Hank Wats, 74, of Joseph is fairly new to the county, but for a self-described “loner,” he knew how to make himself part of the community.
Hank grew up in Holland in a small city east of Rotterdam. His father was a house painter and his mother a stay-at-home mom who took care of Hank and his four siblings.
Hank went to a trade-oriented high school at 13, which is how education develops in Holland. He graduated with a degree as an electrician.
He was fortunate in that a famous theoretical physicist had established his trade school, so he became involved in research and learned to make and test scientific instruments. American physicists also visited the school and, upon observing his work, invited Hank to come to America and work in the physics department of the University of Maryland. He arrived in the United States in 1969.
There he was introduced to the academic life, and in addition to working at the university took evening classes to get his American electrical engineering degree. His career path grew more and more ambitious and the projects more and more complicated. Over his lifetime, he became proficient in high energy physics design phases and his work supported projects for NASA and the NSA and the technology of a cosmic ray project.
Along the way he married twice and divorced twice. He has a son, Bryan, who lives in the Netherlands.
He is semi-retired and continues to design computer chips for a company he worked with earlier in his career.
He may spend a lot of time at his computer, but Hank also likes to be part of the community. He joined Hurricane Creek Grange where he assists in the financial accounting and serves on the building committee and is also a member of Rotary.
Q. One doesn’t associate a scientific and technical career with rural living. So, I have to ask: why retire to Wallowa County?
A. I had been living in Washington, D.C,. for about 45 years, and I wanted to get out. I had a colleague with land in Idaho and he advised me to look for land before the baby boomers got it all. My first find was John Fogarty’s land in Troy, but that was too far out. I then found this land on the west moraine, five acres with a log house built by Bronson Log Homes. I was surprised at how many people are highly technical in Wallowa County. There is very much a diversity of people here.
Q. What has Wallowa County taught you?
A. It’s a totally different environment than Maryland and Washington, D.C. The county I came from in Maryland was six times smaller than Wallowa County but had 600,000 people in it. If Wallowa County had the same density it would have 3.5 million people in it.
People are more social in Wallowa County than they are in Maryland. In Wallowa County everyone waves as they drive past. In Maryland you hardly even have contact with your neighbors and you don’t bother to greet anyone when you are driving. I think socializing is an acquired skill. You must learn all those names and connections.
Q. Can you recall the first book you checked out of a library when you were a child?
A. Oh, I don’t think I can remember back that far. I remember three books about Dutch seafaring captains of the 1700s. I think I was 10 years old when I checked those out.
Q. Can you recommend a book you are reading now?
A. Janie Tippett’s “Four Lines a Day” (available at the Bookloft in Enterprise). It is a pioneer book, and it gives you a good idea about the living here. It’s amazing how many books are published in this county.