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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
Down the hall from Joe’s office was the harvesting department for Golden Gem. For many years Bill was the Manager. Quite a job to get over 5 million boxes picked and into the plant or packinghouse. I believe Bill was involved with Golden Gems effort to attract domestic labor when the government shut down off shore workers. A nice facility was constructed to house and feed harvesters. I believe they were recruited primarily from the SE and transported to Umatilla. They were provided a nice place sleep, excellent meals and a fair wage to harvest fruit. From what I remember, not many lasted long! It might have been the hard work, hot days, or missing home. Anyway it seems as many left as arrived at the Golden Gem Hilton. I know it was always a challenge for Bill and his able staff to secure harvesting crews. I would see Bill off and on when I visited my second home – Golden Gem production office. I remember him telling me how each morning he would stop by Umatilla State Bank (now United Southern) and pick up a bag of $25,000 cash to pay the harvesters each day! I know many of you remember those days well. I do not know when the ‘cash every day’ situation changed, but as I recall Libby started the move in our area. I remember the huge printer they had to process pay checks that were distributed every 3 days!! They had resistance, but a large national company like Libby’s had dealt with many issues like this and found ways to solve them. They went from cash daily to a check every 3 days to finally a weekly check.
I also knew Bill through his children and grand children. Two of my sons and two of his grandsons were best buddies. I would often see Bill at ball games. He was a family guy. That was so obvious at his service by way of the comments from his daughter and grandsons. Bill also loved golf. He and John Kennedy were golfing companions. Bill would play with his boys and grandsons. I guess this was his escape from the stress of work, although I do not see how one could relax when the pressure of making a good shot was always present. I guess having others to share the misery of the poor shot and exuberance of a great one made it enjoyable. My association with golf is watching those grandsons of mine compete. I suffer with them when a short put is missed and join them with satisfaction when a chip lands close to the hole.
Bee Bee was the receptionist for Golden Gem for many years. She was a marvel. Always pleasant when she answered the phone, most efficient is transferring your call (did not have much time to visit for there was always anther call coming in) and never got ruffled at all (I can imagine she had her share of unpleasant callers). Bill and Bee Bee were partners for many years, what a pair.
I will conclude my comments with a story about Bill and his son Mike. One of the last Mature Mentors lunches Bill attended Mike came along to ‘help’. I watched how skillfully the son guided his father through the conversations, the meal, the program and of course the registration. It was pure beauty expressed through a loving son. I am sure most of the guys never even noticed Mike, and I know Bill was completely at ease even though he did not realize his ‘handler’ was making that possible. Bill Alberson loved his family and they absolutely adored him; what a fantastic tribute to a remarkable guy.
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