Retired art teacher’s goal: to promote Sweet Home

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Gail Gregory came to Sweet Home as a college freshman to live with her aunt and uncle while she attended then-Oregon State College in Corvallis.

She never left.

“I just got hooked on Sweet Home,” said Gregory, 68, who taught art for 30 years at Sweet Home High School and has since involved herself in a wide range of community activities that all promote her hometown.

They include the Oregon Jamboree, the East Linn Museum, Scenic Byway planning and promotion and the Linn County Cultural Coalition.

“All these things are publicity for Sweet Home,” said Gregory, a matter-of-fact woman. “That’s my focus.”

She arrived in Sweet Home in 1958 from Baker City to stay with her uncle and aunt, Mel and Estella Lester, while she commuted to college.

She met and married a local man, Gene Gregory, and got a job teaching art at Sweet Home.

“I really enjoyed the students,” she said. “I still miss them. I see many of them all the time. I even had children of some of my former students before I left.”

Several of her students actually went into the art field, including Gary Gukeisen and Gabriel Fernandez. Another, Candy Schneider, teaches kindergarten (and art) at Crawfordsville School, she said.

Gene Gregory worked at Willamette Industries until the mill closed, then took early retirement, she said.

They had two children, a daughter, Leigh, who is a pharmacist in Portland, and a son, Wade, who is going to school and is in his final year of a five-year apprentice electrician program. He and his son, Christian, live with the Gregorys while he attends school, Gail Gregory said.

After she retired in 1993, Gregory teamed up with Denise Hudson and others to create the local mural project.

“Four of us became a committee and wrote grants and contracts,” she said. “The next year we prepped the walls and organized the artists – that kind of thing.”

The first mural. “Moondance,” was painted by high school students on the wall of the shop Hudson rented next to what is now Sunshine Espresso. The mural has been painted over, but the project continued.

Right about that time, Gregory, a history buff, started volunteering at the East Linn Museum. Her interest grew.

Since then, she’s been president of the Historical Society several times and is curator at the museum.

As curator she approves acquisitions and sets up exhibits or rearranges them.

“Just yesterday we got a really neat old regulator clock from the 1940s from Foster School,” she said last week. “We get calls frequently – 20 to 30 a year. We have limited space so I have to be particular about what I accept.”

Her involvement with the Oregon Jamboree goes back to the festival’s second year.

“I went to the first Jamboree as a customer but I was just sitting there on a blanket and I got bored,” she said. “The music was fun but I thought I could be doing something while I was listening to the music. The next year I volunteered and I’ve been volunteering ever since.”

She started out in artist merchandise, selling CD’s and souvenirs. Later she moved over to the regular merchandise booth, which she now supervises.

“The merchandise job is about a nine-month job,” she said. “We select designs, order shirts, inventory them, we get them out in the field and sell them.”

Gregory is also involved with the Scenic Byway Steering Committee and the Linn County Cultural Coalition.

The Scenic Byway committee has gotten the byway approved and have worked on kiosks and grants to pay for more publicity for the route, which runs from Brownsville to Highway 126.

Gregory said the members are continuing to work toward getting more kiosks and increased publicity for the byway.

With the cultural coalition, which is founded through the state Heritage Trust with revenue from license plate sales and other sources, she has helped organize cultural events throughout the county. The coalition awarded $10,000 in March to such activities and projects as Latino Culture Day, the carousel museum being established in Albany, Art in the Park in Lebanon, and the metal sculpture next to the East Linn Museum.

Gregory said she’s involved because she enjoys being active, particularly in the areas where she has interests.

“I just really liked these things,” she said. “I feel that you have to put yourself in there and help things. Otherwise they don’t happen. There are too many things that just die.”