Saturday’s Snohomish County Kla Ha Ya Days parade is dedicated to Ed Stocker, named as the parade’s grand marshal before his death last month.
Snohomish farmer Ed Stocker — a pillar in the community — had agreed along with his wife, Edith, to be grand marshal of Snohomish’s annual Kla Ha Ya Days parade Saturday.
But he died June 1. So his son, Keith Stocker, agreed to take his father’s place. As the parade date drew closer, he still was struggling with how he’d properly honor his dad.
“There’s no one like him,” Keith Stocker said. “There’s little in this town he hasn’t had a hand in.”
The Stocker family has been on their farm for almost 100 years, and Ed Stocker’s presence can be felt all around Snohomish, where he helped kick-start Snohomish’s food bank — housing it initially in his own home — sold some of his property at below-market value for affordable housing, and was heavily involved in 4-H, Kiwanis and many other local boards and organizations.
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Stories about Ed Stocker permeate Snohomish.
There’s the story of how he fell off one of his farm’s silos when he was in his late 20s, broke his right leg and ended up in a cast for months — and how he didn’t let that stop him from wheeling around the farm to do his chores on a modified scooter made from a furniture dolly, according to Charles Stocker, Ed’s younger brother.
There’s the story of Ed trying to run a farm in a time of upheaval for America’s farmers: He grew up on his parents’ dairy farm, but when Highway 9 claimed the barns, Ed Stocker “reinvented” it into a farm that supplied local canneries with peas and corn, according to Charles Stocker.
When that wasn’t enough to keep the business afloat, Ed Stocker worked in construction during the day and farmed until 3 a.m.
“Farming isn’t an easy way to go,” his Keith Stocker said. “It seemed like every spare minute was spent working on the farm.”
There’s the story of how Ed Stocker founded the Bicycle Tree 4-H Club, which was the biggest 4-H Club in the country when Stocker ran it and is still the oldest operating 4-H Club in the country, according to Dan Bartelheimer, president of the Snohomish County Farm Bureau.
Bartelheimer himself was in the 4-H Club when Ed Stocker ran it 64 years ago.
“Fifty years later, people [in the club] still are close,” Bartelheimer said. “We were his kids.”
He still refers to everyone he met in 4-H as Ed’s “kids,” even though they’re all 60-70 years old.
“I think that is his real legacy,” Bartelheimer said.
Ed’s brother Charles was one of the first members of the Bicycle Tree 4-H Club, and he says watching his brother teach agriculture inspired him to become a teacher.
With all of his community involvement, Ed didn’t always have time to come to his son Keith’s Little League games, but because the field was next to the farm, Ed could see much of the action from the seat of his tractor.
There’s the story of the Stocker family’s birthright tradition: Edwin Sr. had passed the farm to Ed Stocker, convincing him not to take up a career in the military, and Ed wanted to pass the farm down to Keith.
Keith Stocker, however, couldn’t get off the farm fast enough when he was 18. He left for college and worked as a civil engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area for 11 years. Then his dad told him he was looking to retire.
But birthright is one of the most important things in the Stocker family, and Keith Stocker was looking for a new challenge, so he came home in 1997.
Father and son worked to make ends meet by supplying local supermarkets with their produce. Ed Stocker dubbed himself the “Corn King,” and his vegetables filled Snohomish and King County supermarkets in the 1980s and early ’90s.
But one day in 1997, soon after Kroger bought out the local supermarkets the Stockers supplied, the farm received a letter that Kroger would no longer be needing their corn.
“This is it,” Keith Stocker told his father. “No more reliance on buyers. We’re going to take charge of our own destiny.”
Keith led Stocker Farms to where it is today: Still a farm, but also a multiseason agritourism destination, with a pumpkin patch, a corn maze, a Christmas tree farm, a country market and enough profits to put both of Keith Stocker’s sons through college. Today, the two of them work on their father’s farm.
When the organizers of the annual Kla Ha Ya Days parade in Snohomish asked 90-year-old Ed Stocker to be the grand marshal of the parade, alongside Edith, “Dad was tickled pink,” Keith Stocker said. “It was the thing he was looking forward to.”
But that wasn’t destined to be part of Ed Stocker’s story. Last spring, he moved to a nursing facility to rebuild his strength after a small procedure. Instead, he lost his strength. Keith was at his bedside, listening to his father’s labored breathing, when Ed Stocker died.
At the parade Saturday, Keith will be accompanying his mother in a vehicle with a sign commemorating Ed Stocker’s life. There isn’t a way to fully capture the man his father was in one moment, Keith feels.
“It’s either that or send an empty car down the street,” Keith Stocker said. “I suppose I’m going to take his place, but I don’t know how to fill his shoes.”