Gayle Vernon Marks, the “dude” who spearheaded the effort to make Hermiston watermelons famous, passed away last week in the town he helped brand nearly 60 years ago.

“He was a loving father,” Gayle’s son Tom Marks said. “He was deeply involved in his family.”

Marks, 90, had the nickname Dude since the age of 2, when he would sneak into the cookie jar and his mother would yell at the “Cookie Dude.” Later, he would become “Daddy Dude” to his wife and two children.

His deep involvement extended out to Hermiston, the town he moved to back in 1949. There, he was a member of the Rotary Club, Planning Commission and Rural Fire Board, and president of the Chamber of Commerce.

But it was his construction of a giant watermelon that went down in Hermiston history. With the help of two to three cases of beer, Marks and his friend, Ed Clark, assembled chicken wire, cement and plaster into a 14 foot watermelon replica.

That melon was shuttled to Spokane, Seattle, Portland, Joseph and “pretty much every county fair around,” Tom Marks said .

The giant watermelon represented Gayle Marks’ role in putting Hermiston on the map during the 1950s and 1960s.

“He realized that we needed to make Hermiston sustainable,” Tom Marks said. “There were a number of businesses selling watermelons at the time, and he really pushed to make that the name brand of Hermiston.”

Born on a homestead near Imnaha in 1922, the dude was the fourth of five children born to Jacob Bluford and Ethel Mary Marks.

Soon after graduating from high school in Enterprise, Gayle joined the Marine Corps following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

After World War II ended, he received a degree in agricultural economics at Oregon State University, where he met Joy Faulkner, who would be his wife for 67 years.

Gayle Marks worked for Pendleton Grain Growers for 43 years. There were nearly 500 people at his retirement party in 1993.

Gayle Marks filled his time in his later days hunting and fishing. He had a vicious humor, known for delivering unappreciated gifts, like one gift to the mayor of Hermiston — a sack with a yellow-bellied marmot inside. The rock chuck soon made quick work of the gunny sack and began to feast on the wooden legs of the mayor’s desk.

Tom Marks said his dad came home one day and packed the family up quickly for a mini vacation out of town — “at least until the mayor cools down a litle,” Tom Marks recalled his father saying. Gayle Marks pulled a similar trick when he put a gunny sack full of bull snakes in the Feedville Station office.

Gayle leaves behind wife Joy, 91, and sons Tom, 63, of Hermiston and Rod, 58, of Umatilla.

He also leaves behind his watermelon city.

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