On Saturday, July 27, long-time cattle ranchers John and Marie O’Leary will lead the Mosquito Festival parade as Paisley Pioneers for 2013.
“He arrived at age 17 and never returned to Ireland,” John says.
Sponsored by the Flynn Brothers in Plush, Jeremiah herded sheep, taking sheep in lieu of wages to built up his own flock.
“People would say to my dad, it must have been awful lonesome for a man from Ireland coming to Eastern Oregon,” John said. “Dad would tell them, ‘I had lots of company, there were a lot of Irishmen herding sheep out there.’”
Most of the Irish who settled in Lake County came from County Cork.
In 2001, John and Marie visited their cousins in Ireland.
“We stayed in their homes the whole time, never had to get a hotel,” John says.
In 1927, Jeremiah married Mary Singleton in New York. Mary and her sisters had come from Ireland to work for wealthy New York families.
Jeremiah then went into business with his brother Jack O’Leary who had purchased the King Ranch at Clover Flat, near Paisley.
In 1930, John was born at the old maternity house in Lakeview. He and his brothers Jeremiah and Dan and sisters Hannah, Patricia and Mary grew up on the ranch.
“My folks were into Catholic education,” John said. “So I graduated from Columbia Prep High School in Portland.”
He studied animal husbandry at Oregon State for two years, and then joined the Air Force during the Korean War. Trained as an airplane mechanic, he was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash.
During a leave from the Air Force, John met Marie at a New Years Eve dance held in the Summer Lake Grange. Marie, a senior at Marylhurst College, was traveling through Eastern Oregon with her sister.
After the dance, Marie got a letter from John. His letters kept arriving while Marie and her friend Kathleen were teaching school in Vale. When she landed a job teaching in Lakeview, she met John again at a dance in Fort Rock.
“From there I took up the reins,” John says. “I asked her to marry me and she said yes”.
The transition to ranch wife wasn’t difficult for Marie, who was raised on a farm near Lebanon. Marie’s friend Kathleen married John’s brother Jeremiah.
In the 1960s, Jeremiah bought a ranch in Summer Lake and took the sheep. John remained on the Clover Flat ranch and switched to cattle.
“My son Mike is now the main man on our ranch,” John said.
A few years ago, injured shoulders put a halt to John’s horseback riding. Up until this year, John helped with the irrigation, but declining health has curtailed his activities.
“It’s a good thing to let the young guys take over anyway, “ John says. “Mike has made amazing improvements in our ranch.”