Clarence Okerlund was so tough, not even a bullet to the chest during World War II could stop him. It sometimes seemed like death was chasing him. He was hit by a truck once &...

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Clarence Okerlund was so tough, not even a bullet to the chest during World War II could stop him.

It sometimes seemed like death was chasing him. He was hit by a truck once — and walked away with a few broken ribs. He only mentioned it to his family a couple of days later. He later would survive a heart attack and cancer.

Yet for all his steely strength, there was a gentleness to the former Marine that surfaced on the fields of Carnation Farms, where he worked as the famous dairy’s herd manager for 20 years. It wasn’t unusual for his wife, Pat, to find him at odd hours of the night easing a cow through a difficult birth.

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Mr. Okerlund died Dec. 19 in Bothell of heart failure brought on by Parkinson’s disease. He was 77.

“He had amazing control of a cow,” said his daughter, Mary Okerlund of Redmond. “The cow respected him, and he respected the cow.”

Mr. Okerlund was born Nov. 11, 1927, in the small town of Mount Jewett, Pa., where he grew up spending summers on his cousin’s dairy farm, his family said.

He served in the Marine Corps during World War II and was wounded. When he came home to Pennsylvania, he went to school on the GI Bill and graduated from Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa., with a degree in animal husbandry — the science of breeding livestock. A future in dairy farming was calling, his family said.

“Who could love a cow? Clarence could,” said his wife, of Redmond.

Mr. Okerlund’s way with animals did not go unnoticed by those in the industry. In 1966, Mr. Okerlund was working at the prestigious Vaucluse Farm in Newport, R.I., when he received the coveted Klussendorf Trophy, the highest honor given to a dairy-cattle showman in the country.

Two years later, he got a job working for Carnation Farms. Mr. Okerlund and his wife packed up their five children and drove across the country to make a new home in King County. They lived in company housing on Carnation Farms, back when it was a tourist attraction.

Mr. Okerlund left the house every morning at 5 a.m. and returned at 5 p.m. He retired in 1988 but never really let go, his family said.

Carnation was sold to Nestlé in 1985, and the dairy operations at the farm were scaled back.

It pained Mr. Okerlund to see Carnation Farms and others like it in the area disappear, his family said.

“He would travel to these cow shows around the country,” said Mary Okerlund. “He would walk in the barns, press the flesh of the animals. It put him back in those glory days.”

Five years ago, Mr. Okerlund suffered a heart attack. But even toward the end, the Marine inside kept fighting.

He survived four angioplasties and bouts with prostate cancer and leukemia. He lost most of his eyesight, and his hearing started to go.

But his family said it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years ago that his spirit waned. He was moved to a nursing home in November.

He died at 5 a.m. — the same time he would begin his day on the farm, said Mary Okerlund.

In addition to his wife and daughter Mary, survivors include a son, Michael Giusti of Walla Walla; daughters Mandy Giusti of Redmond, Martha Songer of Detroit and Tracy Riggins of Seattle; and 10 grandchildren.

A memorial service was held yesterday in Redmond.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com