Elizabeth Hobdy Applebaker '68, M.S.T '69
People come upon their careers in different ways. Some enter the family business, some climb steadily through the ranks, and others target a specific occupation right from the start. And then there are those, like Elizabeth (Betty) Hobdy Applebaker '68, M.S.T. '69, who have worked their way through so many jobs - some pleasant, many not - you can almost hear an audible sigh when they settle into the career that's right for them.
Applebaker's list of jobs includes teaching, cleaning, painting, clerking, and bookkeeping. She ran the Snake River as a rafting guide, cooked for a hunting outfitter in Hells Canyon, and rode on a potato machine, separating rocks and debris from the potatoes. And finally, after years of searching, she settled into a 21-year career as an animal packer - lasting longer, she said, than any other animal packer in the U.S. Forest Service.
Teaching was Applebaker's first passion, and her interest in education continued through her later work. She and her first husband, Gale Barcroft '69, M.S.T. '74, graduated together from Pacific, and were teachers and coaches at the high school in Sweet Home, Ore., for eight years. For the last four of those years, Applebaker taught part-time while she had the couple's three children.
The struggle came when Applebaker and Barcroft divorced. With her three young children in tow, she moved to the small town of Joseph in Eastern Oregon, where she thought she'd find a teaching job waiting. Instead, she bounced from one low-paying job to another.
"I was doing everything to survive," she said. Many of the odd jobs were well beneath her level of education, but she refused to give up or settle for a career that didn't challenge her. "I came from an educated family, and I knew I was smart enough to do more than work a potato machine. That was just to make money to survive on until I could make a living."
Finally, after four years of personal and financial struggle, Applebaker got her break. She heard about a temporary pack-and-saddle job in the McKenzie Ranger District east of Eugene, and that temporary job eventually became part-time and then the full-time career she had sought for so long. From 1985 until this summer, when the position was cut due to budget limitations, Applebaker was the only female to lead a pack-and-saddle operation in the Forest Service's 100-year history.
Applebaker's job involved packing supplies and equipment to fire crews, trail crews, rangers, and others near the Forest Service's Fish Lake Guard Station, where she lived in a log cabin each spring and summer. Applebaker packed her horses and mules with whatever people needed - food, water, hoses, tools, dirt for trail maintenance, and more.
"People can pack what they need: food, a tent, a sleeping bag, tools. But they can't go as far or stay out as long without pack support," Applebaker explained. For instance, her string of mules could bring in a dumptruck-load of dirt in one day, greatly speeding the work done by trail crews.
Applebaker said she "loved the beauty and solitude" of the work, and after awhile she found ways to incorporate her interest in education into her field. She became a Leave No Trace master instructor and taught minimum-impact camping techniques to groups and organizations that brought horses into wilderness areas.
Being a female was an issue at times, Applebaker admitted - at least early on. "I had to prove myself. I really had to be able to keep up or not be there. I figured that out right off: keep up or shut up," she said. The key, she added, was establishing her ability to handle the job. Once you've proven yourself, she said, "they don't question your decisions anymore."
The loss of her career still stings, but Applebaker is staying busy with the Back Country Horsemen of America, and she's looking forward to traveling with her husband. She said she's ready to confront future challenges just as surely as she confronted those earlier in her life. When you've faced hardship, she said, "You learn you can do many things you didn't think you could do."