Thursday, December 18, 2003

Farming, Model A's kept George LaFrance in motion

Stacy Schwandt
Staff writer

In a high-speed world, George LaFrance was a Model A kind of guy.

When the nation's telecommunications systems were computerized, he retired from his job at Western Electric and helped run his family's greenhouse. When the Valley's rural neighborhoods turned to suburbs, LaFrance retired again and turned his attention to rebuilding the classic automobiles.

"He was just constantly in motion, he was constantly doing," said his son, Rod LaFrance.

LaFrance suffered a heart attac
k on Nov. 28 and died just days before his 70th birthday.

He was the son of Erwin LaFrance, a logger who moved his family from town to town until his kids were old enough for school.

"They lived in a boxcar," said George LaFrance's wife, Eileen. "They pulled it along on the skids."

She laughed about her husband's nomadic beginnings, which he later replicated as he installed telephone offices all over the Northwest for Western Electric.

Before settling into his career, George spent three years stationed in Alaska with the Army Signal Corps. After nearly nine months on the job, he returned to Spokane to marry Eileen, his next-door neighbor.

When his military service was over, George went to work for Western Electric and spent many years on the road.

"We stayed anywhere from 10 days to 18 months," Eileen said. "We moved 13 times in one year."

She said they both enjoyed their mobile home lifestyle, especially the fun of meeting new people and crossing paths with others on the job.

"There was quite a group of us out of Spokane," she said.

The family moved to Greenacres in 1966 and, like many in the Valley, started a small truck farming business.

When the companies that sold them pepper and tomato plants started going under, the LaFrances branched out.

"We built our own little greenhouse and it just grew," Eileen LaFrance said. "We all worked in the fields. The kids grew up weeding and planting and moving sprinkler pipes."

The LaFrances farmed up to 25 acres, and George would take a couple of months off from Western Electric for the harvest.

He recruited high school students to help out with the onion peeling and pumpkin stacking -- the family had a U-pick business, and sold squash, corn, tomatoes and beans to local grocery stores.

"He kept a lot of high school kids in the money," said Rod LaFrance. "Then the Valley started growing houses instead of corn and the business changed."

Today, Rod LaFrance runs the business, selling flowers and potted plants.

Son Glen LaFrance said his father had a hard time warming up to his new neighbors, but in time they came to rely on him to help out with farming chores, plowing snow, even getting a fitful tractor to run smoothly.

"He'd help anybody, anyone who needed a hand," Eileen LaFrance said, "Mechanically, his abilities were there."

After his retirement, George was swept away by a new pastime. His son bought an old Model A truck, and George spent the next decade restoring it and a Model A car.

Although George was never much of a joiner, Eileen persuaded him to sign up with the Inland Empire A's, the local Model A club.

The couple flourished in the group, becoming co-editors of the newsletter, hosting annual potluck celebrations and touring Canada, Idaho, Montana and Oregon with their fellow enthusiasts.

"You travel the back roads, you see a lot of country," Eileen said. "It's a lot of eating, a lot of talking and a lot of driving. ... It kept us busy and kept us going all year."

George even taught his granddaughter Kayla to drive the rig, tricky a double clutch and manual steering. Her sister, Elizabeth, wasn't so interested.

"It's not the smoothest ride, but it was cool," she said. "He really loved it."

Glen said that his father instilled in him a work ethic that paid off when he entered the workforce. His brother Rod said they would all miss him.

"He was a good dad. He always tried hard," Rod said.

Stacy Schwandt can be reached at 927-2166 or by e-mail at

Tributes is a regular feature of the Valley Voice that celebrates the lives of Spokane Valley residents who have died recently. Seemingly ordinary citizens -- who typically aren't featured in the newspaper -- often lead lives that are exemplary or extraordinary. If you would like to suggest someone for this feature, please contact Valley Editor Jeff Jordan by e-mail at, by phone at 927-2170 or write: Valley Voice Tributes, 13208 E. Sprague Ave., Spokane Valley, WA 99216.

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