Lilja: a mystery to most people
It may seem a little late to eulogize Don Lilja’s contribution to FFA and 4-H kids, but it’s never too late to mention his personal attributes.
In all likelihood, I was closer to the “Inner Don” than anyone. How many of his classmates (he would be 88 now) remember his brilliance in Canyonville High? How many know Don did 21 years in the U.S. Navy, then delivered mail on the Riddle-Canyonville route for more than 20 years? Does anyone know he never married? He took care of his aged Swedish immigrant mother. Very few folks really knew Don Lilja. He was a mystery to most.
Ask the remaining old-timers if they recall that Don, without being asked, stopped while delivering mail to trim the rotten hooves of neglected sheep. Many appreciated him picking up their dry milk cow and taking it to the sale.
How many kids remember the uniforms he bought for the Days Creek High band? Nobody has mentioned Don staying until the last hog, sheep or steer was sold at FFA and 4-H sales. He made sure every one of those critters was bid to the highest price possible. Who knows how many he bought and later disposed of?
Don Lilja was my brother, my mentor in the cattle business, and my partner on the 1640-acre Boomer Hill Ranch. We bought it with a borrowed down payment, cosigned a personal note for $100,000 at South Umpqua Bank in Canyonville, never had a written agreement and even forgot to shake hands on the deal. For almost 14 years, we cleared land, built roads, barns and corrals, and never had one argument. We also ran several hundred head of cattle and Don absolutely refused to ride a horse. That’s the real mystery of Don Lilja!