OKANOGAN - Wilbur George “Web” Hallauer came to Okanogan County at the tail end of the Great Depression to work in his family’s fruit processing business, but soon entered politics and built a decades-long legacy as a legislator, champion of the wise use of natural resource, defender of civil liberties and philanthropist.
Hallauer, a native of Webster, N.Y., was born May 29, 1914, to George and Amelia Hallauer. His father and grandfather were farmers and fruit growers, and engaged in the fruit and vegetable drying business. When he was 12, the family moved to Yakima and started Valley Evaporating Co.
He graduated from Yakima High School (now Davis) in 1931, attended Yakima Junior College and then the University of Washington, graduating in 1937 with a degree in labor economics.
After graduation, Hallauer took an around-the-world trip, visiting such places as Japan, China, the Soviet Union and Germany on the eve of World War II, according to “Wilbur G. Hallauer: An Oral History,” published in 2001 by the Washington State Oral History Program
He began managing the family’s Oroville fruit drying plant in 1936 and served as its manager for the next 41 years, according to the oral history. He also engaged in orcharding, property acquisition and management in the Seattle area, and tree farming. He established a fruit drying factory in Argentina.
Along the way, he developed an interest in geology and continued taking university courses in the subject. He made investments in mineral properties around the United States, British Columbia and several South American countries.
He and his first wife, Rose Marie Scacco, were married in 1942, and had two daughters, Merry and Teresa. They divorced in 1967.
Within a few years after moving to Oroville, Hallauer began his political career by joining the Oroville City Council in 1943. He began an eight-year stint in the state House of Representatives in 1949, and then served 12 years in the state Senate. He was a lifelong Democrat.
“Web was an outstanding legislator — one not seeking headlines, but dedicated to doing a good job and always unswerving in those basic principles in which he believed,” wrote former state Sen. Robert Bailey in the oral history’s foreword.
“Web was a team player, but never wavered from support of his beliefs. He was very knowledgeable on issues and matters on which he was asked to act,” Bailey continued.
During his first term in the House, Hallauer was named chairman of the horticulture committee. He served in that capacity during his second term, too.
In the fall of 1951, he purchased the Tonasket Times newspaper. The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported in early October 1951 that Ashley E. Holden Jr., Spokane, was named manager and editor of a new, competing newspaper, the Tonasket Tribune, owned by his father, Ashley E. Holden Sr.
The Holdens, who would again figure into Hallauer’s life more than a decade later, had sought to purchase the Tonasket Times before it was sold to Hallauer. He had the paper for nine months before closing it.
Although Hallauer served on many legislative committees, “over time he steered himself to two main interests — higher education and libraries,” and committees relating to revenue, taxation and appropriations, Bailey recalled.
He led work on improving colleges and was an architect of the state’s community college system.
According to Bailey, the zenith of Hallauer’s legislative career came when he chaired the Senate Ways and Means Committee for four years.
“It was the most difficult job in the Legislature and demanded many days of long hours and hard work,” according to Bailey. “Web was always in command of the situation, and when his budgets were presented on the floor, Web knew every detail of the document and his presentations went very smoothly, which was a far cry from some similar situations in previous sessions.”
During his 28-year legislative career, he was known for his committee work and his staunch support of civil liberties, wrote oral history interviewer Thomas Kerr.
Hallauer had joined the American Civil Liberties Union in 1940, served on the state board of directors and, though he became disillusioned with the state organization, supported the national organization the rest of his life.
“He has been a consistent supporter of the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of religion,” according to the oral history. “He frequently spoke on behalf of those values on the floor of the Legislature during his long career.”
His family recalled that Hallauer “proudly defended Rep. John Goldmark during Washington state’s McCarthy era.”
“Yes, he was supportive,” said John Goldmark’s son, Peter, then state commissioner of public lands, in a Chronicle interview after Hallauer’s death Dec. 19, 2013, at age 99. “He was a good friend of my father’s.”
In 1962, John Goldmark was a three-term Democratic state representative from Okanogan County and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who was running for re-election.
He also was the target of printed and recorded accusations that he was a Communist sympathizer. The Tonasket Tribune described the ACLU, to which the elder Goldmark belonged, as an organization “closely affiliated” with the communist movement in the U.S.
John Goldmark sued the Holdens and others over the accusations and won, but the 1964 judgment was set aside in the wake of the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan case.
In the oral history, Hallauer said his conclusion about the trial was that it “had to be done. I think that the overwhelming propaganda that had been engaged in about lack of patriotism and this sort of thing had to be met head on to maintain the possibility of any political liberalism or personal liberty in this area. They were conducting a scare campaign to make people get back in line, no dissent. The things that were done in the name of patriotism were really terrible here.”
Hallauer said the state committee investigating alleged un-American activities by a variety of people would make accusations, but wouldn’t give the accused the opportunity to confront their accusers.
“I thought this was totally wrong,” he said in the oral history. “It’s supposed to be a committee to investigate un-American activities. I thought the major un-American activity was the committee itself.”
In 1967-68, Hallauer toured college campuses throughout the state, speaking against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and publicly supported the right of University of Washington students to protest the war.
