When Don Appel left the family farm at Endicott in the 1930s to enroll at Washington State College, he didn’t know what he was starting. Or where it would end.
Unfortunately, failing eyesight ultimately forced him to withdraw from school one semester short of graduating. He returned to farming but continued to stress the importance of education. In 1979 he was awarded a degree in engineering. Now all nine of his children hold Washington State University degrees. They were followed by a third generation of graduates. A fourth is in the queue.
Dick Appel (’59 Agri. Engr.), Don’s oldest, was the first in the family to graduate. David ’61, Tony ’63, Fred ’65, Donna ’67, Colleen ’68, Steven ’74, Laurette ’78, and Renata ’82 followed. Most of their spouses are WSU degree-holders, plus a host of cousins.
Early in his senior year, Dick met sophomore Helen Absher at a pep rally. They dated. The day before the newly commissioned Army second lieutenant left for Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the couple married. That union produced 10 children and a new generation of Cougar graduates.
The most recent of these, Neil Appel (’02 Agri. Econ.) graduated in May. Four brothers and three sisters preceded him.
Dick and Helen raise wheat, barley, and sheep on 1,700 acres near Dusty (pop. 12), 32 miles west of Pullman. After military service, he returned to work with his father. In 1969, he purchased the farm.
“I never pressured the kids to come back to the farm,” Dick says. They were free to chart their own course. Several of his sons, like his brothers, are engineers. After completing an introductory course in biosystems engineering, Neil decided he didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day. He yearned for the farming life he describes as “a little more laid back.” In May, he joined his dad on the farm.
“I always hoped that one son would follow me on the farm,” Dick said recently. The eldest child, Mike, did, but he died in 1987 of a brain aneurysm at 27. Eric, the fourth son, farms leased land four miles away.
“We taught them [the children] to work hard,” Dick said, “and pushed them to accept responsibility.” Neil was driving truck during harvest at 14.
The second and third generations of Appels have produced a long string of high school valedictorians and salutatorians. Their academic achievements have been rewarded by WSU and College of Agriculture and Home Economics scholarships and awards from the American Farm Bureau, Successful Farming, 4-H, and FFA, among others.
Dick was the first of many Appels to serve as president of Stimson Hall. For years, he has been a stalwart spokesman for Northwest agriculture and active in 4-H and FFA. Both he and Helen are members of the Washington State 4-H Hall of Fame. In April, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the WSU animal sciences department. The following evening, Neil was named the outstanding senior in animal sciences. And Lisa was cited as the outstanding student in her class in apparel merchandising and textiles.
Dick and Helen have 18 grandchildren, including Dan Appel, now a WSU senior in communications. Just when one generation graduates, another is waiting in the wings to take flight.