Jia Oh has been a regular in Wallowa County for just five years, but she’s been in love with the area for much longer.
She’s been in a relationship with local businessman Mike Lockhart for 15 years and they vacationed in Wallowa County because of his property holdings here. Seeing Wallowa County gave her the contrast she needed to eventually realize she wasn’t where she wanted to be living in Portland.
She met Mike in 2002 while working in Portland for Environmental Lighting Systems, which was in the same building as his real estate office. In addition to working as a secretary, she was attending night school to become a court stenographer, which is the job she holds now.
She has a son, Michael Oh, who is studying to be a rocket scientist — he’s studying astro-aeronautical engineering at University of Washington.
Jia is the reason the couple lives in Wallowa County. Five years ago, she got sick of the “rat race” of the western side of the state and encouraged Mike to start living in an RV full-time. They’ve been traveling since then, but after seeing a lot more of the Americas, they realized they wanted to call Wallowa County home.
Jia volunteers with the Dragons in the Wallowas Paddling Club, which Mike introduced to the county, that she says the club is taking over her life. She also volunteers at the Art Center and for the Wallowa County Festival of the Arts.
Q. Why did you move to Wallowa County?
A. I never intended to, things just fall into place in your life once in a while. I feel like this is where my early life was leading. This is where I want to be. I had to learn in Portland what I didn’t want.
What I love about Wallowa County is everybody pitches in. That’s one of the reasons I feel like it’s home. In the city, it was hard to get to know each other because everybody’s lives were so busy, we all had kids, we had careers — it was hard to be good friends. Here you are close together and you see each other a lot. People are more down to earth. I don’t think I got that kind of fulfillment when I was living in the city.
Q. What has Wallowa County taught you?
A. It’s taught me how to connect better with other people. I think that’s the big lesson for me. I was really shy. This county brings you out of your shell. I think this club (the dragon boat club) is a really big thing in that regard, too.
Q. How has Wallowa County surprised you?
A. We were talking about that the other day — how diverse this place is and how we all get along despite how different we are. We’ve got doomsday preppers living alongside business people. We’ve got all the artists living together with ranchers and they get along so well. That’s amazing, isn’t it?
And Wallowa County is so beautiful. You go through 300 miles of desert before you get here and all of a sudden, it pops up like Shangri la. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It’s so spectacular. We’re in the RV and we’ve traveled around, but this place is special.