He chose not to run for re-election in 1968 after redistricting.
Stint with Ecology
A few years later, Hallauer re-entered the political scene when he was appointed by Gov. Dixy Lee Ray to lead the Department of Ecology, where he served from 1977 to 1980.
During his years with the agency, issues addressed included oil ports on Puget Sound, setting minimum flows on the Columbia River and its tributaries, and the Yakima River Basin Enhancement Project.
In his later years, Hallauer remained interested in mining, flood control and hydroelectric power, and promoted library matters.
In 2007, when officials from both sides of the international border were exploring the possibilities of building one or more dams on the Similkameen River for power generation, flood control, irrigation and other uses, Hallauer stepped in to lend his thoughts and serve on a county commissioner-appointed committee to explore the proposal.
For years Hallauer was an advocate of building a storage facility on the river as a leader of the Similkameen-Okanogan Flood Control and Reclamation League.
At the time, he told commissioners he’d worked on such a project since the 1970s during his time as director of the Department of Ecology.
“The Department of Ecology has a strong interest in development of the Similkameen River basin for irrigation, flood control and power production,” Hallauer wrote in August 1979 to an official with engineering firm CH2M Hill of Yakima. “We have identified the Similkameen as having the best potential for providing stored water for maintaining adequate spills and minimum flows downstream on the Columbia River.”
The flood control league disbanded at the end of 2001 after more than 50 years of working to control flooding in the north county area.
“The league was formed in July 1948 following the major flood of that year,” said Hallauer, the group’s last president, at the start of 2002. He called it “a fine example of a local effort for local betterment,” and said his personal disappointment about the league’s work was that it failed to create water storage on the uncontrolled Similkameen River.
Another major storage proposal called for impoundment of water in Palmer Lake when the Similkameen flowed high in the spring, backing up into the lake, so the water could be released slowly during the summer months.
Hallauer and his second wife, Jo (Pardee) Hallauer, who had been director of the North Central Regional Library System, supported remodeling and expansion of the Oroville Public Library and other local causes.
His family described him as “a voracious reader with a keen intellect who loved to travel,” and he published his own series of books.
In 2008, Hallauer announced publication of his biography, “Chads from a Diverse Life, Volumes I and II,” as part of a planned three-volume set. It was published primarily as a gift to family and friends, but was made available to the public for a limited time.
The first was a 236-page reprint of Hallauer’s original book by the same name, published in 2004, that included stories about being in the Legislature, life on the Canadian border, the Great Northern Railroad, Okanogan Highlands history, and stories about old friends who shared some of his adventures.
The second, a 371-page book written with Christy Lindberg, included stories about Hallauer’s childhood in Webster, N.Y., his educational years, his trip around the world at age 22, his development of the apple drying factory in Oroville, a number of southern British Columbia stories about his adventures in Canada, and more legislative stories.
For all his political involvement, water storage advocacy and literary support, Hallauer also managed to get involved with the Chesaw Fourth of July Rodeo when he helped contingent from South Africa attend the rodeo around 1960, The Chronicle reported in 2017 on the occasion of the rodeo’s 75th year.
Hallauer recalled that he got a call from a friend, Elmer Vogel, who was an assistant manager at Boeing. Vogel said a group of about 35 VIPs from South Africa arrived three weeks early to take delivery of a 707, but there had been delays.
Vogel said he’d shown them everything he could think of on the west side of the state, and wondered if Hallauer could take two or three days and show them Grand Coulee Dam and something else.
Hallauer wrote that he believed Vogel’s boss, Carl Cleveland, was standing nearby and knew of the area since he grew up in the Okanogan.
Cleveland got his start in journalism, working with O.H. Woody at the Okanogan Independent in the 1920s. Cleveland wrote a book about his time at the paper and another book or two about Boeing.
Hallauer suggested going to the Chesaw Rodeo, and the deal was done.
The entourage included two university presidents, journalists, mining company officials and several ministers.
The group stayed at the Peerless in Oroville, where after dinner there were tall tales about American rodeos and what everyone expect of what the “real America” was like.
Everyone headed out – in a contingent that included three stretch limousines - late the morning of the Fourth. They came back dirty with Chesaw dust and having loved the rodeo, Hallauer recalled.
“They had definitely seen, and repeated over and over, what the absolute reality of non-tourist America was,” wrote Hallauer.
He also showed his philanthropic side when he donated 76 acres of land and mining claims to the Wenatchee Valley College Foundation. The foundation later exchanged the land and claims for a base $75,000 endowment, established by the Colville Confederated Tribes, for scholarships.
Hallauer kept his hand in Democratic Party politics well into his senior years. He served as precinct committee officer from the Eastlake Precinct on the Okanogan County Democratic Central Committee into the 2000s.
He also could pay a mean game of cribbage, noted Kerr, the oral history interviewer/writer.
During interview sessions, he said he and the Hallauers would go to Osoyoos, B.C., for dinner and, upon returning to Oroville, “Jo and Web would engage in the most furious best-of-three games of cribbage I have never witnessed. Although I am a life-long cribbage enthusiast, I quickly concluded that the prudent course was to remain an observer of the proceedings, rather than a participant.”