Ronald Dale White (Dale), 83, passed away Feb. 7 while vacationing with his son, Ron, in Aruba. Dale was diagnosed 10 years ago with myelodysplastic syndrome, which erupted into acute myeloid leukemia.
Dale was born Sept. 11, 1931, in Dent County, Missouri, to Cleo Marie (Fudge) White and Ronald Elsworth White, the first of their two children. Dale attended school in Missouri until about the second grade, which is when he moved West with his family. He attended schools in Fruitland, Idaho, and Drewsey until the family settled in Burns in 1941. He graduated from Burns High School in 1949 and played football, basketball, and baseball for the Burns Bulldogs. He loved the woods and a good thunderstorm and worked for the U.S. Forest Service, fighting fire and as a lookout on Calamity Butte in the summer months during high school and college.
Dale attended the University of Oregon on an ROTC scholarship and graduated in 1953 with a bachelor of business administration degree in accounting, as well as a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Finance Corp. He married JoAnna Westfall on April 11, 1954, and always referred to her as “the light of his life.” They moved with the Army to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, and later to Fort Lewis, Washington. Dale was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant in 1956 and was a lifelong member of the American Legion.
Dale and JoAnna returned to Burns, where Dale began working for his parents at the Modern Laundry and entered into a ranching partnership with his father and brother, Don. Later, they formed the Fay Grazing Co-op with Bob Sitz and Tommy Swisher, while still running the laundry (which became a partnership between Dale and Don). The brothers eventually bought out their partners on the Fay ranch and also began ranching on Rye Grass Lane. They decided to sell the Fay ranch, but maintained the Rye Grass ranch for many years.
Dale became a major contributor to the community. In 1964, he received the Harney County Jaycee’s Distinguished Service Award as Harney County’s Outstanding Young Man. Nine years later, he received Harney County’s Senior Citizen Award. He was a Burns city councilor from 1965 to 1972 and served as mayor from 1973 to 1974. In 1975, he began his 24-year run as Harney County judge, retiring Jan. 1, 1999. Dale served on the board of directors of the Harney County ESD from 1964 to 1977 and was the administrator of Harney County Hospital from 1982 to 1983 and again from 1986 to 1990. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award from the Oregon Primary Care Association for his service.
As Dale’s community roles and recognition increased, he began garnering awards and appointments to state and national committees for his record with community involvement. From 1979 to 1998, he was a member of the Association of Oregon Counties, being elected as its president in 1983. Dale was also on the board of directors of the Western Interstate Region of Public Land Counties from 1982 to 1998, also serving as its president in 1988. In recognition of his efforts, he received the organization’s Nation’s Top Public Lands Elected County Official award. Dale served on the board of directors for the National Association of Counties from 1986 to 1998, serving as the chairman of the Public Lands Steering Committee from 1983 to 1989 and as the co-chairman of the National Association of Counties Rural Renaissance Task Force from 1996 to 1998.
According to Rick Keister, Washington, D.C. lobbyist for the National Association of Counties, “Dale was recognized as an articulate and forceful spokesman for the thousands of public-land communities in every Western state. Secretaries of interior, directors of BLM, and chiefs of the Forest Service knew Dale and often called on him to speak to federal land managers.”
Dale was appointed to the Oregon Economic Development Commission by Gov. Barbara Roberts in 1993 and was later re-appointed to the commission by Gov. John Kitzhaber, serving on the commission until 2005. The same year he was nominated to the commission, Dale received the Governor’s Award of Recognition for Exceptional Contribution to State and Local Economic Development from Gov. Roberts.
After retiring from the county judge position, Dale slowly decreased the number of committees he was on due to age and to take care of his wife, JoAnna, to whom he was married for 54 years. JoAnna passed away in 2008. Dale was honored as grand marshal of the Harney County Fair, Rodeo and Race Meet in 2008.
He was a member on the board of directors of the Kiwanis Club of Burns-Hines, Harney County Senior and Community Services Center, and The Aspens Assisted Living Center. He was also the church moderator for Faith Baptist Church of Harney County, of which he was a member for 68 years. Until his death, he worked tirelessly for the county that he loved. He served as county historian, researching rural roads and other pertinent information. Dale’s passion for Harney County, its land and people, was obvious to others.
Dale said, “We are blessed to be able to live and raise our children and grandchildren in the best place in the world, surrounded by the best people on earth. Harney County and its fine people have supported and encouraged us on life’s path and are the reason for whatever manner of success we may have enjoyed.”
Dale is survived by his three children, Linda Jo (White) Bennett and husband Rod, Kathy (White) Wassom and husband Ron, and Ronald Dale White Jr.; six grandchildren, Levi Bennett and wife Joelle, Mandi (Bennett) Whitehead and husband Andy, Natalie Wassom-Paul and husband Josh, Shyanne (White) Slate and husband Timothy, Samantha White, and Chance White; five great-grandchildren, Jorah Bennett, Rowan Bennett, Ryden Slate, Bowen Slate and Bethany Whitehead; brother, Don White and wife Lois; sister-in-law, Terry Westfall; numerous other family members; and a host of friends.
Dale was preceded in death by his wife, JoAnna; parents, Ron and Cleo; brother-in-law, John Westfall Jr.; nephew, Kurt White; and great-granddaughters, Jemma and Rory Bennett.
He was that rare person — an honorable county judge, an honorable husband, father, grandfather and, very simply, an honorable man.
A celebration of Dale’s life will be held at Faith Baptist Church on Monday, Feb. 23, at 11:00 a.m. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Kiwanis Club of Burns-Hines, Harney County Senior and Community Services Center, The Aspens Assisted Living Center, or to a charity of one’s choice.