Starbuck resident recalls dam-building boom times


Look up Columbia County and there are just two towns sited there — Dayton, the county seat, and Starbuck. Wikipedia also lists Alto, Turner, Huntsville and Marengo, but little if any information is provided about these. I passed through the areas of three of them, and they’re just spots in the road now.

Named for railroad official W.H. Starbuck, Starbuck was originally a junction on the main line of the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Co. A line the railroad built from Starbuck eastward to Pomeroy and Pataha City in Garfield County in 1886 operated until 1981.

Downstream from Lyon’s Ferry, a bridge spanned the Snake River in 1914 that significantly lessened railroad traffic through Starbuck. A bridge originally built over the Columbia River at Vantage in 1927 was disassembled in 1963 and re-assembled in the area to give additional access over the Snake. Today Starbuck is an agricultural town with about 130 residents.

Zonia Dedloff of Starbuck wants all comers to know that compact as it is, her town’s a going concern: it finally made the Chamber of Commerce’s map, she said.

She and husband Jerry Dedloff brought sons Jerry and Zonie to the burg in the late 1960s for the construction of Little Goose Dam.

Starbuck and Dayton saw booms at that time, “yet neither of the towns welcomed the construction families beyond their monetary value,” Zonia recalled.

Trailer homes popped up on every vacant lot and those without such abodes rented “little more than chicken coops” so they could be near the job site, she said.

Son Jerry enrolled as a fifth-grader in the school that taught students through eighth grade. The last memorable Elks dance was held during their first year in Starbuck, she said.

They called the store area Starbuck Mall for in its buildings were the post office, a Laundromat, a “hotel of sorts” and the grocery store. The Grange Hall provided a recreation center for Friday night roller skating for the kids, community events and grange meetings.

Once, a February ice storm caused the Grange Hall to become home to three families who lost power. A restaurant, bar and cardroom existed until it burned in the 1970s and was replaced by a rodeo arena.

Si and Earlene Davis opened a trailer cafe and groceries were sold from another trailer. “The grocer didn’t have the gift of gab Grace Zink had and he didn’t stay in business long,” Zonia recalled.

A novelty for the construction men was Ester Lockard, who trimmed their hair as the town barber. Nettie Brookshire styled women’s hair. Both had shops in their homes.

Of the two active community churches, one remains open and is pastored by Village Missions.

“Dick Jackson was Columbia County sheriff and he did a fine job. So far as I know, he never put anyone in our local jail and it remains empty to this day,” Zonia said.

A new post office and school sprouted from the influx in population. “Our son Zonie has the distinction of being the first child to start school in the new building and graduate from it.

Five new homes were built to house permanent engineers when the dam was completed as they had to live within a certain radius of the dam for their jobs at the time, Zonia said.

A hot topic among news services was when Starbuck Cemetery plots sold for $5 each, Zonia said. “Jean Prettyman gets credit for cleaning up the Starbuck Cemetery. She had local kids and their families working several hours for weeks, pulling weeds and cleaning gravesites. To this day, the cemetery is maintained by the city largely due to her efforts to clean it up.”

Lyons Ferry Park opened as a result of the dam, bringing “paradise in our back yard,” Zonia said. Young people could get jobs as lifeguards and at the concession stand, plus there was a picnic area and boat launch for locals and tourists.

Although construction workers were not welcomed by the local folks, “the revenue we generated was.” Jean McCargue, owner of Jean’s Variety in Dayton, referred to Zonia as “that lady from Starbuck who wears the hats.”

Zonia also recalls that Mrs. (Cletys) Dingle, owner of Dingle's of Dayton, followed her customers around the store “She was a good lady with a good business head and I mean no disrespect for her store policies.” Zonia appreciated Mrs. Dingle’s Diary, a 15-minute weekly radio show on which she shared life tips and recipes.

Zonia said a lot of the construction workers restocked in Walla Walla. “I remember the good trips to town with friends Loretta Bath and Sheila Bananzek when we loaded the kids in our station wagon and headed for the big city for groceries and whatever and came home with the wagon full to the roof with our purchases and our kids cranky from the long day in town.”

And being called “those damned dam workers” didn’t deter the Dedloff clan from choosing to settle and raise their sons there.

Little Goose Dam was completed in 1970, about nine miles northeast of Starbuck. “So when our employer, Continental Drilling Co. moved on to the next dam, for the first time in nine years, the Dedloff family didn’t go with them.”

Jerry worked out of his Operating Engineers Union until retirement. The Dedloffs left Starbuck just twice in 40 years of residency, once for a year in New Mexico and once for eight months in West Virginia.

Little Goose was the first project Jerry worked on from start to finish. “Then, with the completion of the dam, Starbuck quickly became the quiet community I have come to love.”

Construction jobs around the area keep new people coming and going, she said. The school had 30 students as it opened its doors for the 2013 school year. The mall, which underwent changes by Mort Bishop, still stands. David McIlroy pastors the church, which is seeing major upgrades and enlargements.

There’s no store, but denizens enjoy Huwe’s Cafe, Darver Tackle and Rawhide Bar N Grill. Gasoline is available as well as a bed and breakfast.

“It’s ironic that I am now considered one of the ‘old timers’ here in Starbuck and I am comfortable with that. We invested heavily when those cemetery plots were going for five bucks apiece so my spot on the hill — I will one day join Jerry there and never leave this community,” Zonia said.

Five. Count ’em. Five essays submitted to the Narcissa Prentiss Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution by budding writers not only won locally, but also at the state level, said Sarita McCaw, Narcissa essay chairwoman.

Their essays have been forwarded to the Northwest regional contest for judging in Alaska. Winning entries from there go on to nationals. In 2012, a submission from young local writer MaryGrace McKeirnan, won at the national level.

