More than 100 people gathered in the brilliant sunshine Sunday afternoon above Ashland to celebrate the wit, wisdom, compassion, integrity, perseverance and other remarkable qualities of Lanita Witt.

Willow-Witt Ranch
Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt and friend
Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt and friend

Lanita, who has terminal cancer, was there to hear personal tributes from two dozen people, to give away hugs and to share stories of how she and her wife, Suzanne Willow, came to own, preserve and expand a 445-acre ranch off Shale City Road in the high country of Cascades. And, she gave artifacts from her life’s collections of rocks and stones, shells and plants and wash cloths she recently made from a blanket she received from her Texas high school many years ago for excellence in debate, music, tennis, track and basketball. 

The tributes came from:

            – Former patients who owed their lives to Lanita, a surgeon as well as a farmer.

            – Former colleagues in the medical field, including a friend from medical school, who spoke of her devotion to her patients, her skills as a surgeon and even her humor in the operating room.

            – Young people whose lives have been deeply influenced by their experiences on the farm.

            – A nephew who recalled his aunt’s nourishment of his early days.

            –Many friends, some of whom had lived and worked on the farm after moving to Ashland.

            – Other farmers who recognized her leadership in conservation practices.

            –People who walked away from the Willow-Witt stand at the Ashland Farmers Market with a sound piece of advice or a calming comment from Latina along with the leg of goat, a dozen eggs or other products they had purchased.

            – A woman who recalled a farm-to-table dinner with unbelievable food served on a long table with white linens.

            –Local Quakers who recalled her service as “co-boss” of the Building and Grounds Committee remodeling a house on South Mountain Street that was donated to Peace House and South Mountain Friends Meeting by Marjorie Kellogg. 

            –Relatives of people who have decided that the new natural burial grounds at Willow-Witt will be their family members’ final resting spot.

Marty Main recalled interviewing with Lanita and Suzanne more than 30 years ago about their plans for the property, which once was a dairy farm, but had been on hard times.  The big trees on the land had been taken down by a timber company, the small house was in need of major repairs, the pastures overgrown.

He had not expected the owners to be two women and was unsure of how they would proceed.  He was won over, however, after one of them opened a cupboard door and handed him a small piece of paper which had been left behind by the builder of the house in 1920.   Written on it was the following:

            Live like you’re going to die tomorrow;

            Farm like you’re going to live forever.

Lanita and Suzanne quickly adopted those two lines as the beginning of a business plan and with Marty’s assistance transformed  an abandoned property into a successful, beautiful place with Farm Stay Accommodations, a summer camp, a herd of goats, a natural  burial ground and much more. 

Next week they will be receiving an award for their conservation efforts.  While Lanita’s days are numbered, her work will live on.

Photos: Willow-Witt Ranch website