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Mea Alford, 1945 Pendleton Round-Up Princess

When Mary Esther Brock (or Mea, as she’s been called most of her life) was appointed to the Court, there hadn’t been a Pendleton Round-Up for two years. World War II was still going on, but the community missed their annual tradition so much that they decided to hold it anyway. And an important part of the Round-Up is the Round-Up Court.

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Pioneer Heritage

Round-Up royalty was chosen based on family history, age and ability to ride a horse. Mea, reminiscing, stressed that a family’s pioneer background was one of the most important criteria. Her father’s grandparents had come from Missouri on the Oregon Trail in 1848 or 1849, settling first in Heppner, where her father, Wilson E. Brock, was born. Her grandfather was treasurer of the first Pendleton Round-Up. So her pioneer pedigree was impeccable on her father’s side.

Mea’s mother came from New England. She’d graduated from Colby with a degree in library science, and gone west to open a library in North Bend. From there, she went to work at the University of Washington. She loved working in Seattle, but answered the call when the founding fathers of the town of Pendleton wanted to open a public library. She came to Pendleton and organized the town’s first library. She also met Wilson Brock, owner of Pendleton’s Taylor Hardware. They married, and Mea was born after a long wait for children.

“My father had to put up with an only girl child who wasn’t particularly athletic,” Mea remembered. She was active in drama and choir in high school, but she was the only child of a man who loved riding, hunting, skiing and boating. “I learned how to do all those things, but I was bad at all of them,” said Mea. She was much more interested in school than sports. “I loved my childhood—school was a wonderful and exciting place.”

The 1945 Court

Mea remembers a much smaller Round-Up than we see today, but it was an event. Her father, who owned the local hardware store, would close his business. Her parents had a box—she and her dad would go sit in the bleachers to be closer to the action–and her parents would host friends from all over the country. Said Mea, “The Round-Up was much loved by all.”

She was chosen as a Princess in April or May. Mea wasn’t exactly thrilled—she didn’t love horses—but the announcement of the court was a lengthy process full of suspense and fanfare. Princesses were announced one-by-one in the East Oregonian, with a photo and a big write-up. Two of the princesses were just out of the local high school—Mea and her friend Gloria, whose life dream was to be a princess. Another was from Helix, OR, and another was from a ranch in the foothills of the Wallowas. The Queen was part of a prominent local ranching family.

Said Mea, “Some of these girls had basically trained their entire lives to be on the Round Up Court. Not me, though. My dream was to be a Rose Festival Princess!” Mea might have felt underwhelmed, but her father was delighted. He had Hamley’s make a saddle for Mea with a silver horn, and had a leather fringe jacket like those worn for trick riding made for her as well. “My mother hated that jacket!”

Getting Ready

Mea had ridden since she was young alongside her father. They had matching grey Arabian horses—Tony was her father’s, and Smoky was Mea’s. She liked her dad’s horse better, as he was more active and less likely to pull back to the barn, so they traded. But she knew she wasn’t prepared for the level of horsemanship required. So she graduated from high school in late May and spent the first weeks of the summer of ’45 practicing her riding skills.

She was terrified.

Round-up Princesses had to jump two fences. Smoky was not a jumper, so a dear family friend loaned her a jumper—he was hard to control—much more difficult. Each day after she practiced the jumps, her father met her with a glass of ice water because her mouth was so dry from fear that she couldn’t even open her mouth. Said Mea, “This was the first experience in my life where I’d felt insecure and afraid. Thinking about it now still makes me shake.”

Summer Events

Over the summer, the Queen and her Court rode in very few parades. When they went to Portland for the big Rose Festival parade, they left the horses in Pendleton. Tires were extremely hard to get, and gas was impossible, so they went by train. She wore her special Round-Up attire, which included “Justin boots and a Stetson hat, which I didn’t like because it had a flat brim.”

Over the course of that summer, there were four Court events requiring escorts, and men were off in service.  Said Mea, “If you didn’t have a beau, the committee would find you one.” Mea did have a beau, in fact she’d had the same beau since first grade, but Bob Alford was in the service. Her dates for the four events were four strangers, all from different branches of the military. Mea said, “A mystery date for each date. They were all very nice. One of them showed up in my husband’s class in dental school. He came out one evening and told me, ‘I was your date during the Round-Up.’ He was the Navy date.”

The Main Event

September came, and with it, the main event. This would be a subdued and somber affair, not the usual swirl of socializing that Mew associated with the Round-Ups of her childhood. Soldiers on leave were there, reminding everyone of the sacrifices going on overseas. Since the war had drained off the men, women had taken over the ranches.

