AT HOME ON THE LOSTINE
Six miles up the Lostine River a man found the ideal place and hand-built much of a log home for himself and his bride.
Six miles down the river he had found in the Lostine Presbyterian Church "the first church in my career that filled my estimate of what a church ought to be," according to Larry Loftus, a gregarious man with a hearty laugh and contagious enthusiasm.
It's all a part of the package the congregation, the area and the people who are all so friendly, caring and supportive. "It feels like being part of one big extended family," he said.
"This is a very open and accepting congregation." Loftus said. "It's been a marvelous 11 years. We thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a wonderful way to finish up a career."
On Feb. 27 Loftus, 73, retired after 51 years as a pastor.
Larry and Kate Loftus' home sets alongside the Lostine River, which they hear rippling outside their bedroom window.
The other side of their five acres abuts the state game department's wildlife area for wintering bighorns, elk and deer.
All this defies logic for the man born in Washington, D.C., who graduated from high school in New York, then went to Drew University in New Jersey to become an Air Force pilot. Instead he ended up being a "sky pilot.''
After graduating from college in 1953, "the Lord touched my shoulder," Loftus said, and he entered a theological seminary.
Go West young man
In 1955 he volunteered for the ministry program in the National Park Service. He led Sunday services in Olympic National Park, and fell in love with the West. When he was ordained a Methodist minister in 1956 he asked for a church out West. He pastored a church for three years in Tualatin when it was just a wide spot in the road.
He'd never been hiking or camping, but found that he loved it, too. Before he knew it he was leading the Methodist trail camping program. His first week-long outing was in the Eagle Cap Wilderness in 1959.
"This country is unbelievable," he thought. "Someday I'd like to live here."
But he never thought he'd get the chance.
The next seven years he spent in Sweet Home.
After that it was all metropolitan churches in Portland. He was associate pastor at Portland's First United Methodist Church. Then he became pastor of the Fremont United Methodist Church.
There he began cycling and was elected president of the Portland Wheelmen's Touring Club.
He took a sabbatical and leave of absence from the church for six years and opened a bike shop.
Loftus also likes riding motorcycles and led Methodist motorcycle tours. He still rides a Yamaha 550.
He then became pastor of the Metzger United Methodist Church. At age 58 he had a heart attack, and underwent angioplasty. In Metzger he also married Kate.
After nine years in Metzger, Loftus was made pastor of the Oak Grove Church. He was on a career path of increasing responsibility and stress. He had a second heart attack.
Up into the mountains
In Portland, he had joined the Mazamas mountain climbing club, and was an assistant leader on some climbs.
He summited all the major peaks in the Northwest and all in the Cascade Range, except for Mount Shasta.
When he came to Wallowa County, he found a fellow hiking enthusiast in his physician Dr. Lowell Euhus, and they began hiking and climbing
In 1997 Euhus had Labor Day off, and invited Loftus to climb Mount Chief Joseph. Loftus found himself trailing. He had not yet gained his second wind, and told Euhus to go on ahead. Then he found himself drenched in sweat and had some chest tightening.
When they reached the summit ridge Euhus advised him to rest and take his nitro pills. Loftus was having his third heart attack.
Euhus decide to call a helicopter to evacuate Loftus.
"Don't do this to me. I'll never live it down after all I've said about how people shouldn't be doing things they're not prepared for," he said.
"I'm not about to carry your dead body off this mountain," Euhus replied.
The only chopper available was with the U.S. Forest Service fire suppression crew at Sled Springs north of Enterprise. It arrived in seven minutes.
Destined to be up the branch
"I could live here," Kate said when they visited their friends Dale and Iva Lindsey in Wallowa.
The Lindseys said the Lostine Presbyterian Church would be needing a new pastor. "I told them I didn't think that would be much of a possibility (for a Methodist Minister)," Loftus said.
Loftus approached his bishop who granted him a "special appointment beyond the local church'' to serve a Presbyterian church, if the Presbyterian Church wanted him. It was the first special appointment in Oregon.
Loftus visited the Lostine church and preached and interviewed. "It took four months, but it all fell together," he said.
Retirement fun right here
In 2000 Loftus had a fourth heart attack and has two stents in place. He'll be 74 April 10, but he's not about to slow down. He cuts his own firewood, cycles and hikes regularly with Mira, his red and white border collie.
Loftus' retirement plans include becoming more active in his grange, volunteering to work on the Wallowa-Union Railroad, helping Kate with her theater productions, and taking their camp trailer to places like the Imnaha River.
There's more work to be done on their place, including making a fire break around their house.
The Loftuses aren't going anywhere, but will stay here and enjoy even more the valley they fell in love with.