Earlene Ervin's family homesteaded in Crook County for generations

by: ANNEMARIE KNEPPER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Earlene Ervin is this year’s Pioneer Queen.

Earlene Ervin has seen a lot of changes in Crook County over the years.
   But when she heard she would be the next Pioneer Queen for Crook County, she was shocked.
   "I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Ervin said. "I'm glad I was sitting on the daveno. [Crook County Historical Society board member] Jerry Brummer called one night and asked if he could come out and visit me and I couldn't figure out why he wanted to visit with me."
   Earlene Mae Fox Ervin was born May 20, 1928 in Gateway, Ore., north of Madras before Warm Springs. The area was Crook County then.
   Irvin's great-great-grandparents, great-grandparents, grandparents Miles and Florence, all homesteaded on Agency Plains.
   Her great-grandfather was the first person to construct a building, raise a fence, or plow ground in that area.
   She remembers her father saying when grandpa would ride through the weeds, they came up to the stirrups on his horse's saddle.
   Her grandfather freighted from The Dalles to Lakeview. He would transport wool for the farmers from Burns and Lakeview and haul it to Shaniko where it was shipped out.
   "In those days they used mules," she said.
   It was rough travel and Ervin's grandmother never knew when he would be home again.
   Irvin's father, Earl Fox, was born in 1903 on the Agency Plains. He was one of five children. Ervin's grandfather had a house and a shed built and they are still standing today.
   In 1927 Ervin's grandparents moved east of Madras with their family to raise wheat.
   Irvin recalls visiting her grandparents and admiring their garden.
   "I never saw a weed," she said.
   In 1927 the government gave Ervin's grandfather $10,000 for his land in Madras and they moved. They paid $12,000 for their new place near the Deschutes River, where they farmed and raised cattle until the government bought that land as well. The location included what is now Sunriver and Thousand Trails.
   In 1937 the family bought a place in Mill Creek, this time raising cattle and hay. There was so much work to do for Irvin's grandfather and uncle Merle, they hired extra men to help put the hay up. Ervin's grandmother had diabetes and wasn't able to do all the cooking for everyone so Irvin went to live with her grandparents and help out with the housework during the summer.
   She remembers attending the Pioneer Picnic in Prineville with her grandparents when she was 14 or 15 years old.
   In 1947 her grandparents moved to Prineville due to her grandmother's health.
   Irvin's parents, Earl Fox and Alice Ella Van Meter, ran away and got married in Vancouver, Wash., then rode the train to Calgary, B.C. for their honeymoon. When they returned, the couple settled in Gateway to be wheat farmers. Earlene came along in 1928 and was the oldest of nine children.
   When a drought made them unable to raise crops, Irvin's parents lost their place and had to move to Madras. Ervin's father worked on the old grade (highway) en route to Warm Springs.
   Ervin started the first grade in Madras. Later, her parents bought a farm on Barnes Butte Road and she went to eighth grade at Crooked River Grade School and attended Crook County High.
   "I always had three or four cows to milk in the morning," she said. "I worked out in the field as well and irrigated."
   When she finished school, Ervin went to work for Ralph and Bertha Henry at the Prineville Creamery on Fourth and Beaver Streets.
   She started out working the fountain but later wrapped butter, graded and boxed eggs, helped out in the office, and made ice cream.
   "I still remember the big room where they kept the ice cream vat," Ervin said. "When you went in you just hoped those big doors would open again because it was cold in there!"
   Ervin met her husband, Bob, in Prineville after he was discharged from the Navy. They married in Prineville at the First Baptist Church (now the parking lot for Wells Fargo Bank).
   They had three children, Gary, Larry, and Michael. The boys attended Crook County schools and Earlene was very involved in their lives as a stay-at-home mom, PTA member, and den mother.
   In 1964 the family bought 14 acres of land on Wainwright Road and built their home there with the help of their sons.
   Earlene returned to work when the boys were older and worked as a bookkeeper for her husband's trucking business. Then she worked for American Molding and Millworks, retiring in 1991.
   These days, the grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of six enjoys crocheting, embroidering, cooking and baking, and is active in the Oregon Old Time Fiddlers' Association. She is also a member of the VFW Auxiliary.
   Earlene and Bob still live on Wainwright Road.
   Of Crook County, Earlene said, "Where else is there to live?"
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