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Background in biology supports successful cidery

By Laura Zaichkin ’07

In 2002, PLU alumnus Ron Brown ’76 decided he needed a hobby.

At the time, Brown was CEO of Earl Brown and Sons, a third-generation apple orchard business in Milton-Freewater, Ore. Yet Ron and his wife, Gretchen — who attended PLU from 1972 to 1976 — decided to launch a new enterprise: Blue Mountain Cider Company.

“There’s a huge resurgence in traditional things like the cider and we’re just trying to bring that back,” Gretchen said.

Hard cider is the No. 1 drink in England, according to the Browns. The beverage is starting catch on in the United States and Canada, as well. Currently, North America has about 100 cideries.

“And it’s growing,” Ron said.

Blue Mountain Cider Company’s success is growing as well. The Browns have increased their production from 4,000 bottles of cider last year to 40,000 in 2006.

“It’s still supposed to be a hobby,” Gretchen said sarcastically.

What began as a garage cider-making project with another couple has turned into a full-blown limited liability corporation. When beginning the cider company, Ron — who majored in biology at PLU — and his business partner decided to take cider-making classes at Washington State University, where British cider guru Peter Mitchell was teaching. Ron said his background in biology helped him grasp the scientific cider-brewing process.

Since beginning the venture, the Browns have created three handcrafted cider varieties: a semi-sweet, semi-dry and cherry.

“What I’m excited about is that it’s totally different,” Ron said.

The three ciders have received a total of seven awards. Every contest in which they have been entered — from New York to Indianapolis to Seattle — has yielded acclaim.

This string of successes culminated with Blue Mountain winning a Sunset magazine contest for best cider in the nation.

“When you win that many awards, people must like it,” Ron said.

The Browns said their cider is unique because it is not as sweet as many others. Their lightly-carbonated version is made from real apples, not concentrate, and sweetened after fermentation with apple juice and only a bit of sugar.

Many people are surprised by Blue Mountain cider’s taste.

“It’s just a nice alternative to wine or beer,” Gretchen said.

Since it is made from fresh apples, the Browns also note that many health studies promote the benefits of cider.

“This is one way you can get your apple a day,” Gretchen said.

The company, now much more than a hobby, continues to expand. Blue Mountain cider will be available this year for sale in some Pacific Northwest grocery stores, select restaurants and online at for about $10 per 750-milliliter bottle.

In addition, the Browns planted wine grapes four years ago on their property in northeastern Oregon and are scheduled to begin selling white wines in October 2006. Four reds are expected to be on the market by May 2007.

But apples, cider and wine haven’t been the only thing on the Brown’s plates over the past several years.

Ron was the director of the Walla Walla irrigation district in 2000 when several environmental groups sued the district. Working with those groups, local irrigators and Native American tribes, he devised a plan to put water back into the Walla Walla River and preserve the local bull trout population. As a result of Ron’s leadership, in 2003, and for the first time in 100 years, the Walla Walla River flowed all the way to its natural confluence with the Columbia River.

Though Ron and Gretchen did not attend PLU when sustainability was as topical as it is now, the Browns said a lot of their broad knowledge and sense of community came from their time at the university.

“That’s what PLU gives back to you, is the well-roundedness,” Ron said. “That follows you around the rest of your life.”

Much of Ron’s sense of community came from being on the PLU football team. His first year at PLU was also the first for Hall of Fame football coach Frosty Westering.

“The EMAL (Every Man A Lute) and all the stuff he’s done was right from the beginning,” Ron said.

Though getting their cider business off the ground has consumed the Browns’ lives for the past several years, they said they expect it to pay off.

“This is huge,” Ron said. “One of these days, it’s going to explode. It will grow into a fairly large business.”

But the Browns say they are excited to pass on Blue Mountain to the next generation. The couple’s three children have been involved in the operation from the ground up.

“Somewhere along the line here we want to say ‘no,’ ” Ron said. “I want to slow down a little bit and smell the roses.”



The shoe fits for business grad Haun

By Ashlee Parnell ’09

As a student at PLU, Cause Haun ’93, once did a class project about a shoe business. Now, she owns one.

