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Earl Graham is the grand marshal of the Union County Fair Parade. The parade is set for Wednesday in La Grande. Graham has been a fixture in Union County since he became the leader of the Union Pitchforks in 1964. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
UNION — Earl Graham of Union, the grand marshal of Wednesday’s Union County Fair Parade, is approaching a legacy-defining milestone.
Next year will mark the 50th year he has been a leader of the Union Pitchforks 4-H livestock club of Union County. Graham became the livestock 4-H club’s leader in 1964. He led it for about 40 years and now co-leads it with his daughter, Lory. Graham said he relishes the opportunity the club gives him to help young people find their bearings.
“I want to help kids so that they can make a difference as adults,” Graham said. “It is rewarding to see kids go on to become superior adults.”
The biggest change Graham has seen in 4-H over the past 49 Years ago, most came from farming families, but the today majority are from urban areas. This reflects a changing demographic.
“The number of farming families is declining,” Graham said.
The number of members the Union Pitchforks has increased despite this. The club now has about 30 boys and girls.
Many of the youths Graham has guided while part of the club have enjoyed great success at the Union County Fair, which Graham has had ties to for decades. His many contributions include time as a member of the Union County Fair Board in the 1990s.
Graham, during this time, helped start the fair’s successful junior market auction. Graham said the junior auction was badly needed.
“In many communities there are three or four livestock auctions for youths, but there was only one in this area,” Graham said.
The only junior market auction in Union County before one was added to the fair was one at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show. Graham has been an EOLS volunteer for about 40 years.
Graham said he was heartened to learn of his selection as grand marshal.
“I feel a sense of gratitude. I feel honored that they think enough of me to have chosen me,” Graham said.
The man people are saluting as grand marshal has ties to Union County which pre-date his 4-H activity. Graham moved to Union in 1952 where he began raising dairy cows and sheep.
Graham has never had a desire to leave, noting that he got his fill of pulling up stakes as a boy. Graham, who was born in Utah, said his father had asthma and believed that regularly moving to areas with different climates improved his condition.
Graham added that his wife of 48 years, Cheryl, who died in December, also came from a family which moved frequently. Like her husband, she wanted to establish roots.
“We wanted to stay here,” Graham said.
When not managing his farm or working as a volunteer Graham can be found in his home making wooden cabinets or prospecting for gold. Graham owns mining claims in Baker County and is president of the Eastern Oregon Miners and Prospectors Association.