Hood River’s agricultural community lost a patriarch with the death of Eugene Euwer of Parkdale on May 21.
“His orchard was always one to be admired,” said Jim Donnelly, his friend and Cooper Spur road neighbor.
“Gene was the icon for agriculture in Hood River,” said his friend Gordy Sato, a Parkdale orchardist. Euwer served for years on the Diamond Fruit Co. board, and on the research committee at the Oregon State University Experiment Station, among other civic activities.
“He gave his heart and soul to agriculture and he just wanted agriculture to succeed,” said Sato.
Euwer, who was 79, could trace his orchard links to the old Cloud Cap wagon road as it beelines through his Parkdale orchard. The Euwer homestead orchard, now operated by his children, is one of the southernmost in the county.
“His family history, like that track, is embedded in the soil he walks,” wrote Susan Garrett Crowley in an article in the 1997 Panorama section of the Hood River News on Gene and his wife, Margaret, who survives him along with his children Jennifer, Maren and Nathalie.
The Euwers’ home is a short walk from the log house Eugene Euwer built.
“His father and namesake Eugene Euwer was a Pennsylvania lawyer who walked up that road in 1912 to make his future as a Parkdale farmer,” Crowley wrote.
The elder Euwer carved a venerable orchard out of that rugged hillside forest land south of Parkdale. The farm covers 150 acres and grows mainly green and red Anjou and Bartlett pears.
Gene Euwer would study at Stanford University, and consider a career in law, but he felt connected to the land, and returned to the orchard.
“I feel very strongly about agriculture,” Gene said in 1997. “It keeps a person humble. You learn to concentrate on what you can change, because you can’t change the weather.”
Gene told Crowley that the benefits of maintaining rural land are spiritual as well as economic and they extend to urban as well as rural residents.
“Whether they’ve been here a year or all their lives, this valley’s people appreciate the things a rural environment provides.”
The late Dave Burkhart, an OSU Extension agent, called Gene Euwer “one of the best spokesmen for the tree fruit industry in Oregon.”
Gene learned Spanish and reached out to Hispanic workers throughout his life. The Euwers traveled to Mexico numerous times as they established working relationships with extended families from two Mexican villages.
“We take pride in our fruit and we want people to feel good about growing it,” said Gene.
Gene was also a good neighbor.
Sue Donnelly of Cooper Spur Road recalls the time her husband, Jim, had gone hunting at the time when the Donnellys were “new to the orchard game.”
“We had a blowout of one of our sprinkler lines just below our house. I had no idea how to turn it off or do anything with it, and Gene saw it and stopped,” Sue said. “He walked into the place all the way, helped me find the turn-off valve. He was so helpful.”
“Ever since I got started in 1973, I looked to him for advice many times,” Jim Donnelly said. “I had no experience at all. And I’d make a mistake and I’d be all fretting, and he’d say ‘I’ve done that before, it’ll turn out okay.’
“He was an important person in the fruit industry especially up in Parkdale,” Donnelly said, “for his activities within the industry and in the community. He lived in an area that is a little shorter blooming, a shorter growing season, and he was very successful. His employees thought the highest of him. Not only were they his employees, but they were his friends. He took care of a lot of families. He’ll be missed.”
The fact that red Anjou pears are commercially viable is largely a credit to Gene and the Euwer family. The variety was discovered, by accident, on the Euwer farm in 1977.
In 1981, Gene entered an agreement with Charlton Plants of Dayton to propagate the strange red pear that appeared as a result of a spontaneous genetic change on that one Euwer tree. The first trees were placed on the market in 1986. That year, Jennifer Euwer planted 2,000 red Anjou trees.