For Baumgartners, retirement hasn’t meant slow down

Scott Swanson

To a casual observer in their living room, Leo “Bud” and Barbara Baumgartner could easily come across as relaxed retirees living a low-key life on their Lazy B Ranch on McQueen Drive, on the Calapooia River.

But get them talking about the river – one of their favorite topics – and it quickly becomes apparent that initial impressions can be greatly deceiving.

The Baumgartners are, in reality, quiet but key players in many aspects of the local community, particularly involving their river.

Though not natives, they’ve lived in Sweet Home close to 50 years and during that time they’ve been busy.

Both were born and raised in Michigan, Bud in Pontiac and Barbara in Ypsilanti near the Ann Arbor area.

Bud graduated from Michigan State University’s ROTC program with a degree in forest management and promptly entered the Army during the Korean War, serving two years in England in an anti-aircraft unit that guarded a U.S. air base.

“This was when Red China entered the war and the Cold War was at its height,” he said. “That’s why we set up defensive positions there.”

Back in Pontiac after the war, he spent a year in graduate school and met Barbara, who had graduated from what is now Eastern Michigan State University and was teaching school in Pontiac.

They married in October of 1955 and immediately moved to Oregon, where Bud worked in Oakridge for the U.S. Forest Service. The Baumgartners stayed there 10 years, during which they had three children, then moved to Sweet Home in 1967, buying a 26-acre parcel on McQueen Drive where they built the house they still live in.

Their three children went to local schools, graduated from Sweet Home High School and from Oregon State University.

“We’ve become Beaver fans,” Barbara said.

Their daughter Kathy is now a teacher at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay. Son Mark, of North Albany, works for Weyerhaeuser as a forester, and son Scott and his wife live in Syracuse, N.Y., where they both teach at Syracuse University.

Bud worked for 21 years in timber management for the Sweet Home Ranger District, retiring in 1988 at the start of “the spotted owl controversy” as a specialist in sale planning and preparation.

“When I retired we were selling 100 million board feet a year,” he said. “Now they’re selling about 7 million.”

Barbara taught for some 24 years at Oak Heights and Holley schools, as a first-grade teacher and then heading the Oak Heights Talented and Gifted program for seven years. She retired in 1988 when the school district dropped the TAG program.

They also have been active in St. Helen’s Catholic Church and Bud served from 1977-89 on the District 55 School Board. Barb is a longtime member of the PEO Nighttime Chapter, which raises funds through flower and wreath sales, and other activities, for women’s scholarships.

Both of them have helped with the Manna meals program and Barb still works there. They are also longtime members of the Small Woodlands Association Linn County chapter, for which Bud has served as president and treasurer at various times.

Their biggest public service endeavor, though, involved water.

Over the years the Baumgartners have added to their ranchland as neighboring properties became available, eventually expanding it to 130 acres, including approximately half a mile of river frontage.

“The Calapooia is really a special river,” Bud said. “Downstream, it’s flat and slow. But starting here and going upstream, it’s really a mountain river.”

“When it’s high water, the river comes to see us,” Barbara quipped.

Their proximity to the Calapooia spurred them to get involved in forming the Calapooia Watershed Council 15 years ago, when 15 people gathered to form the council, which has grown to some 300 members, and five full-time staff members whose positions are funded largely by grants.

Bud said there was a lot of interest in the formation of the council from local residents.

“Anybody who’d had a problem with water thought the watershed council could fix their problem,” he said. “That wasn’t quite the case. The benefits of the watershed council are more long-term.”

After serving as vice chairman for two years, Bud took over as chair, a position he’s shared with Mark Rising of the Courtney Creek area, who retired from teaching in the Central Linn School District.

Bud said splitting the leadership duties with Rising was particularly helpful during the two major projects he’s most proud of – the removal of the Brownsville and Sodom dams to open the river up to spawning steelhead and salmon.

That was accomplished a few years ago, after council members and staff dealt with objections raised by some residents.

“There was a lot of sentiment for the Brownsville Dam,” Bud recalled. “People had this attitude that ‘I learned to swim there and I want my grandkids to learn to swim there.’ It took five years and some contentious meetings to get support. That dam had not purpose, but it was one of those situations in which people are reluctant to see change.

“One of our early objectives was to solve the fish passage problem,” he said. “Mark knew all the local farmers because he’d had their kids in school. He knew all the people we had to deal with.”

Also helpful were “amazing” staff members “who did a good job keeping their cool and working with people to educate them.”

He said there’s a lot of trust for the watershed council in the community, thanks in part to the consistency of its leadership and its staff.

“People know we’re going to do whatever we say, based on past experience,” Bud said. “It’s not like a lot of government agencies, where you have to deal with different people every couple of years.”

In addition to preserving endangered fish in the river, the Baumgartners have been very active in stream bank restoration projects along the Calapooia and many of its tributaries – particularly Brush Creek, working to re-establish native plant species – 100 acres worth – on the banks and dropping woody debris into the streams in spots to create spawning habitat.

Now that the dams are gone, that will be the watershed council’s major emphasis, Bud said.

Another is education, thanks in part to a $1 million, 10-year grant from an Albany woman. The council staff is spending concerted time with middle school students in Halsey and Albany, he said.

“The last couple of years we’ve put a lot of emphasis on watershed education, starting in the sixth grade,” he said.

Barbara is 85, and Bud is 84. They’ve dialed it back a bit on the pace of life, they said. They lease their land out now instead of running livestock and growing hay. But they don’t intend to slow down too much.

“There was a guy who lived across the road from us who was always busy doing something,” Barbara recalled. “Bud asked him, ‘Carlos, why do you work so hard?’ And he answered, ‘If I stop, I die.’

“That’s how it is with us.”