Christensen's work for those in need will serve as his legacy

Although Lon Christensen is gone, the work he started lives on in the Northwest Seasonal Workers Association and similar groups, according to his loved ones and co-workers.

"We will miss him but he is still there in a lot of people he has helped over the years," said his widow, Charlotte Yeoman Christensen, who helped her late husband co-found NSWA more than 36 years ago in Medford.

"Within five minutes of the time he passed, we had a family come in for emergency food," said Alec Lamoreaux, the association's operations manager. "I was choked up, but I couldn't tell them to come back another day. His work continues."

Arlon "Lon" J. Christensen, 61, of Medford, died June 22 of brain cancer. He and his wife, along with three other volunteers, started NSWA on Feb. 1, 1976 to help local seasonal workers.

Born in Medford, the 1969 graduate of Medford Senior High School was an Army veteran and journeyman union carpenter who attended what is now Southern Oregon University.

He and his wife, now 59, a graduate of Ashland High School, lived in the Sacramento area in the early 1970s where they became acquainted with poor farm workers in that region.

In 1973, his mother, Nelle Christensen, helped start the Western Service Workers Association as well as the California Homemakers Association in Sacramento to help those suffering from poverty.

"When we came back here from California, we decided we wanted to help the poor in this area," Charlotte recalled. "Lon was adamant about getting something started here to help seasonal workers.

"We were a young couple who wanted to do something with our lives to help the poor in the Rogue Valley," she said. "Nobody said we couldn't do it so we did."

Later they would start Jackson County Fuel Committee in Ashland to provide firewood for the down and out. The Medford-based association under his leadership was also credited with starting Friends of Seasonal & Service Workers in Portland, Western Farm Workers Association in Hillsboro and the Alaska Workers Association in Anchorage.

Over the years, more than 30,000 members have participated in the NSWA, Lamoreaux said, adding that 700 members have joined in the past year.

"Lon was a fierce in his approach to fighting for the interests of seasonal and other low-paid workers," said Lamoreaux, 28. "He embodied what it means to be a labor organizer, advocate, leader and, most importantly, a model human being.

"He was the strongest man I've ever known: physically, emotionally and politically," he added.

"He was as unshakable as a rock," observed Bill Jennett, operations manager for the Jackson County Fuel Committee.

Although about 60 percent of the NSWA membership is Hispanic, that wasn't the case in 1976, Charlotte said.

"When we started, most of the seasonal workers were not Hispanic but white," she said. "But we did have migrant farm workers coming here and living in the 80 labor camps in the area."

The NSWA started English classes for the members, Charlotte noted.

"One of the things he and I had felt strong about was that we made a very good choice in our lives and that our work will go on," she said.

"Lon's hope was what he lived out all his adult life, that we can one day end poverty," she added. "He felt the way to do it was to build from the ground up and reach out."

"He took a situation and tried to make it better," Lamoreaux said of his friend and mentor.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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