Within the homestead built by Homer Davenport’s grandparents lie countless untold stories. Thankfully, the farm and farmhouse are still in the family.
Jim and his wife Erika Toler have perpetuated the family atmosphere – and simple farm life – at GeerCrest Farm in their own fashion.
Thanks to that, the biographical documentary they have wanted to make for years has become a reality.
The premiere of The Life of Vesper Geer is planned for a matinee showing April 28.
Vesper Geer Rose was born in the kitchen of the farmhouse in 1917 and passed away in the same house New Year’s Eve 2010. Before her father Arch Geer died, he asked her to keep the farm in the family, which was no easy task. But his request and Vesper’s wish to live out her days there was granted, thanks in large part to the care – both of Vesper and of the farm – afforded by Jim and Erika Toler, fifth-generation residents who moved onto the farm 14 years ago.
In 2007, the Tolers formed GeerCrest Farm & Historical Society, a non-profit charitable organization. They have gotten two of its buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the farm’s “Riding Whip Tree” declared a State Heritage Tree.
A year ago, Michael Turner, with a penchant for filmmaking and history, came to live at the farm. The 27-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., was ready for a lifestyle change and a departure from a couple years of traveling the country with his band, The Red River.
Turner took to the pastoral farm like a duck to water.
Saturday, April 28, 2012,
Waldo Hills Community Club
1245 Cascade Hwy. N.E.
(5 miles south of Silverton)
Social Hour at 6:30 p.m.
Screening begins 7:30 p.m.
GeerCrest Farm & Historical Society
12390 Sunnyview Road NE, Salem
“I love it – waking up early to do the chores; getting to do the things I love,” he said. “When Erika and Jim found out my background was in film they asked me if I’d be interested in making a documentary of the life of Vesper Geer.
“They left it up to me; they trust me to honor Vesper’s memory,” Turner said. “I feel obligated to make something that they can hold onto.”
“Although she was married three times, Vesper was an independent woman,” Jim Toler said. “I think what is remarkable about her story – and I believe it will come out in the documentary – is how she carried herself through a period of history in which the world changed so much. She adapted well to the changes – even became a ‘modern woman,’ but inside, she was always a farm girl and, like her cousin Homer Davenport, GeerCrest was ‘where her happiest hours were spent.’
“Mike has done a masterful job at creating a vivid portrait of Vesper,” Toler said. “I believe he has captured her life in a way that shows her joys and sorrows – and how she carried them with her characteristic poise.”
The high-definition film, 65-70 minutes long, involved sorting through boxes of photos, letters, journals, and taped family conversations, much of it left in disarray after previous attempts. Turner unearthed recordings that allow Vesper’s father, Arch Geer, and her second husband, Bob Gilliard, to “play themselves.”
Turner narrates the film. Fellow band member Bill Roberts composed the score. National Public Radio called Roberts’ album, The Red River’s Little Songs about the Big Picture one of its Top 10 Albums of 2010.
The cast is composed of Silverton actors. Jim Toler plays Ralph Carey Geer, Vesper’s great-grandfather, who established the homestead in 1848. Phillip Rish plays Vesper’s first husband Ernie Eldridge and Vere McCarty is Bill Rose, Vesper’s last husband.
Turner was able to use taped recordings of Vesper’s voice; the rest of the time Kathy Hunter provides the voice of Vesper Geer.
“I met Kathy at the Silverton Grange,” Turner said. “She made an announcement and I was struck by how her cadence and pattern of speech was uncannily like Vesper’s.”
“…pauses to think of the right word, I call it,” said Hunter, who had occasion to meet with Rose on two occasions. “When I listened to her on a tape, I could not believe how similarly we speak.”
Hunter, a Silverton Country Historical Society member, says people will get excited about the biographical documentary.
“People can expect to learn what life was like on a local farm in the ‘20s and ‘30s and how a woman went from that to New York City – what a contrast,” Hunter said. “The last memory I have of her is standing in the very small, old-fashioned kitchen there, cleaning up from the meal we’d eaten. She was in her late 80s and she never stopped working, doing her share. I admired her for that and I am thrilled to be involved.
“I love where she says, ‘My world is big and round and boundary less … I want it to have music and culture,’ going on to describe a number of aspects she wants and needs in her life.”
GeerCrest Farm & Historical Society is a non-profit charitable organization established to preserve the history of the Geers and their descendants; the farm and its surrounding area in the Waldo Hills of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. GeerCrest, so named by Vesper Geer, is the oldest frame-built house in Oregon to remain in the same family.