Harkie & The Deacon ... It sounds like a musical group, or maybe the title of a good book.

In reality, Harkie and The Deacon were my luncheon companions a week and a half ago at Hamley Steakhouse in Pendleton.

Harkie is former Hermiston Mayor Frank Harkenrider and The Deacon is Pendleton wheat farmer Don Hawkins.

I asked Hawkins how he came to be known as The Deacon and he told me the moniker goes all the way back to when he was a young boy. His mother was a strong Lutheran who sang in the church choir and made sure her sons were in attendance, although they preferred the back pew. One day, the minister announced that the back row would thereafter be reserved for pregnant mothers-to-be and deacons. Don's brother Bob turned to him and said "what do we do now, Deacon?" "Well," said Don, "we stay right here." He's been "The Deacon" ever since.

If there is a more colorful pair of characters in all of Umatilla County than Harkie and The Deacon, I have yet to meet them and our outing was living proof.

How I came to be their host is sort of complicated. First, I bet lunch with Harkie on the Pendleton-Hermiston football game. I won that one. Then we went double or nothing on the WSU-Oregon State game. Harkie won that one. Then he mentioned he owed on a bet with The Deacon and that maybe I could square the whole deal by taking both of them to Hamley's.

Somewhere in the process, a sense of guilt swept over Harkie and he brought along two bottles of champagne as gifts which both The Deacon and I assumed were probably an expensive French variety he had shipped in for the occasion. In truth, he admitted he acquired them at the rate of two for $10 using his Safeway card. However, it is important to note that in honor of the occasion, Harkie was resplendent in a WSU Cougar sweatshirt he had received during the holidays.

We met on Dec. 26 - the day after Christmas. Harkie was in unusually high spirits because he had turned 81 the day before. "I was a Christmas present to Hermiston," he told us, "maybe the worst one they ever had."

He also reminded me that Hermiston just celebrated it's centennial although he wasn't there 100 years ago. "Almost," he said, "I've seen all but 19 years of that town's history in person."

Harkie and The Deacon are old friends dating back to the days when his honor the ex-mayor used to deliver oil around Umatilla County. They weren't exactly sure how they came to know each other, but figured it could either have been the oil business or meeting during town team games when Harkie played for the Hermiston Merchants and The Deacon played for Helix.

They did note frequently throughout the conversation that they had bet on the Hermiston-Pendleton game for 45 years or more. And The Deacon also was quick to point out he had been on the losing side only a couple of times. According to both of them, the days of Coach Don Requa were the hardest on the Bulldog fan in terms of the bet. But Harkie also remembers fondly that the legendary coach came to Hermiston for his 50th birthday party and presented him with a Pendleton Buckaroo coat which still hangs in his closet.

Even though he bleeds purple, Harkie is quick to point out he has had a lot of great times around Pendleton and Helix visiting farm shop parties, playing poker, and depositing a large measure of malarkey wherever he travels. In fact, there are some who believe that if baloney were bucks, Harkie would be one of the richest men in the county.

The Deacon is not far behind in terms of visiting and having a good time or dispensing a good line. Like Harkie, he is in his 80s, but he maintains an incredibly active social schedule. In fact, Hawkins, a 1939 graduate of Helix High School, turned 86 on Jan. 5.

Both men reminisced about Harkie's legendary appearances at basketball games all over Umatilla County. The Deacon observed that if "someone were playing basketball, Frank was probably in the audience. In fact, he went on, "he should have been like those people who go to all the movies and then write reviews, only he could have been a high school basketball reviewer."

Several times I have called Harkie's house first thing in the morning only to be reminded by his wife Beverly that "he's downtown opening up Main Street for the day." He certainly is a familiar figure in the middle of Hermiston.

One day I ran into him on the sidewalk outside Hale's Cafe where I was supposed to meet HHS Principal Buzz Brazeau for lunch. By the time I finally got inside, the lunch hour was half over. And Harkie followed me inside because he still had a couple of points to make.

During the lunch at Hamley's, The Deacon reminisced about his days as a Round-Up director and the fact he was once in charge of the Let 'er Buck Room. At that, Harkie remembered a comment we had made last fall about having Hawkins in charge of that venue is like the fox guarding the henhouse.

The entire affair gave new meaning to the term "lunch hour." By the time we were finished, I wouldn't have been surprised if the dinner crowd had started appearing.

As it was, The Deacon's wife of 62 years and his chauffeur for the day, Helen, finally joined us for a cup of coffee and before we all adjourned we had a promise from The Deacon that he would host the next event.

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George Murdock is editor & publisher of the East Oregonian. He can be reached at 278-2671 or gmurdock@eastoregonian.com.

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