The story behind the Yakima Valley’s connection to World War II General and U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower begins with the story of a young man who began his career in the local fruit industry in the early 1920s. C. Paul Lucas moved from Kansas to the Yakima Valley in 1912 with his family, subsequently became a bookkeeper for various packing houses on Fruit Row in Yakima, and eventually went into business for himself in the mid-1920s as a fruit broker and trader. He was successful in the industry and by the mid-1930s was able to enter a partnership with Glen Williams of the Williams Fruit Company to jointly build a substantial warehouse at Gromore, an area just north of the City of Yakima. Lucas is credited with being the first in the industry to import a wooden box maker from France and the first to use wooden pallets for the boxes of fruit in the mid-1940s.
The Eisenhower connection is simple; Lucas’s mother and Eisenhower’s mother were sisters; thus, Paul and Dwight were first cousins. Dwight had chosen a military career and entered West Point in 1909, just three years before the Lucas family moved west to Washington State. But the two families remained close. Bob Lucas, Paul’s son, remembers that when Ike and his wife, Mamie, were stationed at Fort Lewis in 1938-1939, the Eisenhowers would spend many weekends in Yakima bird hunting and playing bridge. Bob especially remembers the large dinners that Mamie and his mother cooked.
After World War II, when Ike was president of Columbia University, Paul and his wife would travel east to visit his cousin. In January 1953, the couple was invited to Ike’s first inauguration in Washington, D.C., and had dinner at the White House. In 1956, during Ike’s reelection campaign, Paul called Eisenhower and asked him to come to Yakima on a campaign trip. Ike replied that he was too busy campaigning in the East and Midwest, but that he would send Vice President Richard Nixon. Sure enough, not long after the conversation, Dick and Pat Nixon came to Yakima.
Paul’s son, Bob, also remembers when Ike came to Seattle in 1954. A total of 12 people, including Bob and his father, had dinner with Ike in Olympia. The next day, Bob, Edgar Eisenhower (a Tacoma attorney and Ike’s brother), the Pacific Northwest head of the FBI, and Ike all played golf together at the Tacoma Country Club.
In 1957, Bob represented the Lucas family at the second Eisenhower inauguration because his mother had passed away and his father was not well enough to travel. He stayed at Blair House. Since January 20, 1957, Inauguration Day, was a Sunday, there was a private service in the Blue Room of the White House. Only members of the family, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, and the military service heads—just 110 people in all—attended this service.
For many years, the Lucas family sent a box of Yakima apples to the Eisenhowers at Christmas—a practice that continued after Ike left office in 1961 and began his postpresidential career as an author.