Local couple earns honors for mentoring, volunteering

LJC Feed owners donate their time and resources to the community

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Patty and Gordon French, accompanied by their schnauzer Lulu, have been named the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce "Business Persons of the Year." The Frenches have owned LJC Feed for 19 years. "I think it's one of the biggest compliments that we could receive," Patty said, regarding the chamber award. "It means a lot to us."

Gordon French describes owning LJC Feed as “a labor of love.”

He and his wife Patty purchased the store in Camas 19 years ago, and they have influenced and educated children, teens and adults ever since.

The Frenches have been named the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce 2014 “Business Persons of the Year.”

“It was awesome,” Patty said. “It feels very rewarding.”

Gordon said he felt proud and privileged, when he learned about the honor.

Patty said Gordon is known for his customer service.

“He loves to talk, and he loves to teach,” she said.

That includes presenting soil seminars and small acreage farm classes through the Washington State University Extension program. Gordon also teaches Clark County Master Gardener and living off the land classes.

Throughout the year, he is the arena manager for the Skamania County Fairgrounds. In September, Gordon is on site for 10 days, to assist before, during and after the fair.

The Frenches have been sponsors of 4-H for 20 seasons.

“We love the kids,” Patty said.

The couple provides Carhartt jackets for the youths who show grand champions — the best overall for each breed — at the Skamania County Fair. Participating animals include chickens, turkeys, rabbits, ducks, cows, swine, goats and lambs.

Store discounts are given to 4-H members.

Three years ago, Gordon and Patty were selected by the Skamania County Fair board to be grand marshals.

Gordon has taught animal nutrition classes at LJC Feed and at 4-H meetings. Other seminars at the store have been on the topics of gardening and birds.

“The store was into 4-H already [when the Frenches purchased it],” Patty said. “It became a passion.”

Patty said she has become emotional with children after the live auctions of their animals occurs.

“They are sad that their animals will not go home with them,” she said. “It is also emotional, when you watch them in the ring and how hard they work to ‘show.'”

The Frenches have lived in Washougal for seven years. Prior to that, they lived in Camas for five years.

When the Frenches purchased LJC Feed, some customers strongly encouraged them to move from Portland to the local area.

LJC, previously owned by Len and Janet Crawford, had been open for two years when the Frenches bought it. The store is named after those original owners.

Gordon and Patty added the Patty-O Garden and Country Store in 2004.

Inventory includes food and supplies for dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds and fish, along with lawn and garden supplies, deer repellent and bales of hay. There are also candles, soaps, boots, jeans, western style clothing and jewelry, duffle bags, books, puzzles and greeting cards.

A bulletin board inside the store includes notifications that someone has six laying hens available at no cost. Another announcement mentions a male lamb is for sale.

Notes of thanks, including those from local equestrian teams, are on display with photographs alongside the board.

Tail bags for horses, to benefit the Camas High School equestrian team, are available to purchase at LJC Feed.

A bonsai center, featuring plants and supplies, was added in the back of the store six months ago, by Jerry Ballantyne, with ECOSCAPE.

Gordon makes farm and house calls, to see animals and plants.

He has state pesticide applicator and dealer licenses, and he volunteers to spray weeds and mow the fields at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Gordon spoke at the grand opening of the community garden at Bill Hamllik Park, in Washougal. He and Patty donated lime, organic fertilizer and seeds, and they answered questions for new gardeners on site.

They have also donated bark dust and other supplies for the Downtown Camas Association’s Spring Planting Day.

Prior to purchasing LJC Feed, Patty was in banking for 10 years, including three years as a bank officer, in Dallas, Texas. Gordon was a petroleum engineer for Northern National Gas, before he served as a national fleet director for Ford, also in Dallas.

“We are both corporate dropouts,” Gordon said.

“It is a great way to give back,” he added, regarding owning a feed store.

Patty recalled visiting a feed store, in Eugene, Ore., when she was 6 years old. She was there to get oatmeal for her mother.

“They had a parrot that sat on their shoulder,” Patty said, regarding the store’s owners. “Those are fond memories of childhood.”

Gordon’s mother was a Future Farmers of America Dairyman, and his grandfather owned a Ralston Purina feed mill.

On a chamber award nomination form, Chuck Scheel, business manager of LJC Feed, mentioned Gordon’s “personal charm, charisma and cheerful attitude are noted daily by his staff and customers and have earned him a deep sense of respect by all whom he comes in contact.

“Gordon’s desire and willingness to assist others is well noted,” Scheel added.

Nomination forms were also submitted by Victoria Scott, retail manager of LJC Feed, and Sherry Bell, a clerk and the store’s weekend manager.

“This is a man, that even though he was successful in the corporate world, wanted to come to a small town and help make a difference,” Bell wrote. “Gordon has helped this community become the attraction that it is today, by his endless hours of volunteering and mentoring of friends and neighbors.”

Gordon and Patty have volunteered as pooper scoopers at the Camas Days grand parade. People talked to them along the parade route, providing updates on the condition of their yards and pastures.

“We try to help them visualize their project,” Gordon said.

A “pasture stick” indicates optimum grazing zone grass levels for animal nutrition.

This will be the 12th year that the Frenches are volunteering to be senior panel judges at Washougal High School. That involves listening to senior project presentations.

To relax, the couple spends time at the beach. Gordon also enjoys kayaking, while Patty likes providing advice regarding home decor.

She will soon put those skills to use at a Mexican restaurant, in Scappoose, Ore.

Patty previously decorated a Western-theme room in a Parade of Homes event.

“The homeowner bought everything,” she said.

Patty recalled seeing a zebra, horse and a loose pig, at different times, in the LJC Feed parking lot.

“It is fun,” she said. “It never gets old. It’s an exciting time.”