Wednesday, January 16, 2002
In a tale reminiscent of Horatio Alger's rags-to-riches novels, George Ing wrenched himself from a life of poverty to guide changes in the orcharding industry, write hundreds of articles and trot the globe as a researcher and speaker.
The ascent wasn't easy, but luckily for Ing, money grew on trees.
During two hot summer days in 1956 he picked 4,174 pounds of cherries -- an unconfirmed world record.
Growing up in a three-room shack near Gaston, Ore., Ing had no idea that one day he would buy his own 80-acre orchard in Hood River and 335 acres of farmland in the Willamette Valley. Even more farfetched was the notion that he would help redefine orcharding itself. In December, the Washington Tree Fruit Association gave Ing the Distinguished Service Award for his years on the state Tree Fruit Research Commission -- and a variety of other long-term contributions to orcharding.
"I don't think anyone has contributed more to the success of this industry than George Ing," said former Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission chair Fred Valentine.
"I think (Valentine) just wants a favor out of me," chuckled Ing at his Hood River home.
In spite of his success, Ing still remembers what it was like to be raised by a oft-unemployed father, Kenneth, and his mother, Verna, who suffered from taxing medical problems.
"Dad was born in England and moved to a homestead on the Canadian prairie in 1906," said Ing. "His claim to fame was making horses usable when no one else could break them."
Ing's father had only three years of schooling, so when he married and started a family in Gaston, finances were shaky. Ing admitted that he was self-conscious about his financial and social standing at school, despite being skipped ahead a grade with his sister.
"There was a big focus from the start on what they called `getting ahead'," said Ing. "Our parents preached education as the way to become liberated."
George became the first Ing to graduate from college. He split his time between Pacific University and the Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University), leaving Pacific with a degree in social sciences. He was interested in journalism, but was deterred by the low pay and difficult hours. Political science also fascinated him.
"I wanted to be an attorney for a while," said Ing. "They had that special aura -- the image of the attorney's dramatic courtroom deals. But that's not actually a big part of the job, and all the reading and writing preparation turned me off."
Just as impressive as Ing's success at college were the toils that brought him there. His first job was as a four-year-old, hauling water to threshing crews for pennies a gallon. As he grew older he picked crops, gathered bottles, performed yardwork and jumped at any other work he could get. By the time he was 12, Ing had $1,000 in the bank and was essentially supporting himself. Between 1952 and 1959, he traveled to The Dalles each summer and harvested cherries, picking a consistent 1,000 pounds per day, with some notable 2,112-pound and 2,062-pound exceptions.
"These are things a guy shouldn't remember, but I guess I do," said Ing.
Halfway through college, Ing bought a 110-acre farm near Gaston, growing grain and planting an orchard. During his senior year he married Muriel Horning, a Hillsboro schoolteacher. After graduating from Pacific he coached a state champion summer baseball team, the first in a long string of baseball, basketball and football coaching experiences. He spent many years coaching Hood River and White Salmon baseball teams, and left Little League with an 81-7 record.
Soon after college, Ing began teaching in Yamhill -- three years of junior high and two years of high school history, geography and freshman English. From 1973-1981, he served on the White Salmon school board, three of those years as chairman.
"It was a time of funding shortages and student disarray," said Ing, who doesn't consider the experience among his best memories.
Ing's life took a steady turn in 1962 when he accepted a post as superintendent of Mt. Adams Orchards in White Salmon -- at 600 acres, it was the largest orchard in the state. He worked there for 29 years, becoming a partner in 1966.
"It was a grueling job," he said. "Our business is labor-, financially- and management-intensive."
For Ing, the hard work was worth it.
"I learned the business and developed a lot of contacts," he said. "I loved research and loved to learn, and there was enough flexibility there that it was like we had our own experiment station. Plus it was a great area to raise kids."
Ing and his wife have three children: Ken, Ed, and Kathy Keerbs. Ed is an assistant manager for Underwood Fruit and manages most of the Ing's 80 acres of orchards, while George takes care of the 17-acre home plot and "annoy(s) the pickers during harvest."
