PULLMAN, Wash. — During 60 years of raising sheep and cattle in the rugged terrain of Okanogan County, Ernest and Stanley Berg often got through tough times with a little help from their friends. To help future generations of college students get by, they have created a $500,000 scholarship endowment at Washington State University.
“We wanted to do something good for the kids with our ultimate and final gift,” Stanley said. “This is it for us, and there couldn’t be a better way to do it.”
The first four Berg Brothers scholarships, each worth $2,500 annually, will be awarded April 18 at the 39th annual awards banquet of WSU’s College of Agriculture and Home Economics. Eventually, income from the Berg Endowment is expected to provide eight scholarships a year to students in WSU’s College of Agriculture and Home Economics. All will be renewable for up to four years.
Half will be awarded to animal sciences majors; half to other students in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics. First consideration will be given to high school graduates from Okanogan County.
“This extraordinary gift comes at a most opportune time,” said Jim Zuiches, dean of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics. “With rising tuition and increasing need for financial assistance, the Ernest and Stanley Berg Scholarships will help four to eight students from rural communities attend WSU every year.”
From buying cattle exhibited by 4-H’ers to helping a nephew finance an education at WSU, they’ve been helping their neighbors for years.
When the men retired and liquidated their ranch two years ago, they gave $300,000 to the Okanogan County Fair Board to build a new livestock pavilion. Part of that gift has been set aside in a trust to fund future capital improvements at the fairgrounds.
The Bergs have come a long way since they joined the family sheep business in Yakima 60 years ago to herd sheep for their father, Ernest F. Sr. With a great deal of fondness, Stanley recalls those days as some of his happiest.
“I packed mules and I herded sheep every winter and I packed every summer until 1956,” Stanley said. He remembers trailing sheep at the bottom of the Grand Coulee Dam when it was under construction.
During the ’30s, their father, Ernest Sr., had a piece of leased ground on the Moxee to grow feed for the off-season as well as a forest grazing permit. “The Depression caught up with him and the banks took the ranch from him in ’36 and the sheep away from him in 1939,” Stanley recalled.
The Bergs’ father and partners persuaded H. Stanley Coffin of Yakima to buy the ewes back from the bank and for the next five years they ran sheep on shares with Coffin. It wasn’t a very profitable venture. “We didn’t make as much money as we paid the sheep herders,” Ernest said.
The Wool Growers Service Corp. stepped in to finance the family enterprise in the mid-forties. Several prosperous years followed. “In ’48 we bought 1,000 head of ewes from Harry Roberts and paid him $40 a head cash,” Stanley proudly recalled.
1952 was a banner year. The lamb crop was big and the prices were good. The Bergs had a contract with Armour for their steers. “We had enough money to put down a payment on our ranch ” Stanley said.
They bought out their father’s share of the partnership — he wasn’t interested in real estate or cattle — and began acquiring leases on the Colville Indian Reservation on the north bank of the Columbia River. Eventually they pieced together a 6,000 acre ranch midway between Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dam.
1953 was as disastrous as 1952 was good. The price for steers fell from 32 cents to 14 cents a pound and the price for fat lambs fell from 30 cents to 15 cents. With a little help from their friends, the Bergs stayed in business. “The Wool Growers Service Corp. stuck with us,” Stanley said.
1956 was a watershed year for the Bergs and marked their transition into cattle. That spring they lost 400 ewes to lamb paralysis. “It’s the same as ketosis in cattle, but you can’t treat sheep,” Stanley said.
While building their cattle herd, which eventually grew to more than 1,100 animals, they also grew dryland wheat and 225 acres of alfalfa under irrigation. They moved 100 acres of hand line every day. “Until we got a little money, we did it all ourselves,” Ernest said.
They built a modest home on their ranch in 1968 and invested in purebred Herefords. The Bergs will show you pictures of animals that look like they stepped out of show catalogs.
They started selling off their cattle in the early ’90s. In 1996, they sold their leases back to the Colvilles. Their ranch has since become a wildlife refuge. The Bergs now make their home on seven-and-half acres outside of Omak.
The brothers will be recognized at the college banquet, as well as at the animal sciences department’s awards banquet on April 16.