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Oregon Ranch Family Keeping a Promise

April 7, 2014
 
 

CRAIG REED, The News-Review

ELKTON, Ore. (AP) — There was only one cedar tree on the property alongside the Umpqua River, so Vern Clemo called it the Lone Cedar Ranch.

The tree finally died of old age and is now gone, but the ranch that has been in the same family for more than 150 years and has survived several ownership changes continues today as a working operation under the management of owners Matt and Renae Koester. The Koesters are the fifth generation to work the ranch that's a few miles downriver from Elkton.

"We're the caretakers until the next generation takes over," said Renae Koester last week. "All four of our children have an interest in the place. They're going to see 200 years on this place."

"We made a promise to Vern to keep it in the family bloodline," Matt Koester said.

Renae Koester, 54, was raised on the ranch. She and Matt Koester, 55, were Elkton High graduates and married in 1979. After Matt finished a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, the couple have made the ranch their permanent home since 1982.

"I've always had a passion for it," Renae said.

"I don't see the ranch ever being outside the family, even after I'm gone," said Crystal Harper, the Koester's grown daughter, who has four children.

The 96-acre Lone Cedar Ranch is home to 22 mother Angus cows, two bulls, five doeling goats and several pigs. All the livestock have free range on the property. The Koesters, who have had jobs off the ranch in the past, originally had the livestock for their own family's use, but recently have increased the number of animals in order to sell beef, goat and pork. The goal is to build the cow herd up to 40 and to add a few more pigs.

Cows and pigs have been part of the ranch since Charles Henderer registered a deed on 321 acres more than 150 years ago. Henderer at age 27 had sailed from Germany to New Orleans. He worked as a carpenter in that coastal city and then moved to Missouri where he continued to do carpentry work. The California gold rush lured him west in the 1840s and gradually he traveled north, landing in Scottsburg along the Umpqua River in 1850. A few years later he returned to Missouri, where he married his wife, Emaline, and then the couple returned to Oregon and settled on their Elkton area ranch.

Henderer cleared the land of trees and stumps and established a cattle, pig and wheat operation. He also had a small sawmill and made boards to build barns and other buildings.

Over the years, Henderer purchased another 700 adjoining acres to increase this ranch to more than 1,000 acres.

When Henderer died, his four children inherited the ranch. Son John Henderer bought out his three siblings in the late 1890s and operated the ranch with his wife, Janette, and their eight children. He purchased some additional acreage elsewhere in the Elkton area and when he died, the ranch was split up and inherited by his grown children.

Daughter Fannie May Henderer received 141 acres of the original ranch. She married William Arthur Clemo in 1915 and they continued to raise cattle, pigs and wheat, and added chickens. Arthur Clemo was also a horse logger and in 1942 died in a logging accident.

Son Vern Clemo, the fifth of seven Clemo children, was still in high school at the time of the accident, but he stepped forward and started running the ranch in 1943. A few years after finishing high school, Vern Clemo began the process of buying out his siblings and eventually became the sole owner.

"Dad always said mom picked him to run the ranch," said Renae Koester, one of Vern and Noreen Clemo's five children.

Vern Clemo increased the pig operation during the late 1950s and through the 1960s, increasing the number to about 300, depending on sales. In the early 1980s, 50 acres were sold, leaving the ranch at 96 acres.

Through the 1980s, Clemo and his son, David, partnered on some sheep, but after David died in a logging accident 1992, the sheep were sold.

Clemo was active in the ranch's business until about 30 days before he died of cancer in 2001. A short time later, Renae and Matt Koester inherited the ranch.

"We had had a family meeting in 1996 about who wanted the ranch," Renae Koester said. "I said I would only if my husband supported me. Matt said, 'Sure, why not.'

"Dad said buying out his siblings was a big burden, so he didn't want one of his children to have to do that," Koester said of the inheritance.

Noreen Clemo continued to live on the ranch until she died in 2004. Shortly after her death, Matt Koester took a job as a mechanic for a civilian contractor in the Middle East and spent the next nine years working there, returning home to the ranch for only six weeks a year. Also in 2004, Crystal Harper returned to the ranch. She and her husband, Bob, helped Renae with the livestock. The Harpers moved into grandmother Noreen's house.

Matt Koester retired from his overseas job in December 2013 and is back helping on the ranch.

"It's always been very comforting to be here," Renae Koester said. "There's so many memories. You can't walk out to the front gate without 47 stories popping into your head. My heart has always been here."

An extended family gathering is being planned for the ranch for 2015.

"I want the family to come back and feel like they're back home," Renae Koester said. "This has always been home for the family."

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