Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 9th, 2006
The following is the obituary from the Walla Walla, Washington, newspaper. Vance Orchard, storyteller and historian, dies.
Friends and family recall his passions for journalism, community and history.
By SHEILA HAGAR, TERRY McCONN and ANNIE CHARNLEY EVELAND of the Union-Bulletin
An ardent historian known for his reporting, roving and rambling died Tuesday at his Walla Walla home. He was 88.
Vance Orchard, a longtime reporter at the Union-Bulletin, discusses one of his favorite topics, Bigfoot, in this file photo. Orchard died Tuesday [March 7, 2006] in Walla Walla at age 88. He worked at the paper for 32 years, retiring in 1983.
Former Union-Bulletin reporter Vance Orchard was diagnosed with cancer just over a week ago, and his family was by his side 24 hours a day until his death, said his daughter, Dollyjean Pettyjohn of College Place.
Former U-B publisher Chuck Cochrane today said Orchard will be remembered for three passions: journalism, community and history.
"He was just a wonderful journalist,” Cochrane said. "He cared deeply and knew everything about the community” and provided colleagues a "wonderful perspective” of the area’s history.
Former Whitman College library archivist Larry Dodd, a good friend of Orchard, recalled this morning his many activities.
"Vance was involved in a lot of things,” Dodd said.
Orchard was interested in older people and their lives "which became very important in understanding local history,” according to Dodd.
Orchard volunteered in the archive department for a number of years. He also was a major player in the early development of the Walla Walla Pioneer & Historical Society.
"He and (his wife) Janette traveled a lot, mainly in the western part of the United States,” Dodd said. "He loved to travel around because as a roving reporter he did that all the time, finding projects he’d like to write about.”
Orchard was born Dec. 26, 1917, in Orin, Wash., to S. Vance and Marian Pearle Foust Orchard.
While his first love was commercial art, he became interested in journalism in high school. Orchard came to this area in 1951 after working at weekly papers in Auburn and Sumner, Washington.
Soon after, he joined the U-B and became the newspaper’s outdoor reporter, covering the eastern side of Oregon and Washington.
It was work he loved, Orchard said in a 1983 column. Although he was a "bookish” boy, he grew enamored of lugging gear up mountains and "shivering” under the stars at night. It was in the Walla Walla Valley the journalist developed a talent for fishing and long hours on the road, he said.
During that time, Orchard also covered President Eisenhower’s 1954 visit to Walla Walla and Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s trip here in 1961.
Orchard was more often out of the newsroom than in until a restructured news beat planted him more firmly at a desk. He conceded in a 1984 U-B article that becoming deskbound was rough in the beginning, but his new assignment – agricultural coverage – was enjoyable.
"Doing farm coverage was a big part of what I’d been doing all along. I was always doing something about a bang-up job of soil conservation or somebody producing calves to beat the band,” Orchard said at the time.
He also had stints as religion and county courthouse reporter and food editor. Orchard eventually began producing a column, "Blue Mountain Ramblings,” for the Sunday edition of the paper, as well as a regular senior citizen feature.
He also wrote an "Outdoors in the Blues” column that was taken over by outdoors reporter Don Davis upon Orchard’s retirement on Dec. 31, 1983, after 32 years at the newspaper.
He continued his column until the end of 1989, then started "Touchet Valley Ramblings” in The Times of Waitsburg. He wrote his final column three weeks ago, according to co-publisher and editor Loyal Baker. It appears in Thursday’s edition.
"He truly loved what he did – meeting people and writing about them,” Baker said.
Former Times publisher Tom Baker also recalled Orchard as a "people person.”
"He liked finding something out about someone else and reporting on it and putting a different angle on it.”
Well-known throughout the area, Orchard would often participate in Oregon trail rides, for instance.
"He just liked people and liked to depict their history and what they were doing,” Tom Baker said.
Orchard compiled his columns into two books and wrote two volumes on one of his favorite topics, Bigfoot.
U-B Editor Rick Doyle said this morning, "He truly believed that it existed and continued to do so to the very end.”
Orchard’s success stemmed from his down-to-earth personality and honest concern for people, according to Doyle. "Vance had a great ability to connect with people, the real people, as opposed to celebrities and such,” Doyle said.
Orchard was involved with the writing and publication of a 1981 book about John G. Kelly, former publisher of the Union-Bulletin, remembered Robert Keatts of the Fort Walla Walla museum.
The writer continued his work with the museum up until the time of his death, Keatts added. “He was a tough bird. Very kind, very gentle. And he loved writing about history.”
Orchard married his high school sweetheart, Janette Armstrong, in 2002, and is survived by her at the home. Survivors also include two sons, Willis and Paul Orchard; and three daughters, Dollyjean Pettyjohn, Marian Hamilton and Charlene Slater; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by wives Pearl Orchard, Marguerite McAllister Orchard and Mary Mayberry Orchard.
Her dad was full of life, Pettyjohn said. While his job kept him away from home four days a week, he always attended special family functions. And it’s the stories he wrote that people will remember him by, she feels.
"Everybody loved them.”
Vance Orchard had his own insights on his role in Bigfoot history; please see Vance Orchard (1917-2006): In His Own Words.