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Local airport and orchard leader dies

June 9

Hood River lost one of its longtime residents on May 30 when Bruno Hukari passed away after a long illness, just three weeks before his 93rd birthday.

In his 84 years in the valley, he made many contributions to the well-being of the community. He was one of the founding members of the West Side Fire Department in the early 1940s, at a time when firefighting equipment amounted to about two dozen galvanized buckets and some garden hoses and shovels; when volunteers were notified of a fire by a “telephone tree.” He served 30 years as a volunteer fireman.

In 1945 Hukari was also instrumental, along with Ormand Hukari and Mel Lingren, in starting up Hood River’s first airport. The three men had been learning to fly in The Dalles and needed a place to land in Hood River, so they leased some pasture land on the lower west side of town. So many other pilots began using it that in 1946 the County took over its ownership and operation, and enlarged it to improve safety and make it available for larger airplanes. That little landing strip grew to become the Ken Jernstedt Airfield.

In addition to owning and operating a large orchard, he managed to serve on the boards of directors of many organizations: Apple Growers’ Association (now Diamond Fruit Growers), where he served as president of the AGA Credit Corporation; Hood River Co-op (now Hood River Supply); Hood River Irrigation District; the Chamber of Commerce, Elks Lodge, and Hood River Memorial Hospital. His involvement in the community earned him the Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Committee’s Citizenship award in 1953. In 1966 he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board of County Commissioners, where he served for six years.

Hukari helped establish the Hood River County Bank (now Key Bank) and served on its board until 1983. He also joined in many drives for charities which included being chairman of the Hood River Heart Association for several years and county chairman of bond sales.

The Hukari family came to Hood River from Frederick, S.D., in 1920, when Bruno was nine years old. His parents had come to visit cousins but decided to stay, and purchased an orchard on Portland Drive. He attended Oak Grove School and at the age of 16 was in the first class to graduate from the “new” Hood River High School, in 1928. A few years later he enrolled in an airplane mechanics school in San Diego, but was called home after only a few months when his father became ill; he was needed to care for the family and take over the family orchard.

In the fall of 1948, Bruno met Ramona (Raye) Olsen, who was also born in Frederick, S.D. They were married on the first of May, 1949. They raised four children: one son, Lynn, and three daughters, Carol, Molly and Reka. Even with the orchards and his volunteer work he still had time to be on the school committee, be a 4-H leader and to help with Boy Scouts.

The family also hosted exchange students from Israel, Turkey, Nepal, Japan, Mexico, France, England and Germany, some of whom returned years later to visit. Throughout the years, he acquired other orchards in the area and continually upgraded the orchards, raising thousands of new trees to replace the old varieties.

In the late 1950s he worked along with the Extension Service to put in one of the first plantings of dwarf trees in the valley, which were visited by orchardists from around the country and even some from other parts of the world. His horticultural accomplishments earned him the distinction of being named “Orchardist of the Year” in 1963 by the Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Committee.

Hukari had many hobbies throughout his life. He made his own radios, starting in the time of crystal sets, and picked up stations as far away as the east coast and California. He could build anything from a sauna to machinery, and even built his first stereo set, including the speakers and the cabinets to put them in. He loved to read and listen to good music, and loved fly fishing. He and his friend Frank Pierson built a large sailboat and sailed it on the Columbia, coming back with many stories of the predicaments they found themselves in. He took up bowling later in life and bowled in the Senior League until he was unable to see the pins because of his macular degeneration.

After selling the orchards in 1976 when he retired, Bruno and Raye bought a motor home and enjoyed traveling in it. They took four trips to Mexico where they visited families who had worked for them through the years.

They visited Italy four times and were able to experience all of the four seasons there. His family and close friends describe him as a modest man; a thinker and a perfectionist with a wonderful sense of humor, which he kept throughout his long illness. He was deeply affected by the loss of his son, Lynn, in 1976. His biggest pleasure in life, other than family, was working in his orchards.

Bruno is survived by his wife, Raye; daughters Carol Garibay and husband Larry of Tumalo, Ore., Molly Hukari of Tacoma, Wash., and Reka Ranigler and husband Eduard of Margreid, Italy; his brother, James Hukari and wife Helen of Corvallis; six grandchildren: C.D. and Blake Foster of Tacoma; Matthaeus and Jennie Ranigler of Italy; and step-grandsons Michael Garibay and Nathan Garibay and wife Ami of Redmond. He is also survived by two nieces and two nephews; four grand-nieces, two grand-nephews and two step-great-grandchildren.

A gathering of friends and relatives will be held August 7 at the West Side Fire Hall. Memorials may be given to Hospice of The Gorge or Westside Fire Department in care of Anderson’s Tribute Center.

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