END OF THE ROAD
By Gary Fletcher
Observer Staff Writer
He's long been a successful attorney, but he always wanted to be a cowboy.
"We spent hours talking about the West," Rahn Hostetter said of his wife, Becky, and of their friends Jeff and Marilyn Harman.
Both men quit their jobs in Washington, D.C., and moved their families to Wallowa County more than 20 years ago.
Always imprinted on Hostetter's mind will be the day they arrived with their U-Haul April Fool's Day 1981.
Rahn, two years out of Lewis & Clark Law School, liked being an enforcement attorney for the U.S. government.
However, the Hostetters were just starting a family, and they didn't like the city for that. "We talked often about moving out to the wilderness," he said.
They looked at maps, and they liked Wallowa County, because it was at the end of the road.
"Are you going to just talk about it, or are you really going to do it?" Becky challenged him one day.
After all, they were "farm stock" Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonites, she reminded him.
Becky, interested in sheep, contacted the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce, which put them in touch with Don and Nioda Scott in Wallowa.
The Scotts provided them not only with information, but also a place to stay until they found a trailer to move into. The Hostetters had just left the nation's capital with the cherry trees in full bloom, sculptured gardens and manicured lawns.
The small, tidy farms in their home state were neatly manicured like a glossy magazine photo.
"This is it," Rahn said, as Becky gazed out through a snowstorm, at sights such as machinery rusting in fields behind dilapidated-looking fences.
"I cried in the Scotts' closet those first three weeks," Becky said.
Learned from locals
We had much to learn from the local people, and were humbled time and again, Rahn said.
"I can't believe he paid us," Hostetter said about Scott's hiring of him and Harman to fix fence.
The two greenhorns soon discovered that they'd strung their fence line right into a tree. They felled the tree, only to see it destroy the fence they had just built, Hostetter recalls, chuckling at himself.
Hostetter then landed a full-time job on a logging crew. He met the crummy at 4 a.m. daily.
Crew members were amazed to learn that the fledgling among them was a former government environmental attorney.
The lawyer-turned-logger viewed timber harvest as good stewardship of the environment.
"Environmental protection expanded from pollution control measures that I enforced, to dictating to people, like those in Wallowa County who are already good stewards, how they can pursue a livelihood," he said.
Logging was another humbling experience. By age 28, Hostetter had never been offered alcohol or tobacco. At lunch the bull buck or crew boss, Rick Lathrop of Lostine, pulled out a can of Copenhagen chew.
"I was the low guy on the crew. I wanted to be a part of the guys. Within an hour I was as sick as a dog," Hostetter said, chuckling.
It was people like Lathrop, though, that endeared the Wallowas to the Hostetters.
Back to the law
The new logger began doing a little legal work on the side. He was elected Wallowa County District Attorney, and took office in January 1983. By then President Reagan had appointed him to the National Environmental Enforcement Council, for which he returned to Washington three times a year.
Rahn wasn't the only one wearing more than one hat to support the family.
Becky had put her bachelor's degree in home economics to good use as a homemaker and mother of three.
Then she became The Observer's Wallowa County reporter. She recalls interviewing the late Fred Bornstedt atop his pickup cab, where they'd fled from a longhorn that jumped into the truck bed after them.
In 1988 the Hostetters were able to buy their first two cows. Again, there was much to learn from local people, coupled with the opportunity to feel humble.
Rahn, joking about himself, tells of having seen a cow in labor having trouble. When he tried to give her a helping hand, he found he was having trouble knowing where to start. He had the wrong cow, one that wasn't pregnant, he says, laughing.
"It's a good outlet," Rahn about says about riding herd on 150 cows.
"It keeps him sane," Becky said.
"It's an incredible thing," Rahn says about being able to work with the kids, and have the opportunity for them to learn the value of hard work, to learn a work ethic, to enjoy work. There's a lot of real work to do here," he said.
Today Rahn is happy wearing his boots in court and his Stetson when working cows.
"We thank God every day," Becky said. In other parts of our country the culture is losing such values as family time over the dinner table.
In the Wallowas, the Hostetters can work hard together all day, then in the evening continue developing that bond by studying and discussing books together.
Becky always read to their kids.
Once the love of learning is instilled in children, then they can learn on their own, Rahn said.
By the time their children were in fourth, seventh and ninth grades, Becky had begun to home-school them.
The age differences were a benefit. The older children became mentors and role models, she said.
Eventually all three older children had grown up, and were out of the home.
Just Anna was left to home-school. There were no other children in the home to act as mentors, or to interact with her.
At the Hostetter home up Hurricane Creek Road, five other families began meeting about teaching the classical method, combined with instruction that the Bible is the absolute truth.
It made it even more natural to start Providence Academy, the Christian school of classical education, for Anna and others, and a year later, they did just that. Since then, the old Lostine school house has again resounded with the sounds of some 40 students.
Becky has taught classical literature there. Rahn is chairman of the board.
The Hostetter children have done well in the school, as well as in their other pursuits.
Anna, 14, is accomplished in dressage horsemanship.
Jordan, 22, a Wheaton College graduate, is doing a major remodel of the Rimrock Inn 33 miles north of Enterprise. He plans to open it as a destination restaurant by May.
Zachary, 25, is enrolled at the University of Washington School of Law.
Daughter Christi, 27, of Enterprise has provided a second generation of blessings two children.
She's also working to finish up her education degree at Eastern Oregon University.
Christi met her husband, Darrell Brann, of Maine, because of the Hostetter hospitality.
"The love of hospitality is most important in our lives, Becky said. "We are evangelists for Wallowa County. We benefit from all kinds of people that stay with us."
One of them was Brann.
That hospitality, faith and hard work have combined to make a dream come true where the road ends and the wilderness begins.