Precious memories of a family’s legacy
By Rhonda Morin, APR
In the early part of the summer of 2022, Clark College broke ground on its future satellite campus in Ridgefield, Wash. The Boschma family, who farmed the property for decades before donating it to Clark, took the opportunity to reminisce about this special place.
As the ceremonial gold shovels cut into the warm June earth on a once active dairy farm in Ridgefield, Wash., a new chapter for the storied land began.
The 70 acres, which had traditionally been cultivated by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, will soon become the next Clark College satellite campus.
On June 1, 2022, the college broke ground on the first of five buildings to be built over five decades. Construction at Clark College at Boschma Farms is scheduled to start in 2023. It is expected to be complete in 2024 or 2025. Simultaneously, 20 acres of land located at the entry of the new campus will be developed into commercial businesses, according to officials from Clark College Foundation, which owns the commercial land, as well as other acreage surrounding the college’s property.
The new development represents a long-term visionary chapter for the future of the community college, made possible by gifts of land from the Boschma family and Ridgefield East 1 Associates LLC., in 2014, and land purchases by Clark College Foundation.
The fertile soil, streams and animals made the property valuable to till for all the people who have tended the land for generations. From the mid-60s through the 70s, that responsibility fell on the shoulders of Hank and Bernice Boschma, who emigrated from the Netherlands. The couple had 44 cows when they moved from Woodland, Wash., to Ridgefield to expand their dairy enterprise.
Parts of their story have already been told in the pages of Clark Partners magazine. Bernice and two of her three adult children, Shirley Rubbert and Symon Boschma, walked the property one last time on the afternoon of the official groundbreaking, and recalled different memories.
Coincidentally, it was 61 years ago on that same day—June 1, 1961—that Bernice arrived in the United States to start her new life and marry her soulmate a few weeks later.
“This represents the future of economic opportunity in northwest Clark County,” said Dr. Karin Edwards, president of Clark College, during the ceremony. Other dignitaries joined her in proclaiming victory for increased access to higher education in the Ridgefield area, a region that has seen explosive growth in recent years.
Clark anticipates the first building will become an advanced manufacturing facility with courses and equipment in robotics, computer science, waterjets and 3D printing, as well as general education courses.
Before the acreage becomes a place of learning for Clark students, the family remembered the cows that grazed the land, the three children who were raised on the farm, the funny family stories and Hank’s Massey Ferguson tractor.
Memories flood back
“I was always glad he was my dad,” said his son, Symon, recalling his swelling pride when he watched his dad stand up on the tractor while scraping manure and sometimes rounding up the cows to corral them into the barn.
Hank worked the property and the animals like a farmer does—at all hours. He kept a close eye on expenses, opting to work longer himself than to hire help. His hard work paid off. Hank and Bernice had 44 Holsteins in the early 1960s before moving to Ridgefield on May 1, 1965. By 1979, they owned 200 cows and a double-10 milking parlor apparatus to milk them.
In June 2022, the three family members walked along their old Ridgefield driveway, gravel crunching under their feet, turning to look at various outbuildings.
A detached garage stood a few feet from the walkway leading to their modest family home. Symon stepped into the musty-smelling structure, strewn with broken machinery and bits of trash. Symon glanced up a ladder-like staircase, its treads polished smooth from so many years of use. “See up there on the right? That’s where I hid my dad’s cigarettes,” he said, pointing to a spot in the wall at the top of the stairs.
As a boy, Symon tucked a pack of his father’s Salems into the secret spot, then snuck into the garage and lit the contraband up, using a car lighter. He’d pretend to be his father, waving around the cigarette and taking puffs.
His parents found him carrying on like this one day and laughed at his antics.
“My parents spotted me out of their bedroom window as my dad was getting ready to take his afternoon nap. He did this regularly because he had to get up early in the mornings to milk. When they came outside and caught me, I thought I would be in trouble but, to my relief, they thought it was humorous!”
The family’s house was once a comfortable, active home, with a mud room at the entry—a visitor could almost hear Bernice telling Hank to take off his muddy boots—and a kitchen-living room space with big windows overlooking the fields. The hustle and bustle of the home are gone now, left only to the imagination and memories of the family. Today, the house is in ruins, with holes in the floor, thick layers of dust everywhere, and a green layer of scum on the toilet bowl, giving it the look of a science experiment.
For decades since the family moved to other parts of Washington, the land and house have been rented to local farmers who grow strawberries. Cots and thin blankets in the former children’s rooms upstairs were signs of occasional resting spots for the current tenants. A combined record and CD player in the living room still had an old 45 RPM record queued up: Frankie Valli, with a needle resting silently on the vinyl.
On the second floor, where the kids’ rooms used to be, was a small space with arched walls. The ceiling closed in quickly so adults who walked in were forced to hunch over. It must have seemed like a secret chamber for the kids. The slanted ceiling was painted green, now faded.
Symon’s daughter, Annie, her husband, Derek, and their 21-month-old son, Hank—his great grandfather’s namesake—were seeing their father’s childhood home for the first time. He showed them into his boyhood bedroom.
“I used to play with a neighbor friend in here when I was about 5 years old,” he said. “She was my first little girlfriend.” Coincidentally, Annie is now friends with the daughter of her father’s playmate.
A new start
The land and home are where the family worked the land, held birthday parties, celebrated holidays together, milked cows, dressed their best for church, and did all manner of things that families do. Those days are behind the Boschmas now—the children have had children and now Bernice has great, great grandkids.
The next phase for the land is about to begin. Through the passage of the 2021-2023 capital budget from the Washington Legislature and subsequent law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in May 2021, there is $53.2 million secured for the construction of the satellite campus, plus an additional $1.5 million in federal earmarks for advanced manufacturing equipment.
Clark College Foundation is fundraising for future needs of the property and working on developing the commercial portion that may include retail spaces like food, coffee and other services. Once the first building is finished and programs are running, Clark officials expect individuals from Woodland, Kalama, Battle Ground and Ridgefield will choose to attend Clark College Boschma Farms.
The next closest community college to the north is Lower Columbia Community College in Longview, 30 miles from Ridgefield. A campus in Ridgefield—part of Clark’s service district—will provide access to an underserved area. The site is located at Exit 14 east of Interstate 5 in Ridgefield.
Though it’s a sentimental closing in the Boschma family chapter, the emergence of a place of learning brings new value and more stories.
“Hank is smiling on us. Thank you for believing in the vision,” said Lisa Gibert, former CEO of Clark College Foundation, to Bernice Boschma at the groundbreaking.
Rhonda Morin, APR, is the executive director of communications and marketing at Clark College Foundation. The article is reprinted here with permission from Clark College Foundation.