“My parents, Odes B. and Sadie Jantz Unruh, came to Bonners Ferry in 1936 when I, their eldest son, Lawrence , was twelve years old, exchanging the nightmare of dust clouds on the horizon for the quiet, unmoving outline of mountains. We came bringing ulcers, asthma, and empty pockets to find hope again, and healing in the peaceful climate of north Idaho.

We came from western Kansas where we had beaten ourselves out against drought and wind that kept our farmland up in the air for five consecutive years of crop failure. Odes and Sadie were 37 years old and brought a family of three: Lawrence, Opal, and Chester. Odes Phil was born here in 1940.

Our first home, after the temporary shelter of A. J. Kent’s cabin downtown, was a tarpaper shack, 12 x 16 feet, offered by Mrs. Curtis with a promise of first chance to buy. It was on a 40 acre stump ranch four miles north of town along Highway #95. We nailed flattened out cardboard boxes on the inside of the single walls which provided the only insulation against the cold of the next winter.

In a short while Mrs. Mary E. Curtis was offered cash for the property but she gave Dad first chance. All he had was $25 and Mrs. Curtis took it as down payment. Now this stump ranch was his, and all around him were the biggest stumps he had ever seen in his life. Dad, always willing to work at a job he could track down, met many challenges with good cheer and a thankful heart. He and his family tackled the land clearing with the same kind of courage, working at it over a period of years.

October 1939. “Father and son have cleared thirty acres of raw stump land in three years. Boundary County, Idaho.” Photo by Dorothea Lange.

Dad initiated the first land clearing demonstration in 1938-1939. After being impressed with the work a bulldozer was doing on the highway next to his field of stumps, he hired the county’s new dozer, which was a marvelous improvement over block-and-line and horse-powered stump-pullers.

Fred Warberg hired him for construction work at the city power house and later hired him again to help build a ferry in Bonners Ferry which was then taken seventy miles down the Kootenai River to its station in Porthill.

He worked in the harvest for Simon McDonald for several years. In 1947 he started dairying and also bought one of the first self-tying hay balers in the county and got into a custom-baling business that kept him and a son or two busy for ten years. Dad farmed in Drainage District #6 for Dr. Sherrard until his retirement.

Then Dad and Mother moved to a small place next door to Opal’s home. They enjoyed years of fishing together. In 1979, they moved to the Mountain View Senior Citizen Apartments where Mother continues to live alone since Dad’s death in 1981.

My wife, Rachel Regehr, and I live on the home place. Opal married Henry Dirks and lives on the old Adams place. Chester and his wife, Nettie Mae Giesbrecht, farm at Nampa, Idaho; and Odes Phil and his wife, Jeraldine Dirks, live on a small corner of the home place.”

 

This excerpt from the History of Boundary County, Idaho – Vol.1, written in 1986 by Lawrence R. Unruh, is characteristic of his style of descriptive expression. He attended the Pine Grove School on the Northside. Lawrence helped his father clear stumps from their ranch, cut railroad ties for Spokane International-Union Pacific at $2 a tie, cut firewood – selling it in town at $3 a cord, raised dairy cows with his brother Chet, and worked eleven years for Bonners Ferry Builders.

Lawrence married Rachel Regehr in 1947. They spent 66 loving years together opening their home to many foster children. They dedicated their lives to the service of God in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, both in the United States and abroad, serving several mission terms in the Philippines. Lawrence led a quiet and unassuming life and was loved by all who met him. One of his favorite prayers was: “Be with us in the sunset years of life and then take us home where we can be with You and praise Thee throughout the endless ages of eternity.” Lawrence passed away on May 27, 2013. He is buried in the Mountain View Mennonite Cemetery.

Dorothea Lange’s Notes

(The 1939 photographs of the Unruh family – Mennonite farmers from Kansas on their stump ranch north of Bonners Ferry, Boundary County, Idaho – were taken by Dorothea Lange, an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration.)

Remembrances by Lawrence R. Unruh
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