Senior Feature: Earl and Elva Townsend
Newcomers become old-timers
Area farming couple Earl and Elva Townsend are enthusiastic about Madras. "After 53 years, I still think Madras is the best town in the world," Earl said.
Earl, 83, was born in Montana and raised on a farm in the Yakima Valley in Washington. After high school he worked picking apples, harvesting potatoes and baling hay, then did construction in Alaska for two years, including working on the Alaskan Highway.
Drafted into the Army in 1943, Earl met Elva while located in Grants Pass, where she grew up. After high school she worked in the Josephine County tax office and then for an attorney. After she and Earl married and the war was over, they moved to Spokane, where Earl did construction work, and Ellensburg, where he was a meat cutter.
"I had always wanted a farm of our own, but there were no opportunities in Washington. Then I heard about a project in Madras and we came here, but all the Agency Plains land was picked over," Earl said.
Finally, they made a $500 down payment on the old Louis Young homestead (Highway 97 and Dogwood Lane). The two-story farmhouse had been built in 1902, but not wanting to borrow money to put up a new home, Earl remodeled the old one, cutting off the top story.
"We moved in in March 1949. It was a bad winter with snow still on the ground and I wondered if I'd done the right thing. There was no electricity, but we owned a well which was the community watering hole. As neighbors came to water-up they met many old-time "drylanders" including the Dulings, Quaales, Binders and Spencers.
Irrigation water didn't arrive to their area until 1949, and didn't help much that summer. "It was a dry, hot summer and we made absolutely nothing. We were broke and couldn't leave," Earl chuckled, explaining why they stayed in Madras.
To help out, Elva got a babysitter for their two children and used her experience to get a job working for Jefferson County as a deputy tax collector. When Ada Brownhill retired as county treasurer, Elva was appointed in her place, and was later elected treasurer. She worked a total of 39 years for the county, retiring in 1988.
Meanwhile, Earl was raising Ladina clover, wheat, potatoes, grass hay, and had three cows that they milked, selling the cream. Later he built up a beef cattle herd with 100 cow-calf pairs. He bought another farm in 1960, but sold it, and has "eased out of farming" the past five years. They lease their land now and he said Elva helped pick rock and lay irrigation pipe this spring until they found a new leasee.
The Townsends have two children, Robert, a mail carrier in Portland, and Rita, who owns a pharmacy in Willamina; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Earl mentioned that he is a cancer survivor, who has been cancer-free for over 20 years. He's thinking of joining this year's Relay For Life's survivors walk.
Both have been actively involved in the community. They are avid Madras High basketball fans and never miss a game, are members of the United Methodist Church, Eastern Star and Masonic Lodge, were both in the Toastmasters Club, square danced with the Sage Hoppers for 25 years. Elva was in Daughters of the Nile, and Earl is a former president of the Farm Bureau, and long-time Lions Club member who has handed out countless numbers of American Flags in Madras classrooms. A carpenter, he makes full-sized wooden wagon wheels and furniture.
"Now I'm trying to get into the Loafers Club," he joked, while Elva said, "I spend my time taking care of Earl, keeping the farm books and checking e-mail on the computer."
Earl had this advice for others, "If you've got a dream, stick with it. We've had our backs to the wall several times, but we never were licked. And it makes better people of you."