Community, Cottage Grove

So long, dear friend: Cottage Grove mourns community pillar

COTTAGE GROVE – Several years back, Hal Hartzell was asked if he had ever thought about what kind of legacy he had hoped to leave behind. 

He said he was proud of his work. He planted a million trees, and on every occasion, he cupped his hands around each root before placing it into the ground, ensuring that all of his trees had a chance to grow and thrive.

Every single tree was treated with tender loving care. 

Hal’s wife, Betsy Hartzell, owner of Kalapuya Books in Cottage Grove, saw the kind of care that Hal displayed in all walks of life – with his work, with his family, with his friends, with the earth around him. 

“He was a wonderful man who was loved by everyone,” Betsy said. 

Hal Hartzell died on Monday night, Nov. 27 due to “age-related causes.” He was 77. 

Kalapuya Books was packed during last Thursday’s weekly Bread Club gathering as an informal memorial was held for Hal. On Thursday, Dec. 21 – Hal and Betsy’s anniversary – there will be music and stories about Hal’s life at the Axe & Fiddle after Bread Club, which begins at 4 p.m. (See the Axe & Fiddle and Kalapuya Books websites for further updates.)  

For Betsy, 2023 has been like a bad dream. On June 18 – Father’s Day – her son, Noah Wemple, died unexpectedly, shortly before the family was gathering to celebrate the occasion. He was 53. 

Noah was only 15 when his father, Edd Wemple, died of a cerebral aneurysm. He was 36. 

All three men were central figures in the workers cooperative which came to be known as the Hoedads. It all started in December 1969 when Jerry Rust and John Sundquist got their first tree-planting jobs, and soon realized they could start bidding their own contracts. More and more Hoedads started joining in, becoming part of a movement. 

Largely through the efforts of Edd, the Hoedads became incorporated in 1974. In the late 1970s, Hoedads, Inc. had 250 members and earned about $6 million annually. 

During the co-op’s 24-year lifespan, they planted more than 200 million trees. 

Betsy’s family will leave behind a legacy that’s perhaps unlike any other. Both of her husbands planted roughly a million trees, and her son planted well over a half-million trees.

Hal was one of the founding members of the co-op and was also the campaign manager for Rust, who became the longest-serving Lane County commissioner. A Peace Corps volunteer, Hal wrote two books: “Birth of a Cooperative: A Worker Owned Forest Labor Co-op” and “The Yew Tree: A Thousand Whispers” – both of which can be purchased at Kalapuya Books, which he founded along with Betsy. 

During the days when the Grateful Dead played shows in Eugene, Hal befriended several members of the band and enjoyed reminiscing about those times – although because of his strokes he could no longer speak as eloquently as he was accustomed to. But his love for the music never wavered.

The Hoedads’ heyday decade was from 1974-84. It was a time when the WOW Hall, Growers Market, Oregon Country Fair, and Saturday Market all started flourishing with the  Hoedads’ help. 

More than 3,000 people have signed up to be Hoedads – and many have lasted only one or two days. Former Hoedads like to shoot holes in the “lazy hippie” stereotype, as tree-planters are doing work that nobody else wants to do. 

In Hal Hartzell’s case, it was work he wanted to do. With tender loving care. 

Read more about Hal’s legacy in next week’s Chronicle.



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