Longtime Smith River resident Mabel Struebing Easton has been named 2001 Azalea Festival Pioneer Citizen.
Mabel was selected by boardmembers of the Chetco Valley Historical Society out of several people nominated throughout the year.
As pioneer citizen, Mabel will participate in the Azalea Festival Parade on April 26. She will also be the guest of honor at a special reception that day at the Chetco Valley Museum in Harbor.
Mabel and her late husband, Ray Struebing, helped pioneer the lily bulb industry in Curry and Del Norte Counties.
In 1939, the couple visited her sister and brother-in-law who were growing daffodils and regal lilies in Yoncalla. The Struebings later checked out the Brookings-Harbor area and decided it would be a perfect place to grow flowers.
Ray thought bulbs would grow better here, Mabel said.
They went home to sell Rays moving and storage business in Los Angeles, returned to Yoncalla with the one truck they kept from the business, bought three tons of daffodil bulbs and moved to Harbor.
We lived in the old Benson house on Benham Lane, Mabel said, reminiscing recently.
We brought our furniture from L.A., including a gas stove, but there was no gas. Ive still got that gas stove, she said.
I had to cook on an old wood stove. It baked the best bread, she said.
While visiting Mabels sister, the Struebings met Mr Amador, who was an Easter lily grower.
After Pearl Harbor the beautiful white lilies from Japan were no longer available. Prospective lily growers were trying out different parts of the country in which to grow the bulbs. Mabel said after an article appeared in a major magazine about the huge success of the Easter lily business, people flocked to Brookings-Harbor.
They bought land and bulbs, and then wanted to know how to plant them, she said.
Many of the streets in Brookings are named after them. Many of them could not find a market at first.
Harbor and Smith River became the lily bulb capital of the world, and lily bulbs were called white gold.
Not everyone who invested in the lily bulb business was successful, but the Struebings were among those who were.
Mr. Amador was looking for someone to grow his bulbs on a share crop basis, Mabel said. Ray and I both grew up on farms, so Ray was just what he was looking for. So we signed a share crop contract.
He furnished the planting stock and we grew the bulbs and split the profit 50/50. That put us in business.
We grew both lily bulbs and daffodils for 25 years.
Mabel, who was born in eastern Oregon, moved to Southern California when she was 17 to live with her aunt.
She became an insurance underwriter and met Ray Struebing. They were married in 1930, and their daughter, Marilyn, was born in 1932.
She has two granddaughters, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
When the Struebings moved to Harbor, Mabel worked side-by-side with her husband in the lily business, working with the bulbs and keeping the books.
Ray built the first planter. He copied it from a potato planter, Mabel said.
Workers lay on their stomachs to place bulbs in the ground as the planter carrying them moves across the fields.
He also invented a bulb-sorting device, she said as she held up a photo of the sorter.
We had to build two bulb sheds first, Mabel said. Frank Kelly, the current Harbor fire chief, was the building contractor for those sheds, she added.
During the harvest, her job was to watch the temperature on the water tank where the bulbs were cooked for four hours in formaldehyde-laced water to kill the nematodes.
The temperature had to be kept at 110 degrees, she explained, and she couldnt let it get too hot.
She also supervised the big harvest dinner held each year in September for all of the workers families.
When buyers held off with orders, we got worried, she said. One year she traveled to St. Paul and Chicago to get orders.
Then I got a telegram that I might as well come home, because Abe (Miller) bought the whole crop.
Miller then became their agent for selling their bulbs.
When buyers held up payment claiming bulbs were bad, she went back east to check the green houses.
I wouldnt tell them I was coming, she said. When the green house owners were unable to show any bulbs with defects, it was obvious the bulbs shipped from Struebings fields were good, and payment was made.
We never had any trouble selling our bulbs, she said.
Mabel still lives at the home the Struebings built on their 20 acres in Smith River, where they also grew lily bulbs.
Living on the Curry/Del Norte coastline and growing flowers has apparently been healthy for Mabel.
She recently celebrated her 95th birthday with five different birthday parties.
Her memory is sharp and she enjoys sharing stories about the early days in Harbor growing daffodils and lily bulbs.
Ray died in 1965. She remained a widow for many years before marrying Freeman Easton in 1989. Easton, a pilot, died 10 months later in a light plane crash on the California desert.
She looks forward to the arrival of her daughter and son-in-law, Marilyn and Jim Asher, who live in Lake Arrowhead, California, to help celebrate as she assumes her duties as Pioneer Citizen for this years Azalea Festival