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On Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, Harry Orem hurried home to heaven.
"Hurry up Harry" wasn't a request, it was a description. Harry was always in a hurry, in constant motion, even at 88 years old he had a hard time sitting still for any real length of time. He ate fast, drove fast, spoke fast … lived fast and to the fullest. Combine this energy with an unwavering work ethic and you had a formula for success. Previous generations provided him with a strong foundation on which to build a successful farming and ranching operation in the Klamath Basin, and he made the most of it.
His grandparents, Horatio and Agnes Orem, moved with their five children to the Klamath Basin from the Mt. Shasta area around 1904 to live at Topsy grade where Horatio ran a sawmill. Their son, Ira began farming for himself in 1917 and in 1919 married Marie Griffith, daughter of county Judge J.B. and Mary Griffith. In 1923, they started raising potatoes at Mt. Laki.
So God made a farmer … Harry was born Dec. 21, 1925, to Ira and Marie in a house in the Henley area of Klamath County. He was born early, in a hurry to get life started. One of the earliest photos of Harry shows a two year old standing on a truck piled high with sacks of potatoes.
School years were spent at Henley with the exception of a year at Malin High school. He enjoyed playing football, basketball and running track, as well as playing in the school band. Those school years were the beginning of a long and successful career in agriculture. He started out earning $3 a month milking cows and selling cream, and by his junior year he was growing 35 acres of potatoes on ground he and a partner rented from his dad.
In 1944, immediately following graduation, Harry enlisted in the Navy as his father and uncle had done before him, and served two years on the aircraft carrier USS Block Island. After a short stint in radio training, the Navy realized itsmistake and sent him into machinist and diesel school. This education served him well in farming, enabling him to repair and maintain farm equipment. He vividly recalls participating in the operation to remove survivors of the Bataan Death March from Formosa (Taiwan). While home on leave in December 1945, he married his high school sweetheart, June Dickson.
The Navy wasn't the career for Harry. After completing his service and returning home, he and June moved to Fort Klamath where they began farming and ranching with his dad, Ira. Summers were spent working on the family ranch in Fort Klamath and in the winter they moved the cattle to the ranch near Corning, Calif. They lived in a small pump house with their two children, Gary, born in 1947 and Ann, born in 1949. He described the "house" where the first floor was the living room, the second room was the bedroom and the third level was a large water tank. Harry remembers the kids sleeping at each end of a single cot through those winter months.
The farming operation in Merrill took off full speed in 1953, when Harry and June purchased the Hammond place and moved into the Frank Adams house, built circa 1898. Harry had fond memories of Ann and Gary as kids working on the farm and raising 4-H animals. They grew hay and grain along with the cattle and over the next several years were able to accumulate more acres in the area including the Cox, Adams, Wilson, Eagle and Lyon places. Official commercial potato production began in 1970 on the Cox place with 70 acres of sprinkler-irrigated spuds. The potatoes proved to be a successful crop for the Orem family. The partnership that started with Ira and Harry was extended to include son, Gary, in 1968. Daughter Ann and then son in-law, Sam Walker, also participated in raising potatoes and working on the family farm.
The farm has long been a family operation where local kids and grandkids alike have been given the chance to learn about hard work and responsibility. All the grandkids have their own experience of surviving a ride in reverse with Papa Harry, flying backwards down a ditch bank flanked by a canal on one side and a fence on the other, each one silently contemplating whether they are more apt to survive drowning or crashing. This experience has bonded them and made them thankful reverse doesn't have a second gear. His support of local kids went beyond summer jobs to buying their 4-H animals and assisting with college educations. He loved to see people succeed.
In 1972, Harry and June went into partnership with Duane Blackman in Crater Lake Potato Distributors. Harry enjoyed the many challenges of operating and managing a commercial packing shed. A frantic pace suited him and hopefully it suited you too, if you worked for him. Crater Lake served customers throughout the Northwest and as far south as Los Angeles. The Orem family grew their last crop of potatoes in 2000. The water crisis in the Klamath Basin put an end to many years of successful potato growing.
Retirement was a verygradual process for Harry. When asked when he decided it was time to retire Harry emphatically stated, "The first time Bill Clinton got elected!" As recent as 2003, he could still be found in the combine harvesting grain and just last winter he kept son in law, Gene Palmer, company in the pick up during calving season. In the last few years, Harry may have slowed down a little bit, but he still enjoyed driving around this Basin he loved so much, while narrating a thorough history of the land and people who made it great. Every Sunday you could find him faithfully attending Merrill Presbyterian Church.
The impression Harry Orem made on this Basin runs deep. There are few who can say they weren't touched by his kindness, generosity or belief in hard work. The past 88 years were a remarkable journey for him and his family, and there wasn't a man with more pride in this community of farmers and ranchers.
Gary Orem and family would like to give heartfelt thanks to Harry's crew who enabled him to live out the past five years with comfort and dignity. Harry's earthly angels include: Lori Thornton, Barb Kring, Gayle and Chris Ratliff, Kathy and Dan Wetzel, Matt Hughes, Wayne Williams, Shelbi Thornton, Carl Green, Roger Nelson, Mitch Taylor, Candy Zalud, Mark and Ann Taft and Jody Weigel.
Harry was preceded in death by his wife, June Orem; parents, Ira and Marie Orem; daughter, Ann Orem; and grandson, Gannon Orem.
He is survived by son, Gary Orem and wife, Janie of Merrill; granddaughter, Felicia Cox (Mike) of Klamath Falls; grandson, Tice Walker (Colleen) of Metuchen, N.J.; granddaughter, Bethanie Powell of Marysville, Calif.; granddaughter, Heather Palmer (Gene) of Merrill; and granddaughter, Marnie Merin (Scott) of Lodi, Calif. His great-grandchildren, Drake and Hunter Cox, Liam and Keira Walker, Sarah, Justin, and Johnny Powell, Jack and Carlie Palmer, Myles and Hallie Merin. Sisters in law, Barbara Mack of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Carolyn Harnsberger of Klamath Falls and his faithful companion who never left his side, his dog, Jake.
Please join us in celebrating Harry's life Thursday, Feb. 13, at Merrill Presbyterian Church. Services will begin at 10 a.m. with graveside service following at Mt. Laki cemetery. Food and fellowship will follow the graveside service at Merrill Civic Center. Lunch will be provided.
O'Hair's Funeral Chapel is in charge of the arrangements. Viewing will be from 9 to 5 p.m. at O'Hair's Wednesday, Feb. 12.
Memorial donations may be made in his name to Mt. Laki cemetery or to the
Please sign the online guest book at www.heraldandnews.com/obituaries.
O'Hair & Riggs Funeral Chapel
515 Pine Street
Klamath Falls, OR 97601
Published in Herald And News on Feb. 9, 2014