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Corbett pumpkin patch trip steeped in tradition

Since 1982, Phil and Judy DuFresne have hosted Corbett kindergartners for T-shirts, treats and pumpkins

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - From left to right, kindergartners Amelia Harrington, 5, Zevi Gross, 5, and Owen Wright, 5, enjoy cookies, apple juice and apples after a field trip to a pumpkin patch at Big Bear's Store in Corbett.

Laughter and chatter fill Big Bear Store, where 33 Corbett kindergarten students gather in matching pumpkin patch T-shirts, eating apple slices, popcorn and sugar cookies.

At the end of each October, Phil DuFresne buses classes of Corbett kindergarten students to his store for T-shirts and treats. They also are bused to David Torie’s farm on Mershon Road to peruse the pumpkin patch and bring one home to carve.

In DuFresne’s experience, the girls always pick the biggest pumpkin, wandering to the farthest edges of the patch.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Bella Austinson, 6, a kindergarten student at Corbett Elementary School, takes home a pumpkin to a waiting school bus during a field pumpkin patch field trip in Corbett. Phil DuFresne - nicknamed Bear - has been hosting the annual field trip since 1982.

“I love it — it’s amazing,” says Karyn Korman, a Gresham resident and the mother of David, 5. “I think the kids really appreciate it and get a lot from it.”

The next half of the kindergarten group — 33 of 66 — will bundle up in rain boots and jackets for an afternoon visit.

It’s a tradition that DuFresne and his wife, Judy, have hosted at the Big Bear Store since 1982. Several parent chaperones recall their days as “pumpkin patch kids.” Some kindergarten teachers weren’t even born when DuFresne started the yearly event.

“A big class in the old days was about 15,” DuFresne says with a laugh. “But the winters got cold and now we’ve got 66.”

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - DuFresne proudly displays on the wall of his store photographs of past pumpkin patch visitors.

Carrie Evans, a Corbett resident and mother, says she was among the first classes to take the Big Bear Store field trip in 1984. “I think it’s wonderful for the community and a good tradition,” she says.

Adds Karina Lande, a Corbett resident and mother, “These are the things that are Corbett. This is what makes us special and unique.”

Along with the pumpkin patch tradition, DuFresne dresses as Santa each year for a special breakfast the first Saturday of December.

He and Judy host a variety of community events, such as a celebration for the girls soccer team playoff games taking place this weekend.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Naomi Hutu, center, marks names on pumpkins before loading them on a school bus for Wyatt Wolf, 6, left, Joe Hutu, 5, center, and Sydney Blue, 5, right, during a pumpkin patch field trip hosted by Phil DuFresne in Corbett.

“Children, family and country,” DuFresne says. “There are not too many communities that can be such a close, tight-knit part of families. To see such joy and happiness — this is why we live out here.”

DuFresne, whose nickname is Bear, opened Big Bear Store in 1978. He and Judy raised their two children in Corbett, with their daughter working just up the road from them.

Students pose in front of a recently completed mural of the Columbia River Gorge that Pepsi created.

“One, two, three,” the kindergartners say in unison with their teachers, expressing gratitude toward the DuFresnes. “Thank you!”

They’ll remember this all year, all next year, teachers say.

“As long as I’m able, we’ll continue,” DuFresne says.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Phil DuFresne waves goodbye to kindergarten students as they drive away in a school bus from his store in Corbett. DuFresne has been hosting pumpkin patch visits since 1982.

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