RAVES FOR DAVE – Friends and admirers of La Conner's Dave Hedlin filled St. Joseph's Center in Mount Vernon Saturday night when he was honored for more than three decades of leadership in the mission to preserve Skagit farmland. They celebrated at Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland's 24th annual Celebrate Skagit Harvest Dinner and Auction.     – Photo by Bill Reynolds
RAVES FOR DAVE – Friends and admirers of La Conner's Dave Hedlin filled St. Joseph's Center in Mount Vernon Saturday night when he was honored for more than three decades of leadership in the mission to preserve Skagit farmland. They celebrated at Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland's 24th annual Celebrate Skagit Harvest Dinner and Auction. – Photo by Bill Reynolds

Dave Hedlin dined with friends Saturday night. 

And those friends filled St. Joseph’s Center in Mount Vernon, where the La Conner farmer, an ag spokesman and former school board member, was feted at the 24th annual Celebrate Skagit Harvest Dinner and Auction. 

Hedlin was honored during the four-hour event, a major fundraiser for Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, the group he and his wife, Serena Campbell, helped found more than three decades ago. 

The couple was among those families who launched SPF in the late 1980s to thwart growing threats by large commercial entities to develop prime rural areas in Skagit County. 

There was genuine fear that Skagit Valley, one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world, could go the way of Kent Valley, where farmland southeast of Seattle was gobbled up by industrial interests following World War II. 

Hedlin, dubbed the Will Rogers of Skagit County, got the word out initially with custom mudflaps on his truck that read: “Farm it. Don’t pave it.” 

People noticed. And they still swear by what La Conner resident Kim Good Rubenstein, vice president of the 12-member SPF Board of Directors, called “Dave-isms.” 

A favorite Hedlin one-liner, she recalled, is that “some people’s idea of long-term planning is buying green bananas.” 

Rubenstein praised Hedlin for his knowledge, communication skills and willingness to listen to others, then introduced him to a standing ovation from an audience representing a cross-section of Skagit farm, business, political and civic leaders. 

“I’m honored, humbled and more than a little embarrassed,” Hedlin, alluding to his reserved Scandinavian roots, said of the attention he garnered. “I don’t deserve credit for this. Everyone does.” 

In addition to kudos, Hedlin received a special SPF Founders Jacket commemorating his role in rallying Skagit County to the cause of farmland preservation. 

Hedlin gave credit for his career in agriculture and mission to preserve farmland to his family and those mentors who took him under their wings and provided encouragement at an early age. 

The latter included the late Bob Hulbert, with whose granddaughter, Bryn Hulbert, serves alongside Hedlin on the SPF board. 

“Bob saw something in me that I didn’t see myself,” said Hedlin. “He had a profound effect on my life.” 

His voice occasionally cracking with emotion, Hedlin noted the arrival here more than a century ago from Denmark – via North Dakota – of his grandfather Rasmus Koudal. 
In a video presentation Saturday, Hedlin said Koudal at one point went atop the hill in town where the historical museum is now located and admiringly looked out upon Dodge Valley and the La Conner Flats. 

“He said it reminded him of Denmark,” Hedlin recounted, “and that it was the best of the best.” 

For that reason, he said, the Hedlin family remains firmly committed to maintaining its nearly 500-acre La Conner area farm, which produces about 40 different crops, well into the future. 

It’s a vision he endorses for all Skagit County farm families. 

“When we all work together,” insisted Hedlin, “we all win.” 

A host of Skagit farmers paid tribute to Hedlin’s 33-year commitment to SPF in the video. John Roozen, with whom Hedlin often lunches in La Conner, was one. 

“Thank you, Dave Hedlin,” Roozen said, “for being my friend.” 

On that score, as evidenced by the attendance, Roozen has plenty of company. 

In related notes: 
*La Conner area businesses Christianson’s Nursery & Greenhouse, Dunlap Towing and Calico Cupboard were among official sponsors of the Celebrate Skagit Harvest Dinner and Auction. Hedlin’s Family Farm and Tillinghast Postal & Business Center served as in-kind supporters and producers. 
*Swinomish master carver Kevin Paul donated “Big Love,” a pair of hummingbirds fashioned from yellow cedar, to the live auction. It fetched $1,600. The carving represents healing with the hummingbird beaks coming together to form a heart.