Florence Elizabeth Thuirer Harmon, granddaughter of Quaker pioneers who settled in Clay County, Iowa in 1869, was herself a pioneer. She homesteaded with her husband, Wendell Harold Harmon, near Elk City, Oregon in 1933. Her four children wish to honor her for her pioneer spirit, her unconditional love, her hard work throughout life, her concern for those in need, her interest in current issues, her playfulness, and her love of nature. We offer highlights from Florence's life so that you may know something about her.
Florence Elizabeth Thuirer was born December 20, 1909 on the family farm near Spencer, Clay County, Iowa, not far from where her grandparents had homesteaded. Florence attended Summit Center School (grades 1-8), starting late, at seven years of age, because her parents were concerned that she would not be able to walk the two miles to school in the winter snow and cold.
Florence had four brothers (one who died in infancy) and one sister, with whom she has been especially close. All of the siblings had daily chores on the farm. Florence's chores in the morning were to feed the chickens and wash the breakfast dishes and in the evening, to gather the eggs, bring in corn cobs for burning in the kitchen stove, and wash the supper dishes. Florence and her sister were charter members of the Spencer 4H group, which named itself "Summit Shiners."
Florence graduated from high school in 1927, having attended grades 9-12 at Spencer High School. She studied at Iowa State College and graduated in 1931 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics Education. During her four years at college she played violin in the Iowa State Symphony, attended the Wesley Foundation at Collegiate Methodist Church, and was a board member of the Young Women's Christian Association on campus. Florence was president of the Iowa State chapter of Kappa Phi for Methodist college women and was also president of the 4-H Club at Iowa State. She waited tables during the summers at the Crescent Beach Hotel in Lake Okobojii, Iowa, earning $100 for 3 months of work.
Florence loves to tell about her first date with Wendell, whom she met at the Wesley Foundation. She was high up on a ladder changing scenery between acts of a play being performed at the church when Wendell came to the bottom of the ladder and asked if he might walk her home. She gleefully says "I couldn't argue! I had to say 'yes' because the curtains were about to go up and I had to get off the stage!"
After graduation in 1931, Florence taught girls' physical education, orchestra, and home economics at Larrabee Independent School District in northwest Iowa. Directing the orchestra was quite a challenge, especially since the orchestra had to play each month for half an hour in front of the Parent Teachers Association and because Florence's degree was not in music.
On March 24, 1933, during a spring blizzard, Florence and Wendell were married at her family's farm home in Spencer. While Wendell traveled to Ames to complete his last year at Iowa State, Florence returned to her teaching job in Larrabee. When it was learned that she had married over the weekend, she was called before the school board, since it was not common for married women to teach. She was allowed to finish the year, but the next year's contracts specified clearly that any woman teacher who married during the year would be dismissed from her position.
That summer Wendell and Florence moved far from friends and family to a homestead on the forested hills near the Oregon coast where they felled trees, split logs, and built a small cabin. They had a cow, chickens, and a garden, and lived simply on the land to fulfill the residency requirements of the Homestead Act.
In 1935 they moved to South Dakota where Wendell was offered his first job, a job with the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) earning $160.82/month (a marked increase from the $30/month on which they survived on the homestead). Wendell was later hired by the US Forest Service and began his career first as a forest ranger in Keystone, then at Spearfish Canyon near Deadwood, both in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Their first three children were born in the Black Hills: Wenda Lee (January 7, 1938), Jerald Leroy (March 15, 1940) Marcia Kay (January 30, 1943). Their fourth child David Wendell (May 21, 1947) was born in Nebraska where Wendell worked as a farm forester.
When they returned to Deadwood in 1949, Florence became the Charter President of the first Deadwood Parent Teachers Association. She taught Sunday School through the years at the Methodist Church and by 1953, when they had moved to Custer, South Dakota and the children were older, she substitute taught in the public schools. From Custer they moved to Denver, Colorado, where she continued to substitute teach to earn $8/day for the children's college fund. Their last move in Wendell's career with the US Forest Service was to Lake Oswego, Oregon, where Florence substitute taught, taught Sunday school, and served as president of the local United Methodist women's group. After Wendell retired in 1968, they moved to Beavercreek, Oregon.
Florence and Wendell began to raise Christmas trees and to manage the timber on land they acquired in Oregon. They have earned many rewards for their work: 1986-1976, Clackamas County Woodland Farm of the year; 1983, Oregon Tree Farmers of the Year; 1984, US Western Tree Farmers of the Year; 1979-1992, Oregon State University Extension Programs Recognition of Support; 1990, Environmental Excellence Award. Florence served on the board of the innovative John Inskeep Environmental Learning Center where she demonstrated her support for environmental causes and was instrumental in helping the fledging program become a success.
In 1995 Florence and Wendell have ten grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are grateful to them for establishing a loving, caring family whose members are encouraged to use their talents to their greatest ability "to make the world a better place to live." Florence and Wendell have done so throughout their lives wherever they have lived.
Florence and Wendell, our thanks to you for the gift of life and for the love you have shown all of us all of our lives.