Family anchored farm in Felida Red Barn

Sisters regretfully prepare to close store and redevelop land

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Today's Northwest 119th Street is a major connector, busy with traffic and split by a double yellow line. A C-Tran bus route even passes near here, much to the amazement of three sisters who grew up on the family farm that became the Felida Red Barn.

Back in their day, a grand total of four or five cars regularly drove what was then Rural Route 3. "We knew every one by the sound of its motor," Karen Yankee said.

Those days are gone. Many more motors — and drivers — are soon to invade this acreage, as the Felida Red Barn comes out and Kramer's Corner, a planned-unit development of 48 single-family homes, goes in.

The only uncertainty is when. The former Kramer sisters — now Karen Yankee, Carol Hoffman and Glenda Hergert — are pretty confident that 2014 will be the Red Barn's final year. They're just waiting for final Clark County approvals of the Kramer's Corner plan, they said.

In the end, Hoffman said ruefully, "All this will go." Yankee said she hates the idea of watching her childhood home being demolished. It has to happen, she said, but she hopes to be out of town. Maybe she and her husband will go fishing, she said.

"It was a good life," said Glenda Hergert.

Work and play

The real reason for the end of the Red Barn is the death of matriarch Jo Kramer in 2012. "If she was still here, she'd still want to be farming," said Hoffman.

Josephine Herman grew up in Damascus, Ore., and then in Camas, where she graduated from high school in 1932. She worked at the paper mill for seven years and then married Glenn Kramer, a Ridgefield boy whom she'd met at Saturday night dances. They purchased 10 acres in Felida that already boasted some handy improvements: a little box of a house, a barn, a well and a chicken coop.

The farm grew from 10 to 21 acres and the Kramers raised four children there; the youngest, brother Fred, died at age 11 of sepsis that followed from misdiagnosed appendicitis.

Glenn worked daytimes at Fort Vancouver Plywood and then came home to tend his proliferating berry vines and pear trees. He also had an egg-and-chicken delivery route, the sisters remembered, and it was their job to wash as many as 100 eggs per day. Plus, oldest sister Karen had the lucky assignment of helping her mother butcher fryers every Friday.

"We worked here on the farm, but we didn't consider it work," said Hergert. "It's just what we did. After chores, we got to play in the woods."

As neighbor kids started picking up paid farm work, the sisters got exactly the same from their father. "We never got any special treatment," said Hoffman. They never even got an allowance. Hoffman said there was a valuable lesson in working for what you earned. If you worked less or slower, you had less reward in the end.

When the family had to go shopping, its destination was the Fruit Valley Grocery for major purchases and Mrs. Wheeler's nearby store on 36th Avenue for pricier conveniences. When a telephone was needed, a neighbor named Mrs. Jones had one you could crank up by hand. Eventually that was replaced by a "big black box that rang on the wall," Hergerts said; you knew which house in the neighborhood was wanted by the pattern of long and short rings.

The girls all attended the old Felida Elementary School before it was closed in 1954. They were faithful members of 4-H, and mother Jo was their local 4-H leader. That's how they learned to cook, sew and garden, they said.

"Our world was here, not all over the place," said Hoffman. "We worked together, we played together. We had a strong family bond." But when they were looking to slip that bond, Hergert added, the huge cedar tree in the front yard provided fun escape, with the girls climbing the trunk and sliding down the back branches to be completely hidden from their mother.

When Glenn went hunting every autumn, Jo would get busy painting and wallpapering the house. According to one written tale, she liked to wax the hardwood floor and let her girls do the polishing by skating all over it in wool socks.

A bit of country

Glenn died younger than anyone expected, at age 68 in 1980, and by then three sisters were all living elsewhere — but nearby. Karen Yankee and husband David still live on two acres carved out of the original Kramer property, yards south of 119th Street on 21st Avenue. Hoffman and Hergert live with their husbands, George and Rod, on productive, adjoining farm parcels in Ridgefield.

"We're still dedicated to this kind of life," Hoffman said. "We still mend our own clothes, sew our own buttons, cook our own food. We can," that is, they preserve their own food in cans. "It's becoming a lost art, but we still do it," she said.

They also embraced the new art of selling off parcels for residential development. Kramer's Corner isn't a new twist for the family; over the years, they sold land right across the street, which became Glenn Acres, and to the east, which became Felida Knoll.

"The farm sort of grew and then scaled back again," said Hoffman. But Jo Kramer lived on for decades after her husband's death. "She wanted to keep the farm environment. She didn't want to leave," said Hoffman.

In 2005, the Felida Red Barn opened its doors as a retail farm store. The farm had been busy selling strawberries to industrial processors, and neighbors started clamoring for a taste of the red jewels they saw growing in that corner field. Once strawberries were on sale, the neighbors started clamoring for other homegrown goodies, too. The business added raspberries and blueberries; then it added all sorts of locally grown produce and prepared foods (such as breads and pies) as well as handcrafted baskets and clothing. October has meant pumpkins; in December, Christmas trees have been trucked in from nearby.

"It turned into a seasonal produce store," said Hoffman. "People have loved finding a little place that has a little bit of country to it."

But Josephine Kramer died, at age 98, in July 2012, and the sisters are ready to call it quits. "Our kids are not interested in this. It's not as much fun, at our age," Hoffman said.

Maybe it would be different if they were 30 years younger, Hoffman said; maybe the way to make such a business pay nowadays is to make it a winery, coffeehouse and "frappuccino bar."

What's nice for the three sisters, they said, is to realize that none of them fled the area. One still lives where she grew up and the other two live side-by-side, not far away.

"There was some sister sibling rivalry but never any heavy discord," said Yankee. "We've all gotten along."