A bluebird promise continued
It was a cool autumn day, but the sun was shining brightly in the vibrant blue sky.
Two fellas made their way around Meadow Lakes Golf Course in a Gator. The back of the rig was piled high with wooden birdhouses.
They were on a mission to hang 29 bluebird houses in trees around the course.
"Allan volunteered to go with me for two reasons. One is I needed him, and the other is he has volunteered that after I'm gone, he's going to keep on doing this," says 92-year-old Trevor Russell as he rests in the seat of the Gator, looking out over the familiar golf course.
"I finally got my shop all set up. Bought all the tools like he's got," Allan Smith says. "I'm going to make the exact same thing he does with his name on it. I don't want my name on it. I'm just going to carry on his tradition."
Russell's tradition is making and hanging birdhouses to help bring bluebirds back to Oregon, a promise he made to his wife before she passed away 14 years ago.
Prineville author Rick Steber shares the local couple's story in his book "A Promise Given," telling of remarkable love, a promise given and of bluebirds.
"She had Parkinson's, and she was very excited about bluebirds," Russell says of his wife, Vivian.
The couple were snowbirds, wintering in Yuma, Arizona, when she passed away.
Russell fondly recalls one of their last moments together.
"She was trying to take a nap and couldn't go to sleep. I asked her if she'd like to have me lie down with her. I did," he says. "While we were laying there, she said, 'I hope when I'm gone that you'll keep on doing what you can to bring bluebirds back to Oregon.' I said, 'Well, I will. I'd love to.' And she rolled over and she went right to sleep."
Later that evening, Vivian passed away.
"It was that day that I promised that I would do what I could to bring bluebirds back to Oregon, and that's what I've been doing," he says.
Russell designed a birdhouse just the right size for bluebirds, hoping to encourage them to make a home, raise some babies and spread throughout Oregon.
In the 14 years since Vivian's passing, Russell has constructed 2,933 birdhouses, and they can be found in trees all across Oregon.
This is the fourth time Russell has installed birdhouses on the local golf course.
Zach Lampert, the head golf professional and facility manager at Meadow Lakes, was pleased that Russell was still able to put up his birdhouses, noting that he used to golf on the course and there are plenty of birds and lots of trees.
Although the birdhouses are designed for bluebirds, the house has "you're invited even if you aren't a bluebird," Russell chuckles.
They're unsure whether or not bluebirds themselves are inhabiting the birdhouses, but they do know that tree swallows often call them home.
"The nice thing about tree swallows is that they're really great at catching mosquitoes, and they clean the mosquitoes out really good," Russell pointed out. "Swallows are great, but my wife loved bluebirds."
On this day, Smith was doing the heavy lifting — climbing the ladder and using the drill to hang the birdhouses on the trees.
"You hold the ladder, Trevor. Don't pull me over," Smith chuckles as he climbs the ladder.
"He's getting better at this," Russell quips.
The two friends met more than a dozen years ago in Prineville over a poker table. They play every Thursday night with a group of buddies.
"I go down to Trevor's a lot and visit with him and help him with different things," Smith says. "He's 92, and he's getting up there in age."
Russell's grandson had offered to take over the birdhouse tradition, but he's young and busy, and the two pals weren't sure if it would continue.
"You know Trevor, I've done some thinking about it, and I'm 70, why don't you keep making them, and I'll keep making them, and then we'll coincide the numbers so we know how many we've made," Smith told his friend. "And when you're gone, I'll carry on your tradition as long as I can before I pass, and I will just keep making them."
Russell liked the idea but suggested his friend put his own name on the birdhouses.
"I said no because I'm carrying on your tradition. I don't want my name on it. We'll just put your name on it," Smith told his friend. "I'll just keep putting them up everywhere and giving them away just like you do."
Smith said that Russell was honored that he would take on the project.
But, it was only natural for Smith, who had a career as a painting contractor.
"I think a lot of him. He's a very nice gentleman, and I just like Trevor a lot. I just want to carry on his tradition. I know it meant a lot to his wife, Vivian," Smith says. "I never got to meet Vivian, but I know she had Parkinson's, and my wife has Parkinson's, so we share something."
Smith says his friend has helped him to understand his wife's Parkinson's, a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, and what to expect.
Smith's wife, Jan, worked at Pioneer Memorial Hospital before she developed the disease.
These days, the Smiths enjoy visiting Russell at his home occasionally, and the men work in the shop together.
"I just want to give him something in return, so I'm going to make his birdhouses and keep displaying them, and when he's gone, I'm going to still put them up just as if he was here," Smith says.