Blackburn packs it in as Pateros ag teacher, FFA advisor

Wildfire, pandemic…enough

Mike Maltais/QCH Pateros ag teacher and FFA advisor Lyle Blackburn explains some features of the new plasma cutter installed in the school’s shop.

PATEROS – After a major wildfire that destroyed a big chunk of the city, a worldwide pandemic, and nearly four decades as the Pateros school district’s ag teacher and FFA advisor, Lyle Blackburn has decided to retire while he is still ahead.

The eastern Oregon native and Pateros transplant has seen it all as he shepherded generations of Pateros students – many now working on local farms and ranches – through his FFA, shop, and ag classes. And along the way he grew to call Pateros home but still maintains ties to the family ranch in Vale, Oregon.

Blackburn got his agriculture degree from Oregon State University and later his Master of Science from Central Washington. He started at Pateros in 1984 when the school moved into its new building.

I interviewed all over the country and ended up with the choice of either Pocatello, Idaho, or Pateros,” said Blackburn. “Have you even been to Pocatello?” he asked in a tone of voice that made his preference for Pateros clear.

Blackburn still devoted a few years trying to find a teaching position closer to his family home.

But after a few years I began to consider Pateros more and more as my home,” Blackburn said.

And so it was. Despite the 2014 Carlton Complex wildfire that destroyed part of the town – and much of the Blackburn place - and left many of his students in a daze as they dealt with the new reality of having their lives turned upside down in the idyllic riverside community.

We were headed to Spokane to catch a plane to go to Georgia,” said Blackburn whose daughter was married to a U.S. Army Ranger stationed at Ft. Benning. “We had just reached Airway Heights when one of my former students who was working for the city called.”

It was not good news.

Mr. Blackburn, your house has just burned up,” the caller said.

As it turned out the Blackburn’s lost a shop, equipment, and hay, but the house survived the flames.

 

So, like many local citizens and volunteers from far and wide, Blackburn’s students bent to the task of doing what they could to help others through the recovery.

I had taken an old boiler out of the school a couple of years earlier, cut it in half, and made a barbecue out of it,” said Blackburn. “We fed hundreds of people every day for several weeks with it.”

That same barbecue can be seen today at many Pateros sports and city events where FFA students sell burgers and hotdogs to raise money for the FFA program. The shop class also took on the restoration and replacement of dozens of picnic tables destroyed or damaged by the fire at Alta Lake State Park.

Over the years the class restored vintage tractors for local farmers and ranchers.

We restored an Oliver, Massy Harris, Ford 9N, Massy Ferguson, and Minneapolis Moline,” said Blackburn of several models no longer manufactured. “We also restored a couple of donated pickups that needed engine work.”

The FFA class sold the restored vehicles as fundraisers for their programs.

Blackburn said one high point during his years as FFA advisor involved the year his students won the annual Black and White Award given to a livestock barn at every fair by Washington state judges.

That year we had some beautiful signage,” Blackburn said.

It impressed the judge enough that the Pateros FFA class walked away with the honor.

Blackburn said that while the 2014 wildfire was the worst event he experienced while at Pateros High School, it was the current pandemic that convinced him it was time to hand the reins to a successor. That turned out to be 2017 Bridgeport graduate Brevin Evenson who will receive his bachelor’s degree in agriculture education in May.

Blackburn says he has no specific plans for retirement but plenty of projects to tackle while he works it out. He said he still; plans to return to the family ranch now operated by his younger brother to help with the annual 10-mile cattle drive to pasture. He keeps three quarter horses at his home place in Pateros so there is no danger that he will forget how to ride.

 

 

 

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