Said Mea, “Even producing the out-of-town horses was very difficult, because of the expense of getting them there. So there were a lot of local people raising calves and bulls and horses for the shows.” The result was much smaller, but people were so glad to have it back. Her mother didn’t mind the scaled-back nature of the Round-Up that year, as she could be overwhelmed by all the out-of-town hosting and general socializing.

On Opening Day, both horse and rider were nervous for the ride out. Pendleton firemen had hosed off the track on opening morning, and someone had left the firehose in front of the fence. Mea’s horse shied at the hose. Her mother says that she went so far over one side that the seat of her skirt brushed the ground, but she pulled herself up and back into the saddle. Mea was so terrified that she doesn’t remember, but her mother insisted that this was exactly how it happened.

Mea carried out all aspects of her courtly duties for the length of the Round-Up. On the last day, said Mea, “I got off my horse, got into my mother’s car and she drove me to California, where I was starting college.”

She has never been on a horse since.

Life after Round-Up

Mea arrived to Pomona wearing a fashionable shirtdress, a Hamley belt with silver buckle, her leather fringe jacket, white anklets and wooden sole Oscars (clogs). She got there late, due to her Round-Up duties. Her roommates were told to expect a rodeo princess. Mea thinks her roommates expected her to arrive on a horse.

Her mother sent her to school with 27 pleated skirts sewn with fabric from the Pendleton Woolen Mill. Said Mea, “I had absolutely NO ROOM FOR THEM. I finally mailed them home. This is how spoiled I was.”

Mea eventually transferred to the University of Oregon, where she was a standout in the school’s Theater department. She went to the Round-Up every year until she graduated, married, and moved to Hawaii with her husband, Bob Alford, “the same little boy who kissed me by the pencil sharpener in first grade.”

On a newlywed’s budget, they didn’t travel back to Pendleton very often. Once Mea had children of her own, they heard the story of Mea jumping the fence and brushing the ground many times. Later, when she finally took her children back to see it, she was surprised to see that somehow, the fence had shrunk!

The Princess Today

Mea and her husband raised their family in Portland, where she lives today. No one has taken up riding, although her daughter wanted (but never received) a horse. Mea’s custom saddle with the silver horn sits on a saddle block in her eldest granddaughter’s room.

During the Centennial of the Pendleton Round-Up, the directors asked the past royalty to return, to ride in the parade. Mea was one of six princesses who rode in a wagon pulled by donkeys. “Donkeys!” she laughed. “And no one knew who we were. ‘Who are you?’ people called out.” She remembered this with a smile while displaying the hat she wore.

She liked the brim of this hat much better–the hatband is the belt she was wearing in her photo above, and over her shirtdress when she arrived at Pomona.

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Brand Ambassador Mikal Wright

 

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Ed. note: We are going to be featuring our fantastic brand ambassadors over the rest of this year, telling their stories in photos and words. Today we are profiling Mikal Wright of Pendleton, Oregon.

What kind of photography do you specialize in?

Photography is something that I started taking seriously about eight months ago. I purchased a drone and would go out and shoot aerial shots every chance I had.

Now that I’ve purchased a DSLR camera, I’d have say portrait photography is what I’m currently shooting as much as possible. I’ve been fortunate to have a solid network of friends who are professional photographers. They have guided me along the way.

Most of my shoots are in the Pacific Northwest, so you’ll see quite a bit of nature in my photography, but I’ve been challenging myself to get into the city more and shoot.

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What’s your dream shoot location and why (and don’t say Iceland—everyone does)?

This question literally made me laugh out loud because you are so right! Out of all the beautiful places in the world, everyone wants to go to Iceland. So I will change it up and choose El Nido. It’s a Philippine town located at the most northern tip of Palawan, an island that has a coastline dotted with over 1700+ islands and islets! I’ve read that the electricity there only runs 12 hours a day, so you have no choice but to unplug and explore the beauty of the island.

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(men’s sale coats)

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You scored many points for choosing somewhere original, Mikal. Where does your affinity for heritage brands come from? 

First and foremost, I was born and raised in Pendleton, Oregon. From my earliest childhood, I remember going to my grandparents home and falling in love with the blankets hanging on their living room walls.

Fast forward to the present, I’m now working for the company that I grew up loving! There’s something extremely special about Pendleton, the fact that it’s constantly evolving as a brand even after being around for over 100 years is amazing. That helped pave the way for my brand affinity.

