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By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: Where love lives

Perfect, in fact, except for one thing: He wanted to live in a small, rural town she’d never heard of — Dayton.

Stopping By

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996.

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Debbie laughs when she remembers back 40 years. Had she known she would fall in love with Dayton as well as Cal, she wouldn’t have hesitated one bit.

“Everyone we meet here is so kind,” she said. “It’s like a family. You know they’ve got your back.” As a result, she said, “Dayton is home.”

In fact, the Kearnses soon will be even closer to Dayton than ever before. After 37 years in a house near McDougal Junction, they’re moving into town.

They’ll been within walking distance of the football field Cal helped install and the school district office where Debbie, a board member, goes for meetings. And they’ll be close to the high school, where Debbie taught for many years and their five children graduated.

When Cal was a boy, his father worked on the Stoller turkey farm above McDougall Junction. Young Cal went to Dayton Grade School, in the same building where several of his 12 grandchildren now take classes.

He and his parents, Claude and Harriet Kearns, moved to Gold Beach when his dad took a job in a lumber mill there. So Cal graduated from the coastal high school.

He never stopped thinking about his first hometown, though. “I loved this area,” he said.

He kept in touch with Helen and Wilber Stoller, and made plans to return to Dayton after graduating from Oregon State.

In early May of his senior year, “I met this beautiful, wonderful lady,” he recalled. They graduated in June 1975, Cal with a degree in agriculture, she with a degree in education.

By the time they married on Sept. 6, Debbie had come to share his vision of living in Dayton.

Her conversion had a lot to do with Cal, of course. But it also was influenced by the Stollers, who had been like second parents to Cal and soon became that for Debbie, too.

Helen Stoller even taught the city girl skills she would need as a rural wife, including canning. Since then, Debbie has canned fruit and made pickles for her family every year.

When they were newlyweds, Cal found a job teaching agriculture at North Salem High School. The job provided insurance and a steady income, but wasn’t quite right for him, as it didn’t satisfy his love of being outdoors.

One day, when Debbie was pregnant with their second child, her husband came home and told her he was leaving teaching to start a landscaping business.

It might mean some lean times, at first, he told her. On the other hand, she was flattered to learn he was naming the business in her honor: C & D Landscaping, for Calvin and Debbie.

They both laugh at how naive they were. They didn’t even realize landscapers needed to be licensed. When someone reported Cal to the state, he was given two weeks to pass the licensing test — and he did, with flying colors.

Later, Debbie said, when Cal was appointed to the state Landscaping Board, he pressed for more stringent standards and more difficult tests.

C&D Landscaping’s first jobs involved the tilling of garden plots.

Then Cal landscaped the Kmart parking lot when the store went into the space now occupied by Safeway in McMinnville. He landed landscaping jobs at Hillside Manor and Joe Dancer Park, as well.

The business grew, from something Cal did by himself to a company with first one and then several employees.

It suited him, giving him a chance to till the soil and nurture plants. It also gave him the flexibility to do things with his family — attend his children’s sports events, volunteer to coach grade school football and both boys’ and girls basketball.

When his sons were in high school, he and Debbie cheered them on as they played on Dewey Sullivan’s championship teams. Cal said his one regret is that he didn’t play for Sullivan himself, as he went to high school in Gold Beach.

Both he and his wife remain fans of Dayton’s late coach. “Dewey cared about kids’ academics and their character as much as about football,” Debbie said.

Today, Calvin remains head of C & D, but their sons have taken over most of the responsibilities of the business.

It’s a natural progression, since the boys started helping out when they were 8. Cal said he had them pick rocks and smooth the ground, jobs that taught them a proper work ethic as well basic landscaping skills.

Son Josh is responsible for installation and daily operations. Son Isaac oversees maintenance and the Christmas Decor segment of the business. Son Caleb handles mortaring and outdoor construction.

