No one gets paid to be a member of the Soroptimist, Lions Club, Rotary, the Hospital Foundation, 4-H Leaders Association, the PEO, the new Wallowa Mountains Hells Canyon Trails Association or any of a dozen other organizations not listed that exist to make life richer and better in Wallowa County. In fact, you probably have to pay dues for the privilege in most cases, and then cough up money for the projects your group takes on, like chip in extra for a scholarship, the food bank, or high school band trip, or put money in the baseball cap for the team you are volunteer coaching.
I’ve written about the Soroptimist before, but I’ll remind you that they raise and give away over $100,000 each year! And they raise that money by keeping scores of families in clothing, shoes, silverware and dishes that they can afford. Sell enough plates and levis for quarters and it adds up!
I’ve been involved with several do-good outfits over the years—the Eagle Cap Ski Club, which became Fergi, goes on. I don’t know how many skis and boots Charlie Kissinger has slipped onto how many kids, but Fergi has created a lot of skiers—and snowboarders. I’ve been on the board of the Wallowa Nez Perce Homeland for years, and scores of people, beginning with Terry Crenshaw and Taz Conner, have made that organization, the powwow and the grounds, something good and proud.
But right now I got hornswoggled into the presidency of Rotary, and it got me to thinking about all the things that Rotary has been involved with for more than three decades. I’ll start with “Coats for Kids,” because winter is coming, and Marilyn Dalton and Rob Lamb are lining up brand new coats to be given to pre-schoolers and elementary school students before it does.
There’s the Spelling Bee, introduced by Jolene Cox with the idea that spelling teams compete for money that will then be given to their own favorite charities. The OK Theater was a beneficiary one year, and now hosts the annual event.
Scholarships. Rotary can’t match the Soroptimists, who give away about $20,000 annually to local students, but we do our share. As do the Lions, PEO, Stockgrowers, and many other organizations. Rotary uses the proceeds of the Lostine River Run to help fund scholarships. Bob Crawford, a long-ago Wallowa High graduate who went on to teach and superintendent schools for years, matched up the run and the scholarships, and recently made two jobs of his one: Steve Kliewer is our River Run man, and Anette Christoffersen is handling the scholarships.
When Dick Burch was president of Rotary years ago, he decided to make putting AEDs—“Automated External Defibrillators”—around the county his special project. There are now 77 devices spread from Wallowa to Imnaha, and Dick still trains people to use them and checks them regularly. The first AED life saved happened this summer.
And while on health matters, Rotary had a modest but important role in bringing the Oregon Health Sciences University’s family practice residency program here. In the 1980s Drs. Lowell Euhus and Scott Siebe were the only two local practitioners. They were also Rotarians. At a rural health care meeting in La Grande, Lowell told the crowd that rural communities weren’t attracting new docs, and that he and Scott were wearing down. The head of OHSU’s family practice program was at the meeting, and said that he could fix the problem, that from here on out all of his residents would be required to do two-month rural rotations, and that it would begin in Wallowa County.
It went well for a time, with OHSU renting a local house for the visiting docs. They were about to pull the rent plug, and Lowell gathered a bunch of people around him to raise money to keep it going. Rotarians Don Green and Don Swart quickly took the lead. And then the informal group decided that we should own a house rather than raise money for rent. Mick Courtney stepped up and donated a lot; Tom Gleasman lined up construction crews at cost or better; and Don Green committed Rotary to the landscaping. The first Hospital Auction and grants from Meyer Trust and the Oregon Community Foundation provided cash, and the Doctors House on the hill came to be. It, and a stream of OHSU residents, some of whom have come back to practice locally, including Dr. Elizabeth Powers and her husband, Nic, who is now CEO of Winding Waters.
And the list of local do-gooders is much longer, so slap someone on the back, or pick up a shovel and groom a trail.