“I chose PLU for its emphasis on international education,” explained Haun. “I studied abroad in China and that was key, because you learn the language and the culture and it really helps.”

Haun graduated with a degree in international business and a minor in Chinese. After having her first child, a son named Kai, Haun found shoes for him in China that weren’t available in the United States. After some research and interest from local retailers, Haun launched a line of children’s footwear, manufactured in China.

“Having a business education gave me the confidence to try and start the business,” Haun said. The brand, “See Kai Run,” named after Haun’s son, has gained in popularity. Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Katie Holmes have bought the shoes for their children.

But Haun wants to keep the company small. Including her husband, only six employees work for the firm. The shoes are available in more than 500 boutiques in the United States, Canada and Europe.

“I felt PLU really emphasized morality in the business world and I feel that the international emphasis prepares one to be a responsible global citizen,” Haun said. “And for that, I am grateful.”


Basketball official honored by his peers

By Ingrid Stegemoeller ’07

Forty-two years of officiating high school and college basketball games kept Burton Backman ’49 involved with young people and connected to the game he loves.

Even though Backman, 82, of Tumwater, Wash., no longer referees, his contributions to the local youth basketball scene were recognized in August 2006 with his induction into the Washington Officials Association (WOA) Hall of Fame.

“I was surprised, honored and overwhelmed,” Backman said of receiving the award.

After graduating from Pacific Lutheran College with a degree in education and a minor in history, Backman began teaching a fifth- and sixth-graders in Rainier, Wash. He soon discovered that in Lewis County, basketball referees were in high demand, which prompted him to sign up.

Backman continued teaching, and later became an elementary school principal in Rainier. Eventually, he moved to Tumwater, where he worked as a teacher and administrator at both the elementary and high school levels. All the while, Backman still officiated boys’ high school and college basketball.

“The best memories are when you get elected to a state tournament,” Backman said. “It’s a super honor.”

Now retired from education and officiating, Backman still keeps his head in the game. He attends occasional WOA meetings and frequents games. He also serves as president of his church council and enjoys gardening, walking and swimming in the summer.

“Being active is important,” Backman said. “I’ve never been a sedentary type person. I’m 82 years young.”


Math teacher seeks ‘different kind of impact’

By Nate Hulings ’09

Judy Holliday ’97 was a prime example of an “unconventional” student during her time at PLU. When she arrived on campus, Holliday was already a mother. And while enrolled in PLU’s education program, she was already teaching math in the Montesano School District.

Although she started her career in the classroom, Holliday decided to pursue a career in education administration. The thought of being a principal kind of evolved, Holliday explained.

“I wanted to have a different kind of impact on students’ and teachers’ instruction,” Holliday said.

Holliday became principal of Simpson School in Montesano, Wash. in 1999. Her hard work and dedication since then was acknowledged this past June when she won the Principal of the Year Award from the Washington Association of School Administrators, which covers 45 school districts in the state.

Holliday says she particularly enjoyed PLU’s culture. “Dialogue with peers and colleagues,” along with the suggestions from people with experience, enhanced her education, Holliday said.

Holliday’s passion for student development and learning is what keeps her going, she said. “If I need to be reinvigorated,” Holliday added, “I just go back to the classroom.”


Former wrestling coach forms nonprofit for athletes

By Ashlee Parnell ’09

Brian Peterson ’94 has come a long way since his years at PLU. After graduating with a degree in biology, Peterson earned a teaching certificate while also serving as the head wrestling coach at PLU.

“It’s been quite a road since PLU,” Peterson said.

Peterson taught for eight years at Auburn High School before retiring from teaching in 2006 to co-found a nonprofit company called Reality Sports.

Reality Sports provides athletic and spiritual training, and discipleship to participants who are wrestlers and baseball players. Peterson and his business partner want to help athletes in their walk with Christ, he said.

“We’re compacting it all in one,” Peterson said.

Reality Sports also facilitates involvement of athletes in community service projects such as Hurricane Katrina relief work.

“There’s more to athletics than just the game — there’s life lessons in the sport and training,” Peterson said. “You can’t win 100 percent of the time, so how can you win when you don’t win on the scoreboard?”


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© Scene 2006  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Winter 2006

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