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Lifelong learning on the Ranch

Lifelong learning on the Ranch

Do we stop learning? Or better yet, do we ever want to stop learning? Of course not. Every day when we open our eyes in the morning, we’re presented with the chance to learn, to digest something new – from our work, community, or the world operating around us. At the same time, each one of us carries a sliver of knowledge that someone else does not know and just maybe, we will have the opportunity, on any given day, to shift, enrich or transform someone’s worldview.

A group in Central Oregon, called the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) is focused on continuing education and experiences for over 200 active members. To become a member, you must be 50 years or older and have an interest in the lifelong pursuit of knowledge. The group schedules tours, adventures, workshops and educational seminars throughout the year for members to sign-up and dive into a topic, lifestyle or experience.

In May, OLLI contacted the OCA office because they were eager to open a door for their members into the daily concerns of an Oregon rancher. OCA Executive Director Jerome Rosa could think of no one better suited to this task than past OCA President Ray Sessler. For a month, Ray worked to put together a full agenda for this group of OLLI members, most of whom were from the Bend area,

“I want them to know there’s more going on in this state for ranchers and maybe change a few minds. This is a chance to educate them about our side of the issues that the Bend Bulletin doesn’t report on,” said Ray on the phone with me as we worked to gather facts and statistics about some big issues facing ranchers – wolves, fires, feral horses, public grazing and WOTUS were just a few topics Ray planned to discuss during our day on the ranch.

The adventure began on the morning of June 13, when Ray, Jerome and I greeted 20 OLLI members in the Ray’s Food Place’s parking lot in Prineville. Ray distributed a hefty packet of info, facts and updates for the members to read during our hour and a half drive to the Sessler ranch in Paulina.

“You won’t want to bring your car where we’re going,” Ray said to me as he tossed the keys to a flat-bed, diesel pickup – perhaps he kept parked there just for this type of occasion? In that instance, I became a tour guide as three OLLI members climbed into the pickup with me and we set out in a five-vehicle caravan to the ranch.

I quickly learned that this group of insightful, educated and skilled people were just as much about learning new experiences as teaching others about their own. In my group, there was a man who had drove truck and helped build roads in the Ochocos – he went on this excursion just to see how the area had changed. Another woman talked about her daughter’s experiences as an editor in Los Angeles and another talked about her routine coffee meetings with a group of women known as the “Thin Mints” because of their years of dedicated service to the Girl Scouts – one had been a volunteer for over 70 years.

Once we reached the MS Ranch we were pleasantly surprised by the lush green landscape, no doubt a result of a strong, wet winter. The adventure begins with a trek up a nearby mountain and then eventually turning around before reaching the top due to wet ground. However, our passengers enjoyed the off-road adventure and the many wildflowers they already knew by name thanks to their frequent flower identifying excursions with OLLI, such as the crimson, Indian paintbrush.

Next, Ray stopped the group at the lower pasture to explain how the cattle are rotated throughout the year to graze and why that’s important for the health of the cattle and the land.

“I was about to say, are you sure you’re a cattle rancher?” shouted a woman from the group, a joke poked at Ray because we had yet to spot a single cow – the next stop did not disappoint. We pulled up to the corral with calves bellowing and cows lowing – a branding scheduled for the group. The Malott family and several employees in the corral operating like clockwork. The OLLI group gathered on the fence to enjoy a spectacle that many had only seen in the movies.

It’s amazing how much can be accomplished in less than four minutes, but time is money on a cattle ranch. Rope, tip, tag, doctor, castrate and brand – before the calf knows what happened, he’s already back on his feet.

Meanwhile, Bonnie Sessler graciously prepared a tri-tip lunch on the wagon for the OLLI group, complete with a homemade citrus cake that was delicious. As we sat and enjoyed our lunch, conversation sprang up about why many came on this adventure. For some, the smell of a brand on flesh was all they were looking for to flood back memories from childhood and for others they had never seen the landscape East of Bend.


After lunch, our caravan headed out into the Ochoco National Forest for several stops along the way to discuss issues Ray has dealt with such as regulations involving fish in streams on the mountains and rights to the water during grazing. Ray and Jerome also explained how public grazing is obtained and how grazing can play an important role in preventing wildfires. We were on a tour of some of the most beautiful countryside – a private look into an Eastern Oregon rancher’s backyard.

We ended the tour at the MS Ranch barn, tattooed on the wall were brands from neighbors who helped the Sessler’s raise the barn many years ago. Inside, Jerome discussed issues the Cattlemen’s Association is tackling daily in the Capitol, including increased wolf depredation compensation and opposition to the cap and trade bill. The discussion circulated about how the OLLI guests could take this information and educate others about the lifestyle and hardships facing the Oregon rancher today.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association would like to give a big thank you to Ray and Bonnie Sessler for hosting and providing a full day of events for the Osher Lifelong Learning Professional group. The Cattlemen’s Association has been invited to present to the entire membership at a future date.

Every minute, every second of the day we are processing new information while simultaneously passing on something new to someone else. The guests from OLLI will take the information shared to them and pass it on in another car ride, at another lunch, on a different adventure.




~ Lifestyle Coverage by Robyn H. Smith, OCA Communications Director & Oregon Cattleman Magazine Publisher

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