass and drag hoses around.

He’s been in the Elks Lodge for 66 years, and he’s a Shriner — he sold advertising for the annual Shrine football game until he was 97.

To celebrate him, Sherm’s family threw him a party on July 10. More than 50 people attended — grandnieces, grandnephews, and their children and grandchildren.

“It was a wonderful recognition of him,” said his stepdaughter, Sandra Allen.

Sherm’s father, Daniel Wright Allen, arrived in Eagle Valley on Jan. 1, 1888. He was 19 years old, and had 20 cents in his pocket.

He came from Missouri.

“And he never wanted to go back,” Sherm says. “He came out here alone. He brought a load of cattle out, and that paid his way.”

Since he was single, Daniel homesteaded 160 acres (the acreage allotted was double for married couples).

“Had no water on it. Matter of fact, it didn’t even have a well,” Sherm says. “They dug and dug and dug to get a well. Meanwhile, he brought water from a quarter mile away.”

Soon he had a seven-mile ditch to bring water from Eagle Creek.

“Most of it (dug) by hand,” Sherm says. “I get to thinking about that — no way could I have done that.”

In 1894, Daniel married Lura Edna Gover. Sherm was the youngest of four children, born Dec. 22, 1911, in Eagle Valley.

“New Bridge was the first town out there, and then Richland came along,” he says. “That part of the county was in Union County at the time.”

He attended Sunnyslope Grade School.

Sherm was a youngster during World War I, but he well remembers that time.

His appendix ruptured when he was 6. His family loaded him in a 1917 Dodge Touring Car and headed to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Baker, taking the road through Sparta.

“It was a three-, four-hour trip. I don’t think we ever made a trip to Baker when we didn’t have one to three flats,” he remembers. “You’d tear it apart, patch the tube, pump it up by hand and go on down the road.”

At the hospital, he saw  Dr. Carl Patterson.

“He was about the only doctor left in Baker. All the rest were in the service.”

He spent 28 days in the hospital, and his mother hired a nurse to stay with him.

“They had no idea in the world if I was going to live after the surgery,” he says. “The stitches wouldn’t hold.”

There were no antibiotics, no I.V.s.

He healed, obviously.

A few years later his dad rented out the ranch and bought a place in Richland. Sherm went to the local drug store because he knew there was an opening.

“I thought I’d ask Shorty if I could take Wilbur’s place. He said sure.”

He swept the floor, polished the counters and did any other small tasks that needed done.

His pay?

“Oh, really...nothing,” he says with a smile. “A discount on whatever I bought.”

But that job steered him a career path for the rest of his life.

“He encouraged me very much to go into pharmacy school.”

He remembers, from those Richland drugstore days, that the drug supply was limited.

“You did a lot of mixing with mortar and pestle,” he says.

And a mail order took a while — from Baker to Huntington to Robinette to Richland. Reverse the order for sending mail out.

Sherm graduated from Eagle Valley High School in 1930, and enrolled at Oregon State College.

His first year cost $450.

But money was tight, so he returned home and cut firewood to sell for $9 a cord.

“To get that load, you had to cut the tree, trim it, pile up the brush.”

After a two-year hiatus he returned to college. He graduated in 1936.

His first job was in Salem. Then he went to Camas, Wash., for a while, but returned back to the same Salem drugstore.

“Then I ended up in Seaside,” he says. “You can imagine Seaside in the summer — they wouldn’t leave the store until one or two in the morning. I didn’t think much of that.”

Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

“Every month I figured I’d hear from them. That went on for a year and a half,” he says. “I decided after Christmas — we were busy — and inventory, I’d enlist. Then about Nov. 4 they closed enlistments.”

He was drafted in 1942.

“I was in the medics,” he says.

After training, he joined 5,500 men on a ship to New Guinea. They bathed in salt water because the filtration system broke.

“Soap won’t lather at all in salt water,” he says.

From August 1944 to June 1945 he was assigned to the hospital unit at Finch Haven as a pharmacist.

Then, on Aug. 6, 1945, America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Sherm’s unit shipped out to Japan, and the whole hospital was loaded — wards, tents, equipment.

They took over a Japanese Red Cross hospital in Kyoto.

The Japanese, he says, treated them well.

“They were wonderful. They’d do anything they could for you.”

In Japan, the military sent beer to the troops.

“We’d let the American beer sit on the table, and we’d drink the Japanese beer. It was better,” he says.

He returned home in January 1946, and shortly thereafter was asked to take over Economy Drug, which was owned by Buford Morris. It was located on the east side of Main Street, in the space now occupied by Domino’s Pizza.

Sherm and Rod Crosby bought the store in August 1948, and operated it until June 1976.

He says at one time Main Street had six drugstores.

“Little family drugstores, most of them,” he says.

And speaking of family, Sherm’s first wife, Amy, passed way after a battle with breast cancer. He married Pansey on May 15, 1971. She died in 2005.

Sherm sold the drugstore in 1976, but he kept in the business by filling in when needed.

He’s not behind a pharmacy counter these days — but he’s still plenty visible around town.