Trish Yerges
The La Grande Observer

Reception will celebrate Kannard

There will be a reception for Ira Kannard from
1 p.m. to 3 p.m. April 28 at the VFW in Union. “The American Legion Post 43 will be present to help celebrate his 100th birthday. All friends are invited,” said niece Tanna Williams. “No gifts, please. Refreshments will be provided.”

Centenarians have endured the ups and downs of American history, some periods of heart-wrenching hardship and others of rebounding prosperity. That’s true of Ira “Ike” Jacob Kannard of La Grande, who will celebrate his 100th birthday April 30.

Kannard was born April 30, 1918, in the Merna area of Wyoming, the third child of four born to William W. and Lula (Marsh) Kannard. At that time, World War I in Europe was coming to an end, but its negative economic effects lingered in the daily lives of most U.S. citizens. Work was hard to come by and wages barely stretched to feed a family.

“My father had only finished through second grade because his own mother died when he was very young. He had broken his back when he was 19, so he had a hard time finding work,” Kannard said. “My mother was a rather nomadic teacher from Oklahoma, and her income fell short of sufficiently supporting us, so we moved around a lot.”

In those desperate years, when Kannard was only four years old, his mother was confined to what he called a “poor house.” Not knowing when or if she would ever see her children again, she gave Kannard a prized possession and guide to happiness.

“She had given me a Bible when she had to leave us,” he said, “and she said she wanted me to memorize the Beatitudes.”

At nearly 100 years of age and with very poor vision, Kannard recited one of the Beatitudes by rote: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

In his wife’s absence, William Kannard was unable to support their children, so in 1925, Ira Kannard and his siblings, Melvin, Wesley and younger sister, Sara “Lovena,” were removed from their home to an orphanage in Helena, Oklahoma. Lovena was eventually placed in foster care, and each boy remained at the orphanage until he completed the eighth grade.

The orphanage was the remodeled Connell Agricultural School, where nearly 200 children were supported and educated each year between 1923 and 1944. It was renamed the Western Oklahoma Home for White Children, a self-sufficient institution, Kannard said, with milking cows and farm animals. There he learned to do farm chores.

While at the orphanage, he saw his mother one more time.

“The last time I saw my mother was in November 1927,” Kannard said.

She walked about 20 miles in the cold to see her children. Kannard recalled that she put newspaper pages over her chest and wrapped her coat over them to insulate herself for the long walk back. Her precious visit was loving, but the hopelessness of her circumstances had depleted her emotionally.

“She told me, ‘I have no more tears left,’” Kannard said. What tears she lacked, Kannard made up for in relating his story. “After that, I only received one letter from her. She died at that poor house on March 29, 1967, still married to my father.”

When Kannard finished eighth grade at the orphanage, he was released. Then he went on to high school. At the close of his sophomore year in Kiowa, Kansas, Kannard followed his father and brothers to La Grande. He graduated from La Grande High School in 1936 with classmates Tom Cook, Shada Snodgrass, Bill Bohnenkamp, James Ansell and others.

“In my senior year and for four years, I worked for Cecil Ager Photo, 1510 Adams Avenue in La Grande,” Kannard said. “Cecil was very kind to me. He paid me $10 a week, which was a fair wage in those days.”

In January 1939, Kannard signed up for the Army Air Corps and in 1940 was sworn in. He was on the USS Republic, which left San Francisco on Nov. 21, 1941, for Pearl Harbor, where it refueled on Nov. 28. The next day, the USS Republic joined six other ships, being the flagship of the “Pensacola Convoy” heading to the Philippines. While the convoy was en route, Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, and the convoy was diverted to Suva, Fiji Islands, pending further orders.

“(On Dec. 12), we were ordered to head to Brisbane, Australia, where headquarters were to be established,” Kannard said. “We were at sea 34 days, traveling 4 knots an hour and dodging enemy planes. Other than that, I was not really in danger the rest of the time I was in the service.”

He was honorably discharged on Oct. 1, 1945, at Gowen Field in Idaho, bearing the American Defense Service medal, the Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon and the Good Conduct medal.

After his discharge, Kannard returned home, and in 1950 in Weiser, Idaho, at the age of 32, he married Virgie Ryason Hutsell. They lived at 2112 Oak St. in La Grande for all of their marriage. He helped raise her two sons, Patrick and Cleon and worked from 1945 to 1980 at Boise Cascade in La Grande as a lumber spotter and a saw filer.

“During the first 20 years at Boise, I never missed a day of work,” he said proudly.

Virgie passed away on Dec. 5, 1997, and was buried at Hillcrest Cemetery in La Grande. Afterward, Kannard continued to reside in La Grande. When he reached his 90s, he had to renew his driver’s license and discovered he didn’t have a copy of his birth certificate. He managed to order one and continued driving until the age of 96. Today, he has his own chauffeur and caregiver, Bob Kennon of the Riverside Adult Foster Home, where Kannard has lived comfortably since 2015.

Reflecting on his life and particularly his parents, siblings, wife and stepsons, the centenarian said, “I’ve outlived them all.”

But they are alive and loved in his 100-year-old mind and never far from his meek heart.