For Char Williams, Wallowa County is about people, school, community, scenery and Chief Joseph Days.
She said, “My roots run deep here. Although I was born and raised in Baker, my summers were spent at Wallowa Lake in a cabin bought by my grandfather in 1918.”
“I so remember seeing Walter Brennan in the parade!”
After earning her degree in elementary education at Oregon State she married Dan Williams, a Lake Oswego contractor and cement mason.
She said, “In 1980 Danny, having vacationed here, decided he wanted to raise his kids ‘where the air and water were still clean,’ so we moved to Joseph. Kurt, then six, and twins Scott and Amy, four, happily adjusted to life on Creighton Lane on our 10 acres.”
Horses were always important. In high school Char was the Old Oregon Trail queen in Baker City and raced barrels. That tradition continued when she and Danny moved to Joseph.
“Danny and I both were active team ropers so we joined the roping club. We built an indoor arena, boarded horses and team roped indoors in the winter,” Char said.
As soon as the kids were old enough for 4-H they joined the Nez Perce Riders Club. Many of the club members kept their horses in their barn and she gave English and Western riding lessons, was a 4-H leader, rode colts and often took kids to the mountains just to ride.
“Many of my girls became Chief Joseph Days princesses and queens, Pendleton Roundup court members and one even became Miss Rodeo Oregon – competing in Las Vegas for a national title,” Char said.
She said that kept her busy for more than 20 years. At the same time she taught school in Imnaha and Joseph. Now retired, she said she has lots of time for herself so she is horseback every change she gets.
She said she spends a week on the Pendleton Roundup wagon train in the Blue Mountains, rides the moraines and the Divide with friends or by herself out her back door.
Horses weren’t the only constant in the Williams family. Char said all of them volunteered.
“Danny enjoyed nothing more than helping the kids with their unruly horses or teaching them to rope. He taught many adults how to team rope as well.”
She said he helped at the rodeo grounds, getting things ready for Chief Joseph Days each year. He was rodeo ticket chairman for 17 years and her son, Scott, took over for several years after that.
The whole family got involved with the rodeo – cleaning the grounds, working in the food booths, preparing food in the hospitality room and her daughter, Amy, was a Tuckerette.
Char spent several years as the Joseph Chamber’s secretary, sharing that responsibility with Sharon Tyler. Now she said she loves helping with the Joseph Ranch Rodeo.
Kurt, Scott and Amy have participated in the Junior Parade every Chief Joseph Days Rodeo since they were little and now they bring their kids as well. They raised hogs for 4-H and FFA and Amy participated in every Joseph Junior Rodeo.
Char said, “Because we have loved living here, we have tried to give back in any way we could. I wish Danny were here! He would have made a great grand marshal, so I like to think this honor is not just about me, but really a whole family thing.”
Photograph by Katy Nesbitt for CJD