Feature Story – Ramona Spencer

Ramona SpencerAnyone would be hard-pressed to locate the community of Webfoot on an Oregon map. Yet there it is – located in the Willamette Valley, in Yamhill County, 3 miles from Dayton, and 21 miles from Salem. New SGS member Ramona Spencer grew up in the farming community of Webfoot, attending grade school in a 2-room schoolhouse, with just 1 or 2 other students in her same grade. It is said Webfoot was appropriately named for its large number of wild ducks and geese. But before Webfoot, there was great-grand Uncle Doug, and that’s where this Feature Story begins.

“Uncle Doug often said the grace before Sunday dinner. His voice took on different intonations that was the classic style in those days.”

UNCLE DOUG, an Early “Entrepreneur”
Douglas A. Snyder (Ramona’s great-grand uncle) came to Dayton, Oregon from Ohio in 1881 as an 18 year old. He worked odd jobs until 1884 when he and his father, Reuben F. (b. 1824) opened a general merchandise store. Years later, Uncle Doug developed an interest in the process of drying and packaging foods. Dayton Evaporating & Packing CompanyIn 1890 he designed and custom built the food dehydration equipment for what became the Dayton Evaporating and Packing Company (‘DE&PC’).  It became the major employer for the town of Dayton. Starting out with dried apples, Uncle Doug expanded his business to include onions, potatoes and the ever popular, evaporated eggs. He bought wagonloads of produce (apples, prunes, berries and vegetables) from local farmers. Present day Yamhill Museum displays a receipt showing the plant paid 40 cents for a sack of culled apples in those days. Convenient for its size, weight and shelf life, the U.S. government purchased Snyder’s food products to feed the military in WWI. By 1898 the Snyder soup mixes (Gold Nugget brand) were highly popular with Klondike gold prospectors in Alaska, since it could be consumed in the bleakest of conditions as long as clean water was available. The soup mix was also sold to Russian soldiers, and the Royal Mounted police. By 1905, the DE&PC plant was the largest of its kind in the state. (Source: Dayton Centennial 1880 – 1990) In 1943 Uncle Doug’s business again played an important role in providing dehydrated foods for WWII troops, producing 8 million pounds of soup mix.

The Move West
As Doug Snyder had done years before, Ramona’s maternal grandparents (Frank (b. 1876) and Cora Emma Snyder Hole (b.1879)) moved from Ohio to Dayton, OR in 1908. Frank owned and operated the Dayton Planing Mill and Box Factory, which produced containers for shipping and carrying fruit. Years later, Ramona’s father (a peach farmer) made a jig to hold the solid ends of bushel boxes for his peaches. At age 11 and 12, Ramona recalls earning 5 cents for each box she nailed together. “I could make 45 to 50 cents in an hour if I worked hard”. 

Ramona inherited a vast collection of family ‘treasures’ (letters, family pictures, documents, and more) from her grandparents.  One such item is her grandmother’s ledger, which itemizes everything she earned and spent from 1903 to 1916.

1914 page entries:
 crackers                    .10
sugar                        1.00
bananas                    .15
repair on shoes       .60
Received for milk   .40

Civil War Letters
Among the saved family letters are several written in 1864 during the Civil War from Reuben Snyder (Ramona’s great, great-grandfather) to his wife, Philenda. Enlisted with the 123rd Ohio Infantry, he was at Appomattox when General Lee surrendered. Reuben had been a prisoner of war and released as a result of the surrender.

Ramona’s parents (George Edward Webster (b. 1898) and Irma June Hole (b. 1905) lived at their farm in the community of Webfoot for 54 years. In addition to a peach orchard, they raised turkeys from 1934 to 1947, brooding up to 6,000 chicks for 10 weeks. Half were traded to a hatchery, some were sold at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and many were sold to the military. About 400 hens and a number of roosters were kept for laying eggs. Ramona recalls that in 1947, a fertilized turkey egg for hatching was sold for $1. The 2-room schoolhouse Ramona once attended is long gone, but the memories live on.

“Whenever I smell poplar trees, especially in the spring, I remember the smell of trees and the silver backs of the leaves moving in the wind . . . on the way across the field walking to and from school.”
From Ramona Spencer’s ‘Notes . . .’, March, 1999

Ramona and her husband Dean were missionaries in Sierra Leone, West Africa from 1958 to 1968. Dean was an Industrial Arts instructor at the Albert Academy, a secondary school for boys who were from various tribes and backgrounds. This Feature Story ends with a short audio by Ramona of life in Sierra Leone, on ‘whose fruit is it, anyway?’

Ramona Spencer has been interested in family history for over ten years.  She attended previous SGS Family History Day events, presentations and admits to being highly influenced by her grandmother Cora Snyder Hole, who was a DAR member in Dayton. Her family research is shared with a granddaughter in-law and niece, who are also interested in genealogy, and a younger brother.

Ramona maintains a full schedule, attending 7 exercise classes and creating up to 15 flower arrangements each week as a donation to Habitat Restore. All the flowers are raised by her husband, and include dahlias, sweet peas, daisies, delphiniums and statice. She will be attending the Dayton Old Timer’s Picnic Weekend later this month. This is an annual celebration, that began in 1934 as a day dedicated for all Dayton residents to ‘renew old friendships and make new ones’. The event has expanded to a weekend affair, with a parade, Firemen’s BBQ, family and class reunions, and more.
SGS welcomes Ramona Spencer as one of our newest members.

“Dayton Centennial 1880 – 1990”, City of Dayton
Dayton Tribune Newspaper, September 22, 1932
Gold Nugget Label, Courtesy of Richard Engeman
“Notes Relating to Dayton Tribune Newspaper” – Ramona Spencer, March, 1999

About siuslawgenealogy

The Siuslaw Genealogical Society of Florence, Oregon is a member supported, non profit organization. Researching genealogy and family history is our passion.
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