Man’s legacy keeps growing with the trees

July 21, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Ben Harrison sits in his Beaver Lake area home and recalls with humor his career as a forester, his World War II military service as a Navy submariner and a lifetime living in the Issaquah area. By Greg Farrar

Ben Harrison sits in his Beaver Lake area home and recalls with humor his career as a forester, his World War II military service as a Navy submariner and a lifetime living in the Issaquah area. By Greg Farrar

If you’ve walked through Tradition Lake Plateau, you’ve seen the trees soaring into the air. It’s hard to imagine the area without the trees, but it could have happened, if it weren’t for one man.

Ben Harrison, 84, has been an Issaquah resident most of his life. Stepping in as a forest management employee with Weyerhaeuser, he helped secure the Tradition Lake Plateau’s future for generations to come and aided city officials in finding new funding sources.

“When I got there, it was full of dead, stunted, weak trees,” he said. “By thinning it and letting those trees grow, we’ve created something for people to enjoy years later.”

But Harrison’s life wasn’t always about trees.

From student to American hero

Harrison and his family arrived in Issaquah in 1938. During the remainder of the Great Depression, the family settled in the May Valley. There, he attended the May Valley School and was a student in one of the last classes educated there.

When his older brother Chester left to join the military, Harrison decided to leave May Valley until he could enter the service, too.

After learning Chester had gone to New England for submarine training, Harrison signed up for active duty in 1943. After attending electrical school in Iowa, he moved to New England for submarine training, too.

“I thought we could serve together, but that didn’t happen after his accident,” which damaged his eardrums, he said. “I still knew that that is what I wanted to do.

“It is an honor to serve on a submarine.”

After his training, the U.S. was fully embroiled in World War II and Harrison was sent to active duty traveling throughout the South Pacific.

During one of the USS Perana SS 389’s deployments, he and the crew came under attack by enemy destroyers below the Pacific Ocean.

“We were caught in the depth charges before we could dive down deep and it took out our diesel engine and some of our controls,” he said. “We were lucky to limp back to Pearl Harbor.”

Not long after they arrived in Pearl Harbor, he found himself setting up a movie for his shipmates.

“All the sudden, the sky lights up with fireworks and I turned off the projector and said, ‘Well, fellas, I think the war’s over,’” he said.

A journey home

Back in Seattle in 1945, he enrolled in classes to get his high school diploma.

“I ran out of money, though, so I went back into the military,” he said.

That tour took him around the globe, again, to places like Guam and Korea between 1948 and 1954.

When his tour ended, Harrison found out he’d been accepted to the University of Washington and he began taking courses.

That year, he met the love of his life, Doris, a geographer, who he met on a trip to the beach with friends through church. The two married after eight years of courtship in 1962.

Meanwhile, Harrison pushed through school the old-fashioned way, by working, he said.

“My grade point average wasn’t always the best, because I had to keep working to go to school,” he said. “Sometimes, I would drop out to make money, then I’d return.”

He held jobs with the U.S. Forest Service, which set controlled fires to help manage the forest and prevent wildfires.

“There was one time, I was driving across the Aurora Bridge in Seattle, and I saw a huge mushroom cloud up in the sky above the Cascades and I thought, ‘Well, there’s Ben’s fire,’” Doris said, smiling.

He also worked for the Boeing Co. from 1958-1964 as an electrical engineer.

He graduated with his forestry degree from the UW in 1966 and began working for Weyerhaeuser in 1967. The couple eventually chose to come back to Harrison’s first home, Issaquah, where they’ve lived since.

“It’s just a nice little town,” he said.

A life’s legacy

In his career, Harrison has traveled to countries like Chile and New Guinea to help educate farmers about sustainable forestry. He also worked with the Yakima Tribe.

He was invited back last year to see the sights and people he once helped manage in Yakima.

“It was a really neat way to look at what has been done,” he said, “to have the opportunity to see what they’ve done with what we had taught them.”

He has worked with countless groups of children, including the Boy Scouts of America, Issaquah High School and the Echo Glenn School, teaching them to seed, plant saplings and thin forests and parks, like Tradition Lake.

One of the projects he’s most proud of during his tenure with Weyerhaeuser was helping launch the company’s Tree Farm Family in the state, which helped residents manage their timberlands appropriately while earning an income. He also helped implement the Tree Farm of the Year program that honored families who best managed their lands.

“I can’t count the number of people we helped,” Harrison said. “That money helped put their kids and their kids’ kids through college.”

As he’s aged, the forests have aged with him. Stepping into his basement, Harrison turns on a light that illuminates a photograph taken along what is now known as Snoqualmie Point near the Snoqualmie Winery.

The hills in the distance are bare, just replanted with Douglas firs in the mid-1980s as part of his forest management work. Today, driving along the Interstate 90 corridor, the hill is covered in thick, lush green trees nearly 30 years old, he said.

“Our natural resources, like our forests, are basic resources that supply our wealth. Not managing them causes problems for roads and schools and our salmon,” he said. “It seems to me, it’s such an easy, necessary thing to do.”

“See, he never retired.” Doris said, laughing. “He may say he did, but he just keeps doing something else with it.”

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment on this story at

Bookmark and Share
Other Stories of Interest: , , ,


4 Responses to “Man’s legacy keeps growing with the trees”

  1. Laurie Brown on July 24th, 2009 8:33 am

    Thank you for writing this informative story about my Uncle Ben. He is truly one of the proudest veterans I’ve ever known and his dedication and knowledge of forest management goes above and beyond what the average person acoomplishes in their life.
    Laurie Brown

  2. Claudia Ross Kuhn on March 8th, 2010 6:19 pm

    I was Ben’s assistant at the time when he worked with the Issaquah watershed folks and I marked the trees for thinning and marked the paths for the skidders to use, including the landing.
    Ben, taught me at least as much as I learned in the masters program of forestry at the University of Washington, because he had practical experience and really knew the woods. It was a great time in my life. I later was given the same position he had in Enumclaw, It was during the Reagan era and not far into it the forestry economy along with the rest of the economy slid down hill. Weyerhaeuser got more into real estate and their great Tree Farm Family program was cut. Really too bad.
    Any way, I learned so much from Ben I couldn’t shake a stick at it. He got me into proper attire for the woods: He got me out of my down parka and into a Filson cruisers jacket, out of my over-sized hiking boots and into work boots. He taught me how to same a bunch of time by estimating volume of trees in cubic feet instead of board feet, because it translated into truck loads better and got around the problem of not knowing how the scaler would judge volume and how the logger would buck logs.
    His two greatest talents back then, were his intuition and his ability to get the land owners to trust him. He could find a corner anywhere; really knew his compass, and always, and I mean always, was right, when it came to the woods.
    Quite the maverick! Dori and he are a real pair. Ya gotta love ’em.

  3. Lydia Postrado Couture on May 5th, 2010 7:45 pm

    I love your story

  4. Lydia Postrado Couture on May 5th, 2010 7:47 pm

    Trees are very important. Hopefully there will be younger people to do what you did.

Got something to say?

Before you comment, please note:

  • These comments are moderated.
  • Comments should be relevant to the topic at hand and contribute to its discussion.
  • Personal attacks and/or excessive profanity will not be tolerated and such comments will not be approved.
  • This is not your personal chat room or forum, so please stay on topic.