Its also shaped the way I go about my photography. I definitely consider Pendleton as “The Outdoor Lifestyle of America” but I also see Pendleton as a high-end fashion brand.

We agree, and we love your photos that show this side of Pendleton.

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(sale coats)

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Growing up in Pendleton, and working for Pendleton, we wonder if you you have any family stories about Pendleton?

There’s one story that sticks with me the most. I was in the 7th grade and my family and I were heading back home after visiting my aunt and uncle in La Grande, Oregon. I remember there being a lot of snow that winter. The roads were extremely icy. A few cars ahead of us, a man lost control of his vehicle and flipped sideways into a ditch.

My dad and a few other cars immediately pulled over to see if he was okay.  My dad was always prepared for emergencies, and he kept an old Pendleton Camp blanket in the trunk of the car, which he gave to the man to keep warm until the ambulance arrived. I remember telling all of my friends at school the next day, “If it wasn’t for my dad’s old blanket that guy would have froze to death.” So I’d like to think that our Pendleton blanket saved a mans life that day.

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Your brand ambassador work comes from a unique place—you are actually a Pendleton team member. What do you want to say about the brand with your shots?

Each and every day, I have the opportunity to communicate with our consumers on a personal level. I get to hear their thoughts and I also have the chance to keep them informed and up-to-date with what we’re doing as a company. In return, I get a sense that they feel more involved and invested in our brand.

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I think the best artists and photographers create work that is a reflection of who they are. Pendleton is who I am and I truly hope that when people see my images they feel a sense of authenticity. This brand also has so much history and with every photo I take I want to make sure that every garment that I’m photographing is presented in a way that when people see it they know automatically that it’s a Pendleton, a brand that’s iconic in so many ways.

Please enjoy this movie by Mikal, featuring his muse and model, @brandyisthecatsmeow .

Follow Mikal on Instagram for more wonderful photography: @atribeoutwest

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Pendleton Heritage Umatilla Wool — VIDEO with Cameron Krebs

Krebs-3We are Pendleton Woolen Mills, and wool is what we do. Just watch and listen to Cameron Krebs, a wool grower from Umatilla County, talking about his family’s generations as wool providers to Pendleton Woolen Mills.

So here are some amazing wool facts for you, courtesy of us, from our trusty “Wool, A Natural” booklet, a little classroom staple for many years now.

Wool is a Miracle Fiber that Stands the Test of Time

Wool is a natural fiber, growing from the follicles of sheep. In a time of sustainability and environmental consciousness, this renewable resource remains longer-lasting and better looking than anything man-made. Even though advanced processing methods have made wool more versatile and easy care, man has not improved the miracle fiber itself. 

Wool is Naturally Resilient and Wrinkle Resistant

This is due to the ability of the fiber to spring back into shape after bending, creasing, or compression. Resilience gives wool its ability to hold a shape, resist wrinkles and withstand wear. This makes wool great for travel. It resists tearing because it’s flexible. Wool can bend back on itself 20,000 times without breaking (cotton only 3200 times before breaking/silk 1800 times/rayon only 75 times). Wool can be stretched or twisted and its cells return to their original position.

Wool is Naturally Comfortable

Wool fibers cannot be packed down. They spring back to shape keeping their open, porous nature. Wool provides the most warmth with the least weight. The air that is trapped inside (about 80% of wool fabric volume) makes wool an excellent insulator to keep the body at its normal temperature year round: warm in winter and cool in summer. Wool is the original outdoor “performance” fiber. 

Wool is Naturally Water and Stain Repellent

Wool repels light water, like a rain shower, because of the membrane on the outer scales. In very wet conditions, wool absorbs up to 30% of its own weight without feeling damp. And because of insulation ability, wool “breathes,” allowing the body’s natural moisture to pass through. The hairy surface of wool and its freedom from static make it the easiest of all fabrics to keep clean or to clean after soiling. 

Wool Maintains its Luster and Resists Fading

Wool has a permanent natural luster it never loses even after years of hard wear. It absorbs dyes until it is completely saturated so colors stay brilliant in spite of sunshine, perspiration and impurities in the atmosphere. No other fiber can be spun or woven into such a variety of weights, textures, finishes and colors. 

Wool is Naturally Flame Retardant

Unless it is in direct contact with flame, wool will extinguish itself. The denser the weave and the greater the fabric weight, the less likely it is even to char because of its smaller oxygen content. Fire departments and insurance companies recommend the use of wool blankets, rugs or coats to put out flames.

We will be bringing you more fun facts about wool this month, because January is an excellent month for keeping warm. And thanks to the Krebs family for their participation in this video!

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