In 1839, Francis Fletcher heard Rev. Jason Lee speak in Peoria, Illinois. Lee was traveling the country, recruiting pioneers to move to Oregon country to oust English fur traders. Though English by birth, Fletcher was moved. He joined Lee’s crusade and set out with the Oregon Dragoons, a group of 19 men determined for “Oregon or the grave.” Ultimately, he became one of only nine members of the group to reach Oregon (motto notwithstanding, the others just turned back). He took a donation land claim in Yamhill County, near what is now Dayton, and started his family farm.
He later signed at Champoeg to create the Provisional Government of Oregon (and, okay, became one of the founding trustees of Willamette University).
“We haven’t gone far since, and we’ve been involved in agriculture ever since,” said Fletcher’s great-and-then-some-grandson, Mike Wilhoit '77. Though Fletcher’s home still stands in Dayton, the clan has since moved to Newberg, where Wilhoit’s grandfather began growing hazelnuts in an orchard that Wilhoit maintains today.
In his professional life, Wilhoit has been deeply involved in a wealth of agriculture activities in the state, with Evergreen Agricultural Enterprises and more recently with Wilco, a cooperative that operates farm stores and agronomy sites throughout Oregon.
At home, though, his heart still belongs to the family farm, where he spends his evenings and weekends keeping up the orchard—and tradition—72 years in the making.