Reunion brings together four generations of Sunnyside pioneer family

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Four generations of the Bridgman family sit poolside this past Saturday in a rare opportunity for a family reunion at the family homestead on Sheller Road just outside Sunnyside.

The Bridgman Farm serves as a testament to what hard work and strong family ethics can produce.

Located on Sheller Road a few miles to the east of Sunnyside, what was originally a 10-acre lot scraped out from among sagebrush and wild grass became a booming business thanks to Fred Bridgman and his wife Ida.

Although the couple's time has come and gone, their descendants have flourished. And many of them were back where it all started for Fred and Ida Bridgman so long, long ago, to share the family history this past Saturday at a special family reunion.

The couple purchased the property at the turn of the 20th Century and raised their son Neil there. Ida insisted her son help her raise her chickens and help out on the family farm while Fred worked the rest of the land.

The couple's son took over the family farm in the early 1930s, according to his daughter, Margaret Beasley.

She said she was about 6-years-old at the time. Her grandparents moved "into town" and built a home on Decatur Avenue. Beasley said her father, Neil, was Fred and Ida's only child and was a natural at chicken farming.

Margaret is the oldest of Neil's three children. Her two other siblings included Dorothy Kelley and Fred Bridgman.

"I graduated from Sunnyside High School in 1940," Beasley said, stating she met and married Esko Rentola. She and her husband moved first to the Tri-Cities and lived several places afterward, raising four children of their own. Those children include David Rentola, Sylvia Ferrell, Ruth Cole and Anna Johnson.

The farm, which evolved into one of the Valley's largest chicken-raising operations, was sold by Neil Bridgman to Manly Hudson. About a year later, though, Neil's son, Fred, re-purchased the farm. Fred's wife, Nadine, explained that her husband was shipped overseas during the war, but upon his return wanted the farm back in the family's hands.

Margaret Beasley continued the story, saying her sister Dorothy, too, met a man, married him and moved. Dorothy and her family, which included children Jim, Lynette, Tim and Tammy, eventually settled in Oregon.

Fred Bridgman, the namesake of the farm's founder, however, was content to stay in Sunnyside. He married Nadine. Together the couple raised daughters Sandy (Bos) and Kathy (Jacobsen). The couple also had a son, Doug, whom they raised on the Bridgman Farm, most well known as "The Hatchery."

"We lived on the farm until Fred died," Nadine said, stating there was always a lot of work to be done to keep the chicken houses operational.

Their son Doug eventually took over control of the hatchery, as well as the farm's vineyards and orchards. Doug's sister, Kathy, and her husband, Paul, purchased the homestead.

Doug Bridgman continues to farm the 200 acres with the long-standing tradition of hard work and family values passed on through the generations, although raising chickens commercially is no longer part of the farming operation there. But his wife, Vonnie, has kept the hatchery open. But instead of selling chickens, by using her eye for priceless mementos, she now offers up collectibles and antiques at a one-of-a-kind shop. She has gathered collectibles and historic pieces, showcasing them in the hatchery's main building for those with a keen touch for home décor...those with an affinity for history.

Mrs. Beasley, the granddaughter of the farm's original founders, was rather touched at the family gathering that took place this past Saturday. That's because more than 60 family members, after years of small gatherings, came together for the reunion that included four generations of the Bridgeman family.

"I am 89-years-old," she said, admitting she and her sister Dorothy were enjoying what might be a final gathering of everyone during their lifetime.

She said the reunion gave everyone in the family the opportunity to see one another and to visit the homestead.

The hatchery, said Nadine Bridgman, is a landmark to those living in the Sunnyside area because it opened near the beginning of Sunnyside's beginnings. It was a place many could refer to and say, "That's where I had my first job."

Others, said Nadine, worked for the Bridgman family for many years. She said she knows of one local family who worked for her husband until the family closed the business. "I still run into them in town from time to time," she said.



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