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Seniors on the go

Robert Koller is November's Featured Senior Citizen


November 28, 2019

-Photo by Cindy Klaveano

Robert Koller

Born and raised in Garfield County, Robert Koller was number twelve of thirteen children and is the last survivor of the Lynn Gulch country school. He attended elementary school there until three days into the seventh grade when the forty-three school districts in the county consolidated. Only Gould City and Mayview kept their country school and in time, they too, consolidated.

The six Koller sisters and seven Koller brothers all worked hard together to keep food on the table for the family. Though it was his least favorite job, Robert began milking the family pet cow and graduated to milking four to five cows each day. His mother utilized the milk to cook with, made butter and sold whatever may be left of the cream to the local creamery. Robert commented he remembers his mother canning peaches on a wood stove while cooking for harvesters and her family. They did not get electricity until 1940. The family also butchered hogs in the winter and cured the pork. Eventually they were able to get a locker in town for their meat.

While in high school, Robert played football, was a boxer and played baseball. The school day started at 8:30 a.m., and was over at 4 p.m. He lived twenty miles from town and rode the bus to and from school on some roads that weren't even graveled. He was in high school during the war and at that time gas and tires were both rationed. Robert and Joe Lewis car-pooled home from practice to conserve gas. Farmers had an exemption for gas, but most folks had to adhere to the four gallons per week gas allotment. To get tires, you had to apply to a board.

On Saturday his parents took their weekly trip to town. The children were not invited, but they did attend the annual Pioneer Days events and the Fourth of July festivities. During harvest the streets were lined on Saturday nights. Perhaps the biggest line was at the barber.

Because Robert was put through two years' worth of classes in one year of school at the country school, he graduated from high school in1946 at only 17 and a half. He was too young for the service so went back on the family farm to work. In 1951 he was drafted into the service and was stationed in Baltimore during the Korean Conflict serving in Counter Intelligence for eighteen months

When he was discharged, he returned to Garfield County and leased a place from John and Edna Sullivan. He worked his dad's farm as well as his own during this time. In March of 1955, Robert and Betty Slaybaugh were married. They raised their two daughters on the ranch he leased until his father passed away and then built a new home, designed by Betty, on the land where Jim and Terri Koller presently live.

Raising Angus cattle and farming kept Robert busy for the next fifty years. Betty was his "hired man" and would run anything except the big tractor. Betty also was adept at knitting, crocheting, and sewing. She has made bedspreads, jackets, and sweaters to name a few. Perhaps her most challenging achievement was to make a jacket out of scraps of leather given to her by Elton Brown.

A life-long hunter and trap-shooter, Robert said he has met "tons of nice people over the years". He has enjoyed hunting deer in Montana, elk and moose in Wyoming, and geese in Canada. He went snow goose hunting in North Dakota with Larry Bunch, Wayne Tetrick and Dave Wilson. He laughingly said he was so cold on their last day of hunting that he didn't go out and it was on this day his partners returned with the back end of the pickup full of geese. Friend Elton Brown has also had him rattlesnake hunting.

In "retirement", Robert and Betty liked to travel. Until her death in 2013, they enjoyed going to Arizona, but only for a couple of weeks. Their vacations usually involved trapshooting. Robert recalls they were trapped at Loon Lake when Mt. St. Helens exploded and they couldn't get home for four days. He passed the time helping clean the ash off all the picnic tables and benches.

Though Robert has been active in several organizations, he said he doesn't like to take on something if he can't give it 100%. He served as a County Commissioner, was active in the Garfield County Cattlemen's Association, the local Soil Conservation Board, the Gun Club and was on the first Planning Commission for Garfield County. Several belt buckles prove his prowess as a trap-shooter with awards being won over many decades.

He was instrumental in erecting the monuments that honor Garfield-County born servicemen in the Pocket Park on Main Street. Brother Lester was a fighter pilot in Europe; brother Gilbert flew B-24s in the South Pacific and brother Raymond rode hospital ships back and forth to the U.S.

The biggest change Robert has experienced in his ninety-plus years is the change in farming equipment. He cites feeding a team of horses at 4 a.m. to prepare them to pull the combines compared to the present–day machines that cost more than several acres used to cost as a huge change.

Robert still enjoys golfing with Leroy Hannas, Larry Koller, Bob Des Jardin, Otto Krouse and anyone else who shows up. He does his own cooking, cleaning and lawn mowing. He roots for the Cougars and the Seahawks; he plays cribbage at the Senior Center; and looks forward to visits from his two daughters and their spouses, his four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. A special family event was the 100th Koller family reunion held at the home of Tim and Diana Burt Labor Day Weekend of 2018. Over 180 family members attended.

Robert had eight siblings who lived to be ninety or more. He had one sister he never knew who died at age ten from diabetes and one sister with diabetes who had an insulin shot every day of her life and lived until seventy-eight. His mother lived until age one-hundred-four. Robert said he was once asked if he thought he would live as long as his mother. He jokingly replied: "I bet they hope I don't!" Robert says he has had a blessed and happy life. Not one to sit still, he says "you have to keep moving!" And he does.


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