Sensational Seniors – October 2016

Because Jacksonville is replete with “Sensational Seniors,” I only needed to walk to the end of Shafer Lane to interview my good friends and neighbors, Russ and Margaret Lyon, of the well-known Daisy Creek Vineyard, for this column.

Their life story is one of determination and overcoming obstacles, while maintaining a finely-tuned sense of humor. The fact that Russ, at 83, and Margaret, at 79, are both in their third careers is inspirational in itself, but how they have gone about these careers is even more inspiring.

Russ and Margaret were born and raised in Colorado; Russ on a 7,400-foot elevation ranch out of Golden, while Margaret hailed from Wray. Russ was a standout baseball player and honor student at Wheatridge High School before matriculating to Colorado A&M, (now Colorado State) where he majored in Biology, played baseball and had a college deferment from the service. Margaret, after attending school for twelve years in Wray, headed off to the University of Colorado and majored in English and French. Margaret was in a sorority at the University, and one of her sorority sisters was a cousin of another student, Robert Redford. Margaret remembers that the sorority sister was constantly trying to get “Robbie” a date, but his short stature was a deterrent.

A week after Russ’s graduation, he received his draft notice but, rather than be drafted into the Army, he joined the Navy and, as he remembers, “The local draft board was livid about this, because I had received a college deferment for four years and they thought I owed it to them to go into the Army.” When asked how a Colorado boy ended up in the Navy, Russ replied, “I was always fascinated with the ocean even though I’d only seen the Pacific once, and I was not interested in digging trenches and fox holes.” So, he started his first career in the Navy and as he says, “I got in the Navy and loved it so much, I stayed.”

While in Boot Camp, young Lyon was asked if he might be interested in the Officer Candidates School, since he was older than most of the enlistees and had a college degree. This encounter began a 23-year Navy career. Margaret, four years younger than Russ, finished her degree and headed off to Bellingham, WA to teach high school French. During Christmas break, she attended the wedding of her best friend from college and here met the Best Man who was home on leave. You can still see the twinkle in their eyes when they talk about this fortuitous meeting, for seven months later they were married and recently celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary.

To this union two children were born, Michael and Jennifer and, because Russ was away a good deal, Margaret settled in Colorado Springs to raise the children. Margaret also realized that teaching was not for her, so she went back to school and earned her medical records certificate and ended-up working for an urologist in Colorado Springs.

Russ had many different naval assignments, but says his best was the eight years spent at the Air Force Academy as the Navy liaison officer. Since each of the service academies has a representative on campus from the other service branches, the purpose of this was “for each senior in the Academy to know what the other services did and how they were all part of the United States military.”

After a serious water skiing accident in 1978, after total rehab, after passing all the physical requirements numerous times and after a recommendation by the Navy that he be allowed to return to his Navy Commander position, the request was denied at the federal level. If you want to get Russ fired up, ask him about the Carter administration. But, rather than focusing on this disappointment, Russ decided to make the best of a bad deal and used the GI Bill to go back to college where he eventually received a Master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling and a Doctorate in College Administration from the University of Northern Colorado. This ushered in his second career which started at Arapaho Community College where he served until 1984 as the Director of Admissions and Records. From there he went to Heald College in Walnut Creek. Because the intense travel in the Bay Area and the philosophy of the college did not fit the Lyon’s lifestyle, Russ interviewed for a position at the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) in Klamath Falls. He was hired as the Director of Admissions at OIT, a position he held until his second retirement in 1995. Margaret secured a position at Klamath Radiology, and this became her all-time favorite job.

Having reached retirement age, the Lyons’ first thought was to move back to Colorado, but exploratory trips to Medford, with its milder climate, persuaded them to re-locate to Jackson County. After numerous trips over the hill, they came across the Daisy Creek property, put a bid on it on the day it was listed and bought it a day later. When the realtor took them to the gate and Russ looked upon the 23.6 acres of fields, he said, “This is it.” This move signaled the start of the Lyons’ third career.

The first order of business was to have a barn built and then their home, which they moved into the day after Russ retired from OIT. After harvesting some hay crops on their acreage, Russ recalled, “I always loved peaches from the time I was a kid in Colorado and had always thought about being a peach farmer.” This led to planting 150 peach trees of the “49er” variety. It took about five years for them to start producing but then they were in business. The two of them hand-picked and individually wrapped each peach, put one ad in the Mail Tribune one weekend and suddenly had a tremendous business. Unfortunately, after nine years, the peaches developed a virus, which resulted in the removal of all trees and the end of peach farming.

All was not lost, however, for in 1997 they met John Guerrero, the winemaker for Valley View Winery, who convinced them that the property on the other side of Daisy Creek would be a good place to grow grapes. Valley View provided the expertise, the plants and the support to move into this new venture. After growing grapes for a few years, their interest in winemaking and production took hold, so they started talking to other vineyard owners, took classes and read everything on winemaking. This was the birth of Daisy Creek Vineyard where they now grow and produce seven varietals of wine in the French-Bordeaux style, many of which are well-known, award-winning wines. For example, at the recent Oregon Wine Experience, they were very pleased to receive three medals for their wines.

At an age when most people are taking it easy, the Lyons work every day, but, as Margaret relates, “We made a vow that if we are not having fun, we are going to quit. We have to validate this from time to time, but so far we are still having fun.” Russ adds, “I have always wanted to be active. When my dad retired, he sat down and watched TV. He just quit and retired from life. That is not for me.” Margaret, who suffers from what for most would be debilitating arthritis, says, “You’ve got to keep moving. My mother went to bed when my father died. This is not what we are going to do.”

So, on Thursday through Sunday, you can find the Lyons running their wine tasting patio. On days off, you’ll find Russ working in the vineyard or tending to his large garden. Meanwhile, Margaret will be doing the books, canning and, when possible, playing a mean hand of bridge. When things slow down in the winter months, the couple enjoys reading, watching college football and their beloved Denver Bronco football games.

Those of us in our senior years know that aging is just a part of life. I also know that many of us want to age like Russ and Margaret Lyon, that is, age well.