OBITUARY: Del Foy Blackburn

Del Foy Blackburn
Mar. 21, 1942 ~ Jan. 18, 2022

Our treasured father, husband, brother, teacher, and friend Del Foy Blackburn passed away on Jan. 18, with his family by his side. We are appreciative of the many advances in cancer treatments that helped him have nearly five good years with those that love him, even after a terminal diagnosis. Del leaves behind his wife of 54 years, BernaDeane Blackburn (Hickman); his children Nathan Blackburn and Carlee Clark; and his siblings; Rae Summers, Beth Jorgenson, Alan Blackburn, Trina Bohman, Lyle Blackburn, Mary Ann Herbst, and Mark Blackburn.

Del was born in Ontario, Oregon on March 21, 1942, to Foy and Alice Blackburn who preceded him in death. On their family farm in Vale, he developed a great appreciation for the animals, farm fields, and wild lands of Malheur County that provided the family a living. He went from herding livestock on the BLM lands near their farm to studying the wildlife of those lands and publishing scientific papers about them. His collegiate pursuits led him to be a rare Idaho mixed breed of Bronco and Vandal, with degrees from both institutions. While pursuing his passion for biology at University of Idaho, he met his next passion, a future science educator named BernaDeane, who happened to be from a similar farming background in North Idaho. With Del’s charm and zest for life, he succeeded in convincing her to join him in creating their life adventure.

While in college over the summer Del worked as a wildland firefighter, and later as a lookout. Early in his and BernaDeane’s marriage, they worked a lookout together. The fact that their relationship survived an isolated one-room cabin on a desolate peak for an entire summer with no scars, other than an agreement to never play gin rummy again, is a testament to what a strong bond they shared and the long future they would have together.

After receiving his master’s degree, Del obtained work as a teacher at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. There he taught Flowering Plants, Zoology, Biology, Taxidermy, and others. His favorite classes, however, were the field biology ones, in particular Ecology of the Great Basin Desert. That class allowed him to share his home desert mountains and its many hidden treasures with eager students from the wet west coast. During these trips he inspired many future biologists, including his son.

A passion for the natural world went beyond vocation for Del, and he spent much of his free time working to make a future fit for all our descendants. To this end he and his colleague Hal Brown started the first recycling program in Vancouver, Washington, did countless grade school programs on science, was involved with the first Earth Day celebration, and was active in the Audubon Society, Native Plant Society, Sierra Club, and others. Most pronounced however in his love for the wild was his passion for backpacking. Del and BernaDeane explored the high mountains all around the Northwest; as soon as either of their children were able to keep upright in his homemade kid-hauling-backpack, they saw the wilds. It was a fine way for a kid to grow up, skipping down mountain trails being bribed with M&Ms and pointing out “horsey, horsey!” at a charging moose. One of his favorite songs was “Rocky Mountain High” because it encapsulated the feeling he had in those special places, gazing over a glacial lake or across a rocky ridgeline to the distant upward reaching peaks, “No need for booze or dope when you’ve got beautiful wild America.”

He wasn’t only a passionate educator, backpacking enthusiast, and activist for a better world; he tremendously enjoyed his family and the animals he grew up with. As such, Del helped his family build and maintain a horse farm while working a more than full time job. He built chicken coops, a 12-stall horse and hay barn, shop, and an indoor riding arena (which was all home to a dog, cat, and pig that were known for going exploring together). He drove his kids to music lessons and 4H, coached their soccer teams, and transported the whole family to weekly horseback riding lessons and shows.

After Del and BernaDeane retired, they moved to the Hickman family farm in Worley, Idaho, and continued their passions. They backpacked every summer and continued to ride and raise horses. Del enjoyed fighting with his antique balers and tractors (another of his pursuits) to get in the hay, although given the words he uttered one wouldn’t think so. He also took it upon himself to keep his education alive and through the University of Idaho Extension Service obtained his Family Forester and Professional Logger Certifications to professionally manage the family forest. Additionally, he worked for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe doing his specialty, field biology. Del also went back to his early adulthood career with fire and became a member of the Worley Fire Department as a volunteer. He took great pride in working with those good people and had a hard time handing in his helmet when cancer started to take hold. He made more of retirement than many make in their careers despite having been cut short.

Del had a life well lived; full of passion, hard work, love, sacrifice, and always challenging the status quo when his strong morals and ethics knew things were wrong.

A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, Aug. 20, at 11 a.m. at Heyburn State Park. For inquiries, please contact Carlee Blackburn-Clark at [email protected]