They called them “bored meetings” — eight or so recently widowed women from around Roseburg getting together for a day trip to Portland, Ashland, the coast or elsewhere.
It was the late 1980s. Their husbands had all seemingly died at once. Now they found comfort being together and sharing their grief. And they wanted to make the most of their sudden and tragic life changes.
“When you travel, you’re always busy,” said Phyllis Feldkamp, 82. “You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself.”
For 36 years, Feldkamp was married to Barton “Bob” Feldkamp, who was president of Umpqua Dairy. She’s been a widow now for 25 years. Much of the last quarter century she’s spent seeing the world and serving her community.
“She’s very down-to-earth,” said travel companion Mary Sykes, who lost her husband a year after Phyllis Feldkamp.
The son of Umpqua Dairy co-founder Ormond Feldkamp, Bob Feldkamp met his wife at Oregon State University through a mutual friend.
Phyllis Feldkamp left OSU to move with her new husband to a military base in Kansas after he graduated. From there they went to Palo Alto, Calif., where Bob Feldkamp earned his Master of Business Administration from Stanford, and then Seattle, where he worked his first job out of school at Union Oil.
When the Feldkamps and their three sons moved to Roseburg so Bob could take over his dying father’s dairy, Phyllis remembers feeling uncertain.
“It was one of those things where you’re young and you just do it. You make it work,” she said.
Fifty years later, she’s amazed how it worked out. Bob Feldkamp oversaw Umpqua Dairy during a time of tremendous growth, but also setback.
A fire believed to be arson devastated the business in 1972. As Phyllis Feldkamp tells it, the company’s employees began relocating equipment that night, unbidden, displaying inspiring loyalty. She credits the other dairies that came to their rescue, helping the company fill every order during the six weeks it took to rebuild.
But, as in many of Feldkamp’s stories, she’s perhaps downplaying her considerable role in the rebuilding effort, said friend and Roseburg business owner Kerwin Doughton.
“She helped rally everyone,” he said.
Perhaps her biggest setback came in 1988, when Bob died of kidney cancer at 58. As Phyllis tells it, when her sons Steve and Doug took over, they adapted quickly and didn’t miss a step keeping the business moving forward.
But it’s likely she was more than a spectator during this period, Doughton said.
“I think she stepped up and helped her sons get established,” he said. “You never hear about Phyllis Feldkamp when it comes to Umpqua Dairy, but she was there. She was a major part of it.”
Aside from the dairy, Phyllis Feldkamp had to keep herself going after Bob’s death. So, afflicted with insatiable wanderlust, she dived into travel. She hasn’t done it as much lately, but over the past 25 years, she’s been to all the continents but Antarctica.
Barbara Iwata, whose husband, Bob, died a year after Bob Feldkamp, said Phyllis has the temperament of a perfect travel companion: curious, enthusiastic, never in a bad mood. They toured China, South America and Australia together, often by foot.
“She’s quite pleasant,” Iwata said.
Phyllis Feldkamp was a Roseburg First Citizen in 1980. She’s served on “every board you can think of,” according to Iwata. Among them are boards for the Ladies Auxiliary of the Wildlife Safari, the Republican Women’s Club, the Fullerton IV Elementary School PTA and for many years the board of Umpqua Dairy.
She led an effort to privately fund Roseburg’s Fourth of July fireworks show.
“That’s part of being in a community — you help out,” she said. “Especially if you have a business.”
Doug and Steve remain in charge of Umpqua Dairy. It distributes its ice creams, milk and other products from Alaska to Arizona to Montana. It debuted a line of frozen Greek yogurt last year.
“They have been very, very busy,” their mother said.
Feldkamp’s other son, Jim, might have the highest profile of her children. A former Naval officer and FBI agent, Jim Feldkamp twice ran to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio and lost. He’s now a lecturer on terrorism at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., having gotten his teaching start at Umpqua Community College. Last week, a preview copy of a terrorism textbook he recently finished was weighing down a corner of his mother’s living room table.
Now to brass tacks: What’s her favorite flavor?
Chocolate, though she buys more vanilla these days because it pairs so well with other foods.
“It’s hard for me to eat a whole half-gallon by myself, so sometimes when I want to try a new flavor, I just buy an ice cream cone.”
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.