COCKERAM—Eugene "Gene" Cockeram passed away March 1, 2022, at the age of 95.
Gene was born in National City, Calif., on Sept. 27, 1926, to Lawrence and Lydia Cockeram, where he lived until graduating from Sweetwater High School in 1945. Gene was inducted into the US Navy after graduation.
He moved to Reedsport, Ore., after being discharged from the Navy where, as a milkman, he saw Doris Hansen, the daughter of one of his customers, sitting in her kitchen window. They were married on Aug. 8, 1948. The couple had four children before moving to the site of their dream home on two acres south of Florence in 1956.
Always a hard worker, Gene worked swing shift at the International Paper plywood mill in Gardiner, Ore., where he drove jitney. In the mornings, he drove his privately owned milk truck, picking up raw milk from dairy farmers along the Siuslaw above Cushman and up the North Fork and delivering it to the Reedsport Creamery.
After he retired from the mill, he devoted his time to developing his patented invention, Exact Cuts, which he marketed at trade shows across the country. He also worked or volunteered at numerous other jobs, including school bus driver, driving the Kiwanis van to veteran’s facilities in Roseburg and Portland, and was a volunteer firefighter for Dunes City.
In 1970, he joined the newly chartered Siuslaw Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society (ARS) and was an active member through the remainder of his life. He won numerous ribbons and trophies at Rhododendron shows, where he was active setting up displays and explaining rhododendron cultivation, as well as sharing information about the various species and hybrids. His rhododendron garden of over 1,000 plants was in bloom throughout most of the year. He had a collection of several rare white native plants, and several named hybrids, many of them registered by the ARS.
One of his hybrids, R. "Pink Ribbon," was the shade of pink used by the Susan. G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Awareness. With permission by the foundation to use the name, the hybrid went into production with all proceeds from the sales being donated to the Peace Harbor hospital breast imaging suite in Florence and to the Friends of Florence cancer bus.
Gene was active in the Eugene ARS Chapter, as well, writing several articles which were published in the ARS Quarterly. He was avidly involved in Gallagher Park through the City of Florence Parks Commission, donating not only his time but also some of his own rhododendrons.
For his contributions to the Siuslaw Chapter of ARS, he was awarded two bronze medals.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Doris, just short of their 73rd anniversary, and by his son, Gregory. He is survived by three daughters: Carolyn Dalton, of Eugene, Janet Shelton, of Florence, and Emily Vehafric, of Sherwood, Ore.; by 10 grandchildren, numerous great grandchildren and a great-great granddaughter born on his 95th birthday.
He will be remembered and honored at this year's Rhody Society May Flower Show during the 2022 Rhododendron Festival, which will be held at the Florence Events Center.