July 02, 2001 11:00 pm

By Carol McCrae

For The Observer

WALLOWA The theme Seeds of the Future perfectly fits the two couples who will be honored as grand marshals when Wallowas Fourth of July parade takes to the street at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Howard and Muriel Johnson and Donna Mae and Perry Johnston have agricultural backgrounds and their roots run deep in Wallowa County if not in length of time then in service rendered.

Howards father, Ernest, was 6 months old when his parents Joseph and Delilah Coffeeware Johnson settled in Lower Valley in 1872 and were one of the first three families to settle there. Joseph interpreted between the settlers and the Indians when needed. Muriel was 2 when her parents Merle and Ethel Cox Strite came to Joseph in 1917. They later moved to Wallowa, where her father managed the Ford Garage.

Donna Mae Johnston is the daughter of Ralph and Juanita Silver and a granddaughter of Weldon Silver, who lived and operated a flour mill in Troy for a time. Perrys parents, Perry Sr. and Viola, came to Wallowa from Sherman County in the late 1930s. Perry Sr. was a county Extension agent before ranching on Whiskey Creek.

Howard Johnson started with 40 acres given to him by his grandfather. In the early years, he and his brother, Clifford, owned a grain company, but Howard developed asthma from the dust and traded his share of the business for timberland on Smith Mountain.

He and Muriel gradually bought more land in this area, eventually accumulating about 3,700 acres, 2500 in timber. He retained the Smith Mountain property when he sold his house and part of their holdings in 1979. They moved into Wallowa and built a home.

The couple have won awards for their tree farming and were recognized in 1986 as Oregon Tree Farmer of the year.

When we first purchased the land I never thought much about the timber, Howard said. I became interested in tree farming when Mark Jakes, who worked for the Forest Service, outlined a plan to manage the timber.

At 87, Howard still works the tree farm about seven hours a day.

I get there about 9 and work until 4 with an hour for lunch and a little nap, he said.

Other honors Howard has received through the years were cattleman and grassman of the year. Howard and Muriel both graduated from Wallowa High School. Muriel was valedictorian of her class.

This was during the depression and I didnt have enough money to go to college so I took a business course in Portland, she said.

A strong work ethic, a desire to succeed and with money scarce, she finished the one-year course in nine months with high honors.

Muriel worked in the county agents office and as deputy county clerk in Enterprise. She worked for the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., and Bonneville Power Administration in Portland.

The two were married in 1939 and shortly after she was asked to manage the Selective Service office in Enterprise during World War II.

It was the most interesting because it concerned where the young people would be sent during the war, she said.

In 1943, their daughter, JoAnne, was born, and Muriel worked at home as wife, mother and bookkeeper for the ranch and timber operations, which she continues to do today.

Howard served on the rationing committee during the war and served on the school board for 14 years, some of it during consolidation when the Middle and Lower Valley, Lone Pine and Lostine schools joined the Wallowa School District

Muriel is secretary for the United Methodist Womens group and has been for 28 years. She worked on the library board for several years.

Perry and Donna Mae also graduated from Wallowa High School, where Perry was active in FFA. His team won state in judging and he earned a State Farmer and American Farmer degree. He also played football his senior year.

Girls couldnt participate in FFA nor was there a sports program then. The equivalent of FFA was the home economics class, cheer- leading and pep club for athletics. Donna Mae won a cheerleading role and was active in the county 4-H program. After graduation, she took two years of nurses training but dropped out to work at what was then First State Banks Wallowa branch, where she worked 12-14 years.

Perry went to Oregon State University and worked on the ranch during the summer. After graduating in 1966, he worked with his parents on the home place and for a few years rented the Weaver place in the lower valley. In 1971 he bought the Sherod ranch.

Theyve always raised sheep and cattle but recently chose cattle as their predominant livestock.

When I bought the Sherod place, it was leased by Wayne Wolfe until the next spring, Perry said. We honored his lease. He let us bring the sheep over here to lamb them. One of his herdsmen was living in the house then so I lived in the barn. It had water, a cook stove, was sheetrocked and was a lot

better than those lambing tents

we had a real roof and real building!

Perry and Donna Mae were married in 1972 and worked the ranch together as well as raising three children, Bobbie Lou Baker, Chevelle Wortman of Wallowa and Ralph Johnston of Baker City. They have eight grandchildren.

Their joy is in working the ranch.

Im too old to do anything else, but I wouldnt change anyway, Perry said. I dont think I could work in town.

Donna Mae added, I wouldnt change a thing. Ive been on the other side working at the bank.

They continue to win awards and serve the community. Theyve received Friends of 4-H award from the 4-H Leaders Association, grassman of the year in 1985 and cattleman of the year in 1997. Theyve been named the agricultural leaders of the year.

Theyve been honored for their community service by the South Fork Grange for their roles as Mr. and Mrs. Santa for the Christmas program.

Outside of the Stockgrowers we dont belong to many organizations but we like to support them, Donna Mae said.