“Tieton From Hatton Road Looking Northeast”

Steve Vanderhouwen

Steve’s mother remembers meeting Steve’s father at the wedding of her older sister to Steve’s uncle, at a church near the Vanderhouwen’s home in Moxee. Mildred Vanderhouwen recalls that at their first meeting, Steve’s father actually chased her around the church. A story easily believed by those of us that knew Steve and his brothers. Those of us growing up in the community with the four Vanderhouwen boys fully understood the axiom that “the fruit falls close to the tree.”

Mildred Cobb and Leonard Vander Houwen married and lived along the Cowiche, not far from its mouth. Steve, born in Yakima on April 3, 1939, and his two older brothers got their start in a small house down along the creek. In 1942 the family moved to the east side of the Heights, overlooking the Naches River, at a site from which one can see the location of what once was Nelson’s Ferry, and the irrigation diversion dam near Nelson’s Bridge.

The Indians had a religion commonly referred to as the Dream Religion, and there are tales about the Indian pictographs that involve stories of the spirits in and about the Painted Rock area near where Steve lived. We are not sure of the impact of those spirits on Steve, but we know of stories of him sleepwalking. Steve shared a bedroom with older brother Nick; who would, from time-to-time, tiptoe in the early morning from a date, and ready himself for bed. The sounds, ever so low, would cause Steve to rise and commence getting dressed for the day’s activities. It was left to brother, Nick, to prevent Steve from going into the orchard to work in the middle of the night! Frequently, Steve would not remember these occurrences the following morning.

The conversational wit of a Vanderhouwen, required intent listening, so that one did not miss the ever-present humor. If one was not careful, you would look up to see Steve smiling, expecting you to be laughing, the humor not registering until moments later. At a twentieth class reunion, a classmate was backing an Olds ’98 from a parking stall, when Steve happened by. It was a tight spot, and as Steve strolled by, the classmate rolled down the window and asked him if it was clear from the car behind. Steve responded with, “Yes, you might not want to rent such a large car for the next reunion!” The humor being the possibility the car had been rented to impress classmates.

Steve Vanderhouwen at age 43

Steve first attended Yakima Valley College after graduation and then went to work in a jewelry store in Yakima. He worked there for a short period, and then moved to California. There he took various employment and wound up with Lockheed Aerospace, in the Los Angeles area. At work he met the daughter of a schoolteacher who once taught in Naches; not long thereafter, they were married.

Steve’s father and brothers had a new orchard project in mind in the late 1950s, early 1960s. One day Steve received a call from his father, asking if he would like to join the project. He and his wife Geraldine moved back to the Heights, and not long after his father passed away. Steve purchased the home place and various other parcels in the 1960s and 70s.

Steve’s hobbies were collecting knives, hunting and fishing. Other than his family, there was nothing that delighted him more than being in the wild, hunting or fishing. He once proclaimed to his son Greg when they were together in the wild, “This is my church!” Stories are told of his excitement in landing a large fish, or bagging a deer or elk. One recalls that his zeal was such that he often found it necessary to recline after such an event, along a river bank or on the mountains’ floor, simply to regain his composure.

Tragically, it was during a hunting excursion November 18, 1982 west of Tieton that Steve lost his life, he was 43 years old. He left his wife, Geri and one son and two daughters. Perhaps the ‘why’ of early death is found in this statement of a cleric told to a mother who had lost her child to death:

“They have done all that they were sent here to do, and now the spirit must be recalled; life being too important to be wasted here for the pleasure of those of us who remain.”

Just the same, all of us wished he had lingered in this place a while longer.

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