At 90, fence builder defies age, stays on the job

Like a stout fence he put up with his bare, weathered hands, Walt Easter stands tall with time.

Kent’s Walt Easter continues to put up fences for others. He has operated his own business for 56 years.

Kent’s Walt Easter continues to put up fences for others. He has operated his own business for 56 years.

Like a stout fence he put up with his bare, weathered hands, Walt Easter stands tall with time.

Having overcome personal problems and serious health problems, the 90-year-old Kent man stays active today running a fence company out of his West Hill home.

Need to replace a cedar or add a chain-link fence? Call on Easter, someone who’s been at it since 1958.

“I just love the business,” said Easter, who works between 25 and 30 hours a week putting up commercial and residential fences with the help of a carpenter. “The main part is you’re meeting different people all the time. I like people and the hard work. Still do.”

Easter learned the value of hard work growing up on his family’s 320-acre farm in Arkansas during the Great Depression. One of 10 children, he did his share of the chores and worked long days on the farm, using horses to help harvest hay, corn and wheat. The family never went hungry, he said, and appreciated what little it had.

After serving honorably in the Army, Easter returned home in 1947 and followed his sister and her family to Yakima Valley, where he picked fruit and other produce for 10 years. He wound up in Kent and began working for a fencing company in 1958.

Good fortune helped Easter launch a fence firm of his own. His wife, Marie, won a Seattle Times crossword puzzle contest.

“It paid off in cash, if you hit it,” Easter said. “My wife hit it for $1,600, we bought a truck and I went to work. Been at it ever since and I still love to do it.”

Easter’s company, American Fence, began in 1960 and grew from its South King County roots, employing as many as seven men at one time. Business was good. Easter’s biggest contract required his crew to build a fence 11 miles long, but mostly routine jobs involved fence yards, 3oo or 400 feet in length.

But the hard work and bad habits eventually took their toll on Easter and his family.

Easter battled alcoholism throughout the ’70s, a problem that cost him his marriage. Urged by one of his daughters to find help, Easter went to Alcohol Anonymous and got sober.

“I haven’t had a drink in 37 years,” Easter said. “I haven’t had a cigarette in 28 years.”

When Easter remarried, it was to Shirley, whom he met at AA meetings. They were married for 28 years before she died of a heart attack seven years ago.

Easter has battled his share of his own health problems. He has survived three heart attacks, prostrate cancer, major shoulder surgery and pneumonia.

His faith in the Lord and support from family and friends keep him on his feet today, and working. An outdoorsman who used to regularly hunt and fish, Easter is comfortable at his own home that he shares with his two dogs.

When the phone rings, it often means a customer is calling, and Easter and his truck stand ready.

Easter still builds fences the old-fashioned way using muscle. His crooked fingers and strong hands hammer nails without the use of air tools and dig post holes without the punch of a powerful auger.

There is no shortcut to hard work or building a solid fence.

“To me, the important part is when I put that fence up, I like to look back and say I did it,” he said. “You take pride in your work, whether it’s a fence or whatever it is.”


Walt Easter’s hands continue to build fences at the age of 90 and nearly 60 years in the business. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter


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