Remembering and celebrating an iconic man
"He wasn't just my boss, he was my friend."
"He treasured his family; he actually treasured them."
"It was fun to be around him and see the passion he held for young people."
Spend some time talking to people who knew Craig Woodward, and their words paint a portrait of a man who enjoyed great success in sports and in business, and cared deeply for family, friends, his employees and his community.
He is remembered as a standout wrestler whose prowess earned him all-American and hall of fame accolades. He was a highly successful timber executive who owned multiple sawmills and ranches, owned timber land, and bought and sold timber for years.
He was honored as the Crooked River Roundup Grand Marshal in 2010, and when Prineville was highlighted as an eclipse-viewing destination in 2017, he offered up his Big Summit Prairie property to host the Oregon Eclipse Festival, an event that drew more than 70,000 people to Crook County.
In the simplest of terms, Craig Woodward was a Crook County icon.
Woodward passed away suddenly last Thursday at age 72, leaving behind a local legacy celebrated by many family members, friends and colleagues.
"I'm sure there are a lot of people who feel the same way I do right now," says longtime friend Doug Smith. "One of their best is gone."
Smith, who is a few years younger than Woodward, remembers when he was 12 years old and his dad would take him to Crook County High School wrestling meets.
"You had the Woodward brothers — Craig and Brick — and it seemed like we always won because of them," Smith said. "They just always seemed like they were the toughest kids, and if they wrestled somebody who was tougher, they just got tough enough to beat them. It just kind of stuck with you."
After a highly successful high school wrestling career, Woodward would move on to Eastern Oregon University, where he was ultimately named an all-American and later inducted into the college's Athletic Hall of Fame. The recognition didn't end there. Woodward was named to the Oregon Athletics Hall of Fame and will soon be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame with the Outstanding American Award, which is given to former wrestlers who have distinguished themselves in local, state or national work.
As successful as Woodward was in athletics, one could argue that he was even more successful in his professional life. According to Stan Rogers, his lands manager for the past 31 years, he owned the local Prineville Sawmill Company as well as a sawmill in Burns and a large chipping plant.
Woodward owned timber and ranch land and bought and sold timber land and timber throughout his career.
"He was proud of the fact that he did logging in North America, South America and Central America," Rogers remarked. Woodward completed a hurricane damage logging job in Belize, logged in Bolivia, and worked on a wildfire clean-up logging project in Hawaii.
"He has logged in more places than most people have ever been to," Rogers said.
Woodward was introduced to timber and ranching at a tender age. The summer after fifth grade, he went to work on a Wheeler County area ranch and two summers later took a job at Hudspeth Land and Livestock on Big Summit Prairie.
Even in those days, Woodward had high ambitions. He recalled sleeping under the stars and dreaming that he would one day own Big Summit Prairie. That dream later came true in the 1980s when he and his family partnered with his good friend Jack Rhoden and purchased a ranch on the property. A few years later, he was able to purchase Rhoden's interest in Big Summit Prairie and realize his childhood dream.
The timber industry entered the picture before Woodward was finished with high school. The summer after ninth grade, he went to work for his dad and Uncle Doug, who he described as the woods' boss. He would continue to work with and learn from his uncle until age 21 when he started his own company. At the time, he was still in college.
As his career progressed, and the timber industry faced tougher times, Woodward developed a strong interest in the future of the local forests. Ochoco Lumber Company Managing Partner John Shelk, who was once a business competitor before later purchasing timber from Woodward, eventually ended up serving with him on the Ochoco Forest Collaborative.
"I think he took a very concerned view of the future of our community and of the national forest," Shelk said.
That concern led to Woodward working extensively with local forest officials.
"Craig had a long and productive history with the Ochoco National Forest that reaches back further than many of us now working here," said Forest Supervisor Shane Jeffries. "As a citizen and a partner, a contractor and an adjacent landowner, he interacted with the Forest Service on many different levels and contributed to our Forest Service programs in numerous ways. We will miss his presence in our working groups, his knowledge of the land, and his willingness to speak his mind about natural resource management."
Through all of his athletic and professional successes, Woodward made a concerted effort to give back to community members and to the employees he depended on to keep his businesses strong.
Years after Smith watched him as a high school athlete compile victories for Crook County High School, he watched the wrestling star step in and mentor his youngest son, Zach, when he needed it.
"It got to the point where they would get short on coaches, and Craig would go and sit in Zach's corner," Smith remembers, "and it was amazing to watch how much Craig could get out of that kid, just as a leader and a mentor."
It wasn't the first time Smith had seen Woodward step up for high school athletes. In the spring of 1984, the Crook County School District was unable to pass its budget, and the future of high school sports was left in serious doubt. That was when Craig and his wife, Lucy, stepped in.
"They kind of created the Crook County Booster Club and organized all kinds of activities in order to have sports," Smith remembers. "That summer, they went out and held concerts at the fairgrounds. Basically, Craig put up all of the front money in order to create enough funding that we were able to reinstate fall sports. And if you think about it, that's 1984, that's the (year of) the state championship football team."
Smith acknowledges that Woodward's kids were involved in sports at the time, but believes he would have stepped up to save school sports regardless.
"It was always about the team. It was always about getting everybody out there to participate," he said. "He knew the value of sports and what the value of sports had brought to him."
In his professional life, Woodward exhibited a similar level of care for his employees.
Pat Bunch knows this well. He began working for him on one of his ranches more than 25 years ago, starting out as an irrigator.
"Due to other people shifting around, I ended up being in charge of the farm ground and irrigation," he remembers. "From that point on, it just kind of escalated. Whenever he needed me, that's where I went."
Bunch found himself behind the wheel of a semi truck, hauling livestock or heavy equipment. Years ago, when the forest industry was tanking, Woodward asked Bunch to haul bulldozers in to help fight forest fires across the Central Oregon area.
"Craig was a man that if he saw potential in somebody, he would let that potential go and run with it and see just how far it would work to where he could make an average employee into someone he could use in many different directions," Bunch explained.
And he would provide help to his employees at times when they least expected it.
"You would be eating dinner in a restaurant somewhere and when you got up to pay your bill and go home, your bill had already been paid," Bunch said, noting that he would do so without drawing attention to it and be gone before the act of generosity was known. "He enjoyed doing that. He enjoyed taking care of his employees. He did not expect any thanks or anything back. It was just something he knew people would appreciate and he enjoyed being able to help them in that manner."
Rogers remembers that Woodward always provided his employees time to attend whatever sporting event or other extracurricular activity their kids were involved in.
"He made sure we never missed a tennis match or a track meet or a wrestling meet or a football game," he said. "We were expected to be with our kids because it all goes by so fast."
That insistence is not surprising, given the value he placed on family.
"He loved his family more than anything," Rogers observed.
"He would stop what he was doing to pay attention to them," Bunch said. He went on stress that his devotion to family was so intense that he could walk away from a job discussion to interact with his children or lower his rifle after spotting a bull elk on a hunting trip so that his grandchildren could take a look at it through the scope first.
"He was never too busy to be around those kids and support them," Smith said. "It just stuck out to me that as a parent and grandparent, that's how you ought to be."
A celebration of life will be held for Woodward this Saturday, at 11 a.m. It will take place at the indoor arena of the Crook County Fairgrounds, a venue large enough to seat the hundreds of people whose lives he touched throughout his life — the life of a Crook County icon.