Larry McGraw

Jan. 15, 1923 Ñ Jan. 29, 2005 Soldier, Fireman, Father, Friend of Man

Jan. 15, 1923 - Jan. 29, 2005

Soldier, Fireman, Father, Friend of Man

Larry McGraw was born to Virgil L. and Beulah (Hancock) McGraw in Huntington, Ore., on Jan 15, 1923, and was the eldest of 14 children. After graduating from Wallowa High School, he joined the Air Force and served in both WWII and the Korean wars. He was a belly gunner on a B-24 and was a member of the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bomb Group, 65th Bomb Squadron. They were believed to be the only land-based aircraft to sink an enemy aircraft carrier in WWII. After his military service he joined the Portland Fire Department and retired after a 26-year career. Larry and his wife, Juanita, raised 6 children, Charlie Alan, Bob, Donna, Jim, Ken, and Carol Ann. He was very proud of his children and loved them very much.

Larry spent more than 50 years pursuing his true passion, pomology. In the early 1960s, he founded and was president of Northwest Fruit Explorers, an organization whose goal was to gather and disseminate news and information on new fruit varieties, as well as information on early fruit growers of the Northwest. In 1968, he posed for a photo in a well-known growers trade journal with what was believed to be the youngest fruit bearing Golden Delicious apple tree, a tree he grew on a 1-year-old root stock with a 6-month-old graft. He was featured in Sunset Magazine numerous times, once in 1973 for the 300 different varieties of apples he had in his Portland back yard.

After retirement from the Portland Fire Department, he went to work as a horticulturist for the Oregon Historical Society. In the early 1970s, he designed and planted a pioneer orchard at the Bybee Howell Park on Sauvie Island, Portland, consisting of hundreds of pioneer apple varieties. The orchard is jointly maintained by the Oregon Historical Society and the Multnomah County Park system. In the early 1970's he organized and led a 13-party expedition down a very remote part of the Grand Ronde River in search for a century-old pioneer orchard, which they were successful in locating. The party consisted of his 3 youngest children, the director of the Oregon Historical Society, some members of his family, and some visitors from Switzerland.

In 1975 he founded the Home Orchard Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting both novice and expert growers, and promoting the science, culture and pleasure of growing fruit. The Home Orchard Society started with Larry and two devoted orchard hobbyists in his Portland backyard, and has grown to an organization that has a worldwide membership of well over 700. Over the years he has provided scores of free pruning and grafting classes, on his property, at schools, and at public gatherings.

In his 50-plus years researching native fruits, he estimated he had dealt with nearly 2,000 different apple varieties. He received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington D.C. for extensive research on the Whitman Apple. He was fascinated with the wild apple forests of Kazakhstan and had a standing invitation to visit. In starting his Experimental Gardens, he knew he would need to obtain virus free rootstock, and for a number of varieties, this would mean from Russia. It took 5 years, but he was successful in obtaining what he needed. He was told at the time he had better connections with Russia than our government. McGraw Experimental Gardens has been referred to as a living museum.

In 1976, he moved his family and his orchard to Grant County, purchasing his Uncle Albert's property. There he re-established his orchard as Sheep Rock Nursery, as well as establishing Country Images for his photography interests, and later Hancockville, a tribute to Uncle Albert's homestead, a man for whom Larry had tremendous love and respect.

It was here at Sheep Rock Nursery that he concentrated on the development of some of his personally developed fruit varieties, such as Sweetheart Plum, Blue Swan and Golden Swan plums, and apples such as Velma, and Grandpa's Favorite, a whopper the size of a small cantaloupe (Grant Country Press, Oct. 11, 1995). He loved Grandpa's Favorite because, as he would say, "you only have to peel a couple to make a pie." He also maintained a vast collection of pioneer varieties. He covered the entire western part of the US researching and tracking down pioneer varieties of apples, as well as the wild plum, a subject of particular interest to him.

He had a love of photography and created Country Images as a vehicle to display his photos. His photos brought ribbons from county fairs in Portland, and his creative talent ranged from scenic photos which appeared in calendars, to whimsical pictures using miniature African wild game, giving the appearance of an elephant crossing through Grant County.

Larry was a gifted woodcarver and numerous beautiful works, such as wall hangings and tables, reside in some of his children's homes.

Larry loved to play the guitar, and he would spend summer evenings, both in Portland and Hancockville stumbling through new creations, or variations of existing songs. His last creation is a song called "My Mexico," which he was still working on in his final days. None of his music was written down because it would change a little each time it was performed. His life long hero was Gene Autry. A beautiful photo of Sheep Rock is hanging in the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles.

Larry was an avid reader and writer. He wrote the book "Larry McGraw's Renaissance of the Apple" and had regular correspondence with scientists and pomologists from all over the world. In the early 1970s, while doing extensive research for the Oregon Historical Society, Larry discovered a letter and an envelope of seeds, the only remains of an orchard planted by missionary Marcus Whitman in the mid-1830s. In an attempt to germinate 100-plus-year-old seeds, he employed as consultants pomological specialists from Cornell and the University of CA. Although "operation apple seed" was not successful, Larry always considered it a success because it launched him into the hunt of the parent tree.

Larry had a wonderful sense of humor, which he maintained to the very end of his life. He was always one to appreciate a good joke or prank. Once for a Halloween party he went as Black Bart. He did intensive research and learned Black Bart would attend a predeparture party, size up the passengers for wealth and depart the party not saying a word to anyone, only to rob them the next day on the train. In an attempt to stay in full character, Larry attended the party dressed as Black Bart, conspicuously sized up everyone at the party, did not utter a word, and then abruptly left. He went home and did not return. His plan was to continue the charade the following year.

Larry was very active in local events. He loved Grant County and was the organizer of the first Mt. Vernon Grange Harvest Festival. He was a member of the local book club and numerous city committees. Through his writings and advertisements in the Blue Mountain Eagle he loved to promote the people and events of Grant County. He would hold a yearly apple squeeze at his beloved Hancockville, and last year over 100 friends and neighbors attended.

On January 29, 2005, two weeks after his 82nd birthday, he quietly and peacefully passed away with his loving daughter, Carol Ann, holding his hand. He will be sorely missed.

A funeral service will be held 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2 at Mt. Scott Funeral Home in Portland. A visitation will take place Thursday, Feb. 3 at Driskill Memorial Chapel in John Day from 3 -7 p.m. A graveside service will take place at noon on Friday, Feb. 4 at the Dayville Cemetery in Dayville. A potluck will follow the graveside service at the Dayville Community Church. Memorial contributions may be made to "The Dream Foundation" through Driskill Memorial Chapel, 241 S. Canyon Blvd., John Day, OR 97845.

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