DAR hosts the annual essay contest to encourage young people to think creatively about American history.

The 2013 chapter and state winners are Cole Schmidt, fifth grade, Rogers School, Loralee Thomas, teacher, son of Beki Schmidt; MaryClare McKeirnan, sixth grade, home schooled, and Lilymarie McKeirnan, senior at Walla Walla High School, who wrote a non-school-related essay, the daughters of Lisa and Michael McKeirnan; Lauren Bergman, seventh grade, home-schooled and Pioneer Middle School, daughter of Sarah and Benjamin Bergman; and Tristan Case, eighth grade, John Sager Middle School, Ted Knauft, teacher, son of Doug and Ginger Case.

Jackie Jones, fifth grader, daughter of Tom and Patty Jones, placed second with her non-school related essay.

Lilymarie’s essay was part of the Christopher Columbus Essay Contest for ninth through 12th-graders. She gave a historical overview of his expeditions and concluded that ultimately he discovered the New world, which led to the colonization of the Americas and the making of countries in North and South America and wrote that he strove through unwavering faith and an unaltered lifelong mission and took risks through courage.

The other writers addressed the theme “Forgotten Patriots Who Supported American Struggle for Independence.”

MaryClare’s was about contributions by African American slaves. Tristan looked specifically at the impact women had on the revolution. Lauren wrote about an Oneida woman and her tribe, as well as the officers’ wives, the mothers and sisters who should also be honored for service and character. Cole’s essay focused on Peter Salem, an African American slave who fought in Bunker Hill and other major battles.

DAR honored Sarita with a certificate of appreciation citing 30 years of dedication for running the local contest. Local winners will get certificates and medals at their school awards ceremonies, Sarita said. Certificates and medals will also be awarded during the state meeting Mary 4 at the DoubleTree in Tukwila, Wash., and the national president will be on hand, Sarita said.

In terms of common fears, public speaking ranks right up there with dying. We all pretty much know about the latter, but the former is classified as glossophobia, the dread of public speaking.

Unlike death, the great news is glossophobia can be overcome. I know, for some years ago I couldn’t stand in front of a group to make a simple announcement. Then I discovered Toastmasters, which quelled my anxiety and boosted my confidence.

Local Toastmasters clubs are celebrating their 75th anniversary this month.

Toastmasters International was 13 years old when the Walla Walla Toastmasters Club was founded. Since 1937, the club has taught communication and leadership skills in the community.

The public is invited to celebrate with area clubs on March 14 in the Walla Walla Regional Airport Conference Room, main airport terminal building. A social hour with hors d’oeuvres will begin at 6 p.m., followed by a program at 7 p.m. There is no cost to attend the event. Marking the milestone are members of the Walla Walla, Blue Mountain and High Noon clubs. Door prizes will be offered.

Jon Meyer of Moscow, Idaho, lieutenant governor of education and training for District 9, will give the keynote speech, “Change a Life.” For more details about the event, contact Allen “Al” Aplass at 509-529-3829 or email

Longtime members, Al of Walla Walla and Alan Barer, now of Kirkland, Wash., and Rancho Mirage, Calif., recently recalled high points from their years with the club, according to a history prepared by Katharine Hansen.

Allen joined Walla Walla Toastmasters in 1974 and said a number of club members rose to prominence, crediting Toastmasters with their success: attorney Charles F. Luce, who successfully litigated salmon treaty rights for the Confederated Tribe of the Umatilla Indians, was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as administrator of Bonneville Power Administration headquartered in Portland and later was CEO and chairman of the Board of Consolidated Edison Electric of New York.

Another local member was the late Wes Colley, who founded Bank of the West in Walla Walla and believed Toastmasters leadership training and social interactions bolstered human relations in successful banking.

“Toastmasters was my portal to enter back into the community after my college and military service,” Alan said. One of our projects was to serve on panels debating the proposed change to the council manager system of governing Walla Walla. I spoke to several large groups and became reacquainted with the people of the city.” Alan, who joined the club in 1965, retired after selling family business B. Barer and Sons, which processed scrap metals for recycling and supplying welding supplies for farms and industries, to OXARC.

Al, who retired in 1995 as an electrical engineer at Bonneville Power, joined Toastmasters at his boss’s urging.

Following in Alan’s Toastmasters footsteps is son Dan, now a lawyer in Los Angeles, “credits his skills to verbalize in litigation to his Toastmaster training.”

Toastmasters speech topics run the gamut from European travel to cooking, auto mechanics, conservation and World War II. They’re limited only to the speakers’ interests and imagination. Al cited Audrey Cousins, who demonstrated paper-making with onions. She is one of the first women to join Toastmasters here after women were allowed to join in 1973.

Guests are encouraged to attend regular Toastmasters meetings. The nonprofit clubs teach public-speaking and leadership skills in a supportive, environment.

Walla Walla Club normally meets Wednesdays at 7 p.m. at Walla Walla Dental Care, 2014 S. Howard St. For information, contact Al at 509-529-3829 or

Regular meetings of Blue Mountain Club are at 7 a.m. Mondays at Clarette’s Restaurant, 15 S. Touchet St. Contact Mike Crawford for details at 509-529-8556 or High Noon Club meets on Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m. at Blue Mountain Baptist Church, 2985 Heritage Road. For information, contact Mary Morales at 509-529-4345 or

Walla Walla Toastmasters shares diamond jubilee honors with Frank E. Balmer Toastmasters in Pullman. District 9 embodies 64 clubs in Eastern Washington, Northeastern Oregon and Northern Idaho. The 13,000 Toastmasters clubs in 116 countries are numbered according to when they were founded; the Walla Walla Club boasts No. 81.


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