Daughters Sarah and Abby worked in the business when they were growing up. Sarah now owns a New York Life agency in Boise, Idaho, while Abby works at Duniway Middle School in McMinnville.

The Kearnses said they’re fortunate to have five offspring who’ve become successful adults and parents. All five have been to college, are working and are leading good lives while staying active in their church.

They’re pleased, too, that four of their children gravitated back to Dayton, and that Sarah is just one state away. “Our kids want their kids to have what they had growing up in Dayton,” Debbie said.

Over the years, Debbie also helped with the family business in addition to teaching. At times, she worked at Poseyland Florist in McMinnville and ran a shop on Third Street in McMinnville, Country Keepsakes, with her friend Becky Swenson.

She is planning to return to retail soon. She and two friends, Theresa Shelburne and Debbie Smith, are planning to open Dayton Mercantile in a new building next to the Block House Cafe, located in a historic church across from Dayton’s city park.

She said she and her friends decided to open the store to increase the shopping opportunities for Dayton residents, as well as to draw tourists and customers from other parts of the county. Dayton Mercantile will offer a mixture of items, including gifts and cards, she said.

“We have a unique idea,” Debbie said. “We want the store to be a major asset to our downtown.”

That’s fitting, as Debbie serves on the Dayton Community Development Association in addition to her other involvements.

The Mercantile won’t be a jewelry store, she said, but it probably will offer some of the bracelets, necklaces and earrings she makes in her spare time.

She’s been creating jewelry from more than 20 years. She already sells pieces at the Red Sled in Sherwood and at Dayton Friday Nights. And she recently took a silversmithing classes at Jack of All Beads in McMinnville.

Jewelrymaking was a hobby when she was working as a teacher, first with the Yamhill Education Service District, then with the Dayton School District.

She started her education career when their youngest son, Caleb, entered school.

Debbie applied for a job with the ESD’s alternative education program for students from all over the county. Later, she was hired for a similar program in Dayton.

She spent the last 16 years of her teaching career as Dayton High’s school-to-work coordinator. One of her favorite parts of the job was matching students with internships that fit their interests.

She has former interns now working as veterinarians, lawyers, meteorologists and other professionals, she said proudly. “The internship program was my favorite thing.”

“If it was for a kid, I wasn’t afraid to do a cold call to a business and ask for their help,” she explained. “I’m passionate about that. Whatever it takes to educate kids and help them become responsible adults.”

The Kearnses’ love of and dedication to Dayton hasn’t gone unnoticed. At the 2015 commencement, they were named Education Citizens of the Year for their community service and support of schools.

He was called a “consummate servant” who has helped the district for more than 30 years. He’s served as a coach and booster club member, operated the football scoreboard, helped develop the district’s last grass football field and supervised installation of its turf field.

He and his wife have been active members of the Nazarene Church on the Hill for 35 years. When the new building was erected, he volunteered to work high off the ground installing the topmost portion.

Without seeking credit, he’s also done landscaping at homeless shelters and other charitable projects. 

“Cal does so many things behind the scenes,” Debbie said. “He cares about people. His mantra is, ‘Honesty, integrity and service.’”

Both Cal and Debbie have been involved with the See Ya Later Foundation for many years. And Cal wouldn’t miss one of the foundation’s annual golf tournament fundraisers.

Both support See Ya Later’s mission of helping children and serving families dealing with critical illnesses. “There’s nothing that feels better than helping others who are having a hard time,” Debbie said.

After retiring from Dayton High in 2014, she continues to volunteer there, working with the Technology Association of Oregon Foundation’s Oregon Innovation Academy to bring real-life technology and math skill lessons to students. She’s a founding member of the Dayton Education Foundation as well as a school board member.

She applied for the board position after retiring, and was elected earlier this year. “I thought I could bring a different perspective as an educator, a healthy perspective to go along with the others,” she said.

The role also gives Debbie yet another way to help kids, her husband said.


John J. Collins

Nice article Starla. Thank you. Dayton is a better place because of these two fine people.

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