Generations invest in leadership of Oregon Women for Agriculture
By GEOFF PARKS
For the Capital Press
The 70-year gap in age between Marie Bowers and her great-grandmother, Charity Bowers, is bridged by their family's connections to Oregon Women for Agriculture.
Charity Bowers, now a spry and sharp 96, in 1969 became the first president of the ag advocacy and education group, and Marie Bowers, 26, was elected president on March 3.
In a fitting touch, Marie Bowers was surprised at her installation in McMinnville during the OWA state convention by her great-grandmother, who had been driven to the event by two of her children, Marie Bowers' grandparents.
"I was so excited to see her there," Marie Bowers said. Charity Bowers then presented a Linn-Benton Women for Agriculture -- as the OWA was known in the beginning -- past-president pin to Marie Bowers during the ceremony.
"She surprised me and caught me off-guard," Marie Bowers said. "I shed some tears, not an easy thing for me to do."
In 1969, farm women in the Willamette Valley became concerned about the looming shutdown of field burning, a practice they say is irreplaceable for reducing pests, recycling nutrients and reducing pesticide use in harvested grass seed fields.
"We needed to do something, and the men didn't have the time," Charity Bowers said. "They were all busy working in the fields."
A Linn County grass seed farmer's wife, Mary Holzapfel, contacted several concerned women with the suggestion that they form an organization to educate and lobby to head off the coming regulations.
"I was hauling grain from Creswell at the time," Charity Bowers said. "Mary called and said, 'Come on down,' and I did."
Charity Bowers ended up being named president.
She held the title for two one-year terms before moving to Fort Rock in 1971. Returning to Harrisburg 10 years later, she has maintained her OWA membership throughout its name changes, affiliation with the American Agri-Women and steady growth to five active chapters statewide.
The organization's only fundraiser -- an annual auction that raises between $60,000 and $70,000 each year -- will be held this year on April 21 at the Linn County Expo Center in Albany.
Charity Bowers' elevation to the presidency of the organization four decades ago in many ways mirrors Marie Bowers' this year.
From the age of 12, Marie Bowers was driving tractors and bale stackers and doing whatever else it took to help run the family's grass seed acreage.
She received bachelor's degrees in agriculture and ag management economics from Washington State University, worked for Northwest Farm Credit Services for three years, then took over as bookkeeper for the family farm owned by her father and mother, Eric and Vickie Bowers.
"I've been an OWA member since I can remember," Marie Bowers said. "Activism is in our blood."
In addition to herself and her great-grandmother, her mother was president of the Linn-Benton chapter several years ago.