“I was a nature boy,” were Jack Cochran’s words … his simple explanation for an all-encompassing drive that spanned his years as a child and continued into adulthood. Jack Cochran was a nature boy and also a woodsman and craftsman, a man who knew the Northwest forests in both work and recreation, a man who passed on to his three sons these passions and still, with his years of roaming the woods well behind him, picked a flannel shirt to button up for Christmas dinner at the age of 92.
Jack was born in Luray, Kansas Dec. 5, 1926. With an early childhood filled with storm cellars in tornado season and early dismissals from school during the Dust Bowl, Jack was a long way from the land where he would come to feel most at home. His parents, Mike and Nellie, named him Ralph Wayne, but his great-grandfather, while bouncing him on his knee, would think of the boxer, Jack Dempsey. From early childhood on, he would answer to Jack.
A dream of tall timber and the great career of logging would compel Jack’s father to move west and settle in the town of Parkdale, Ore. Jack had his own dreams, too. An avid reader, he made the literary character of Tarzan into a hero and turned the fiction from stories into reality. Jack escaped into the forests at the base of Mount Hood, with a hunting knife and bow, observing the natural world and finding a place within it. This began a pattern for life whenever he felt a spark of interest in learning something new. Whether it was carving, working with black powder weapons, bow hunting or animal signs, Jack would doggedly pursue the topic through reading, observation, and practice until he had it mastered.
Parkdale became home and Jack, along with his older sister Ernestine and little brother Denny, thrived there. He embraced every aspect of his school experience from participation in sports to drawing for the school paper. As the 1940s progressed, Jack watched teachers and classmates leave to join the war effort in Europe and he tried to enlist as well. The recruiter in Portland took one look at Jack’s letterman’s sweater and told him to go home and finish school. He graduated from Parkdale High School in 1945 and enlisted in the army just in time to experience the end of WWII.
Jack returned to Parkdale, married his high school sweetheart Leone and, like his father before him, went to work in the woods. He started as a chaser and second loader, but spent most of his career as a crane operator for the Parkdale Lumber Company. He remembered the hot summers of fire season when work would stop and his entire crew would be conscripted to fight fire. He also remembered the dangers and close calls inherent in logging.
To his sons Robin, Lance, and Kit, Jack gave many things, but most of all, he gave knowledge. He took them on hikes and hunting trips, teaching them how to read the signs around them. Jack served as their troop leader as they earned their Boy Scout patches and always reserved time to throw a baseball or football in the backyard. All three of his sons would go on to work in the woods in the tradition of their father and grandfather.
For a man who held down a job from the age of 19 through retirement, raised three sons and maintained a four-acre property, Jack produced a staggering volume of creative work. He cartooned for Logger’s World; he made buckskins, moccasins, and belts; he crafted holsters and knives and restored black powder weapons. But, most of all, Jack carved. He carved large busts of his heroes, like Hugh Glass and Sacajawea; he carved the natural world in motion, buffalo, bear, and antelope; and he carved loggers. Jack’s 5-inch tall loggers were complete in detail from a cigarette held between two fingers, to the sharp points on a pair of cork boots.
Jack and Leone traveled in retirement around the U.S. and overseas. They also traveled the Northwest to square dance. In 2003, Jack and Leone sold their family home in Parkdale and moved to Goldendale, Wash., to be near two of their sons. Jack kept a shop on their property for his tools, creative endeavors and memory books. He would often lean against his work table and thumb through cut-out newspaper clippings and sketch pages, an accumulation of a lifetime of interests.
Jack passed away on Feb. 17, 2018, and is survived by his wife, brother, sons, and grandchildren. Along with his carvings and crafted items and the times spent together, his family will remember Jack through his knowledge and the skills and wisdom he worked to acquire and freely pass on.
A sample of Jack’s carvings, as well as a black powder rifle he restored, can be seen at the Parkdale Museum. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22 at Anderson’s Tribute Center, Hood River. A graveside service will follow at 2:30 p.m. at Upper Valley Cemetery, 6917 Allen Road, Parkdale.
Arrangements are under the direction of Anderson's Tribute Center Celilo Chapel, 204 E. Fourth St., The Dalles, Ore. Visit www.AndersonsTributeCenter.com to leave a note of condolence for the family.
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