Ron Priest, a fourth-generation Sequim resident, celebrates his 90th birthday on Sunday, Jan. 31, alongside his wife Judy.
Born in 1931, Ronald Earl Priest is the oldest son of Earl and Irma Priest, who raised three children locally. Ron’s brother Randy retired to Sequim, while his sister Kathleen passed many years ago from complications of cancer.
Ron and Judy have three children, also residing in Sequim: Diane (Magner), owner operator of Gabby’s Java in Carlsborg, Wayne and Steven.
“Dad’s one of few people I know of that was actually born in the hospital here in Sequim,” Steven said. “Wilma Rhodefer was also born there. Did you know there was a hospital in Sequim?”
Ron was involved in Sequim High’s FFA and a varsity Sequim Wolves basketball star.
He did a tour of duty in the Navy during the Korean War, fresh out of high school. He did stints on two different vessels, crossed the equator, motored up the Saigon river in Japan, and acted as a gunner on one.
He was the helmsman on the USS Rochester during the last part of his Navy duty, driving the Flagship of the 7th Fleet. “There was usually a lot of brass on the boat,” Ron said.
Back at home after his tour of duty, Ron and Judy were married and purchased 10 acres of land with a one-room cabin, using the money he saved during his service. They cut down trees and ran them through Earl’s home made lumber saw and built a three-bedroom home that Judy designed. Ron worked in the woods, drove log truck for a time from Port Angeles to the Pysht, which was a treacherous slow bumpy drive at the time.
He ended up getting a job at the Rayonier paper mill in Port Angeles, working mostly in the finishing room and driving truck. Towards the end of 37 years there he acted as head oiler.
Ron was lucky and retired just two years before the mill shut down. Witnessing the demolition of the iconic scrubber stack at the mill was a very emotional day for him. His metal Thermos brand lunch box that was carried back and forth for decades is still memorialized in their home.
Ron liked to fish and hunt here “in God’s country,” as he called it, and his wife did too. Judy was a three-time college level champion sharpshooter. They always got their deer when the season rolled around. They built a small farm with hay fields, a rather large garden, a barn with an area for cows, a chicken house with power and insulation (that at one time housed over 60 chickens) among other aspects.
The irrigation ditch that ran through the center of the property was a big part of the farm. A small pond in the center of everything was home for ducks and two irrigation pumps did a lot of watering.
“Mom and dad worked real hard to raise us kids off the land as best they could, Steven said. “Everyone helped out when harvest time rolled around. Canning wasn’t a hobby for us, it was food on the table during the winter months. The Black Angus cows weren’t pets and we weren’t allowed to name them.”
Serving as Grand Pioneer of the Sequim Irrigation Festival in 2011 was a big moment for Ron. He was honored and proud to hold the title. Donning his best tuxedo and Stetson hat to go through the parade was epic.
Another proud year was 2016, being nominated and recognized by Dave Bekkevar as the Honorary Logger of the annual Sequim Logging Show.
Judy is a locally known artist, art teacher, and former owner of Sequim Gallery, who also has been involved with the Sequim Museum and Arts, the Shipley Center and other community historical- and art-related venues.
Ron and Judy now enjoy watching the deer meander and graze in their hay fields. Two International tractors and a handful of chores and activities have kept Ron and Judy busy.
Along with art related things, to ballroom dancing, to gathering fire wood to keep the house warm.
“There isn’t and has never been any electric heat in the house — only the original wood stove and a fireplace,” Ron said.
Ron recently bought a wood splitter, noting, “That thing really splits wood up easy.”