Wallowa County Chieftain
There is little doubt that Wallowa County Extension Agent John Williams will be missed when he retires June 30. A group of around 100 well-wishers gathered at Cloverleaf Hall May 11 for a send-off.
Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts served as emcee for the event. A variety of community representatives also spoke, providing an abundance of good-hearted humor.
Roberts said that when she began gathering anecdotes, people asked her if John were dead.
“I said ‘no he’s just retiring,’” Roberts said.
“We always figured he’d die on the job,” folks responded.
Despite Williams being very much alive, Roberts said she proceeded to prepare what was essentially a eulogy.
Few of William’s foibles over the past 25 years were missed by speakers, which included friends, family, co-workers and others.
Williams has for years coordinated the livestock auction at the Wallowa County Fair, and the pressure of the event and its impact was much-discussed.
Roberts said former county commissioner Mike Hayward suggested “John’s spring might have been wound a little tight during fair.”
Wallowa County rancher Linda Childers told Roberts she had coined a phrase for Williams’ propensity for getting grumpy when he’s hungry. Childers called it “hangry,” a combination of hungry and angry. “He doesn’t talk until you feed him,” she said.
In addition to Roberts, long-time cohorts Arleigh Isley and Mac Birkmaier spoke.
Isley was Wallowa County Extension Agent before Williams and was instrumental in bringing him to the county.
“I got him into this mess, so I had to come to get him out of it,” Isley joked.
Birkmaier said farmers and ranchers owe a debt of gratitude to both Williams and Isley, which drew applause from the audience.
“We couldn’t have had two better more down-to-earth knowledgable guys willing to help us,” Birkmaier said. “In all the issues that we faced, we had them as allies to help us communicate our part of the story to different urban populations.”
Birkmaier said he and Williams attended dozens of meetings attempting to keep wolves from being reintroduced in Oregon.
He said he worried Williams would “get in trouble” in rooms filled with environmentalists “who loved them wolves.”
“We couldn’t have had a better ally, and just because we failed goddammit, it doesn’t mean we didn’t try,” Birkmaier added. “What we said in those hearings is coming true today.”
Toward the end of the evening, Debera Warnock, who guides the county’s 4-H programs, presented Williams with a plaque from Oregon State University recognizing his 32 years of service. She also announced a special retirement gift –– a one-day guided fishing trip.
In his farewell, Williams said he has truly loved being in the county and working with so many great people.
He paid tribute to his wife, Eileen, and presented her with an orchid.
“You don’t do a job like this without a partner,” Williams said.
Williams said he hopes to stick around and work on several unfinished initiatives.
“There are a lot of things I am looking forward to,” he added.
The event, coordinated by Warnock, also featured food and ended with serving of a retirement cake.