"I've always like the fruit business," said Ing. "Tree fruits fascinate me. They're perennial crops and you have to be astute to grow them. With annual crops you can bury your mistakes."
Rapidly developing orchard technology intrigued Ing, who wanted to make pears easier to grow.
"I tease my cohorts in Washington that any damn fool can grow apples, but it takes a lot more to grow pears," he said.
Ing championed research throughout his career. After joining the Washington State Fruit Commission board in 1967, he co-founded the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission in 1969, serving as vice chair for one year, then acting as chairman from 1970 to 1991. For 32 years he volunteered his time, but in 1991 he became a paid manager until his semi-retirement in 2000.
"Growing up, I had no idea what a Ph.d was. I thought a doctor looked in your throat and ears, and tapped your stomach," said Ing. "It has been interesting to get to know so many (scientists) and to work with them while administering grower grant funds."
Under Ing's guidance, the Commission initiated seven referendums that asked growers to tax themselves to raise research funds. Each one passed, and the Commission's $70,000 budget in 1969 ballooned to $3.5 million by 2000, funding research projects in 16 states and four foreign nations that dealt with important issues like storage, handling and pest control.
"They developed sex confusion pheromones that made it hard for the male and female pests to find each other," said Ing. "A friend of mine said that we need those for teenagers!"
Ing also served as chair of the Winter Pear Control Committee from 1984-1986 and continues to chair its research committee, which he helped found. He also chaired the research committee of the U.S. Apple Association, was president of the Washington State Horticultural Association in 1988 and was a board member of several industry committees. He has been a longtime member of the Hood River Grower-Shipper research committee, and for the past 10 years he and his wife have shared the post of secretary/treasurer for the National Cherry Growers and Industries Foundation.
Ing's honors include Soil Conservationist of the Year for Yamhill County in 1970, the Washington State Horticultural Association Silver Pear Award in 1971 and 1979, Pacific University Alumnus of the Year in 1986 and several other industry awards.
Recently he received a Distinguished Service Award during the Horticultural Association's annual convention.
"You get all these awards just by hanging around for so many years," Ing said.
Ing's life isn't only about accolades and positions held. In 1983 he began to write a column for Good Fruit Grower magazine. Now called "ReportING," the regular feature originally dealt with research issues, but was expanded to provide sketches of people in the industry and to spin some nostalgic yarns. The magazine plans to publish a collection of Ing's columns and other anecdotes in the fall.
Outnumbering his columns are Ing's travel slides, which number more than 50,000. His career has taken him around the world to research centers and markets in China, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Mexico, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and to all of the fruit growing regions of the United States.
"My trip to China was maybe the most fascinating," said Ing. "I would get up early in the morning and take pictures of people going to and fro, and of their small retail markets."
Ing uses the slides in many of the hundreds of talks he gives around the country and in other parts of the world. He has been on the program of the Washington State Horticultural Association's annual convention on 28 occasions.
Besides his obvious love for photography, Ing is also fascinated with old cars. He has around 12 antique vehicles -- some are Model A's, the first car he ever owned.
"I also collect what Muriel calls `junk'," said Ing. "Some bicentennial stuff and old-time household farm items. I also have a collection of china commemoratives of British royalty. The oldest pieces date back to 1817."
The china creates a link to Ing's family history in England -- he's visited the village of Haddenham, where Ing history is recorded back to 1600 and appears on old gravestones. The town is located about 20 miles from Oxford, but as Ing maintained, most of his relatives didn't make it that far.
"There were no notable Ings, but apparently no criminals, either," he said.
If there weren't any exceptional Ings before George, than surely the list starts with him. But his many accomplishments came at a price.
"If I want to see anything on my tombstone, it's: `He hustled'," said Ing. "But that's not necessarily good. I'm sensitive about time and productivity, and not easily satisfied. I put water in the ketchup bottle to make sure I use it all -- it's due to my upbringing. My life has been active and intense, but I've missed out on some fun."
Lost fun or not, Ing is both satisfied with and humble about his accomplishments, thanking his wife for her encouragement.
"(Muriel) is the reason I have been able to do so many things," said Ing. "She is the strength of our family."