The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Oregon Jamboree veterans recount 25-plus-year history at SHEDG annual meeting


March 21, 2017

They told tales of roller-coaster years in the local forest industry, massive job losses and a determined core of local business people who founded a successful country music festival.

Founders of the Sweet Home Economic Development Group reviewed the organization’s history at its annual meeting Wednesday, March 15, at Sunshine Industries, marking the 25th anniversary of the Oregon Jamboree.

Following the veterans’ retrospective and a prime rib dinner provided by The Point Restaurant, SHEDG members re-elected Ron Moore and Wendi Melcher to terms on its Board of Directors during the organization’s annual meeting March 15.

The two held the two of three positions that expired. Additional positions were vacant following resignations by Diane Gerson, Michelle Swett, Jo Ann McQueary and Kellie Kem over the past year. With no candidates for those positions, the board will continue with eight members.

Under the bylaws, the board may have three to 13 members, and at this point, the board will continue with eight directors, including Moore, Melcher, Joe Graybill, Heather Search, Rachel Kittson-MaQatish, Mike Hall, Rob Mullins and Jared Cornell.

“We have the ability to invite others to come on (the board),” said Kittson-MaQatish, board president. “If anybody is interested in the future, let us know.”

SHEDG is a grassroots economic development organization established to help Sweet Home transition from a timber-based economy curtailed by the listing of the northern spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act in the early 1990s.

SHEDG started the Oregon Jamboree country music and camping festival as a fund-raising tool to pay for economic development projects. The Jamboree is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and in honor of that, the SHEDG board provided dinner for the nonprofit’s annual meeting.

Early SHEDG board members Debbie Paul, Jann Horner and Mary Mansfield, who served as event manager for several years, outlined the history of the organization, its original mission and the circumstances that led to its creation.

“It’s beneficial to learn why you did it, started it, your vision,” Kittson-MaQatish said.

“My hat’s off to you,” Paul told Kittson-MaQatish and the SHEDG membership. “There’s so much work to be done, and I applaud your efforts.”

Alex and Debbie Paul bought The New Era and moved to Sweet Home in 1985. It wasn’t long before the Pauls began experiencing the turbulence of Sweet Home’s timber industry.

In 1986, fire danger shut down the logging industry, Debbie Paul said. “You couldn’t sell an ad anywhere.”

That was followed by a strike in 1987, she said. “The next year, they listed the northern spotted owl.”

Looking at where that would send timber-dependent Sweet Home, members of the community formed the Yellow Ribbon Coalition, with John Kunzman of South River Saw and Coreen Melcher led the fight organizing timber rallies. Business owners shut down to join the rallies.

Scott Proctor of the Oregon Department of Forestry and Howard Dew of Cascade Timber Consulting found a covered bridge and began selling bricks to pay to move Weddle Bridge to its current location in Sankey Park.

Corky Lowen, Marie Bradley, LaDonna Chafin and Verlin Weaver organized a Cycle Oregon event, which brought hundreds of bicyclists to the community.

“It was our first experience coming together as a community to organize an event,” Paul said. “We sold a lot of blackberry pie.”

And organizers hosted visitors in their homes to show off what Sweet Home was all about, she said.

“We were scared to death,” Paul said. “We were losing jobs.”

Sweet Home, a community of 6,000, lost 1,000 jobs, Alex Paul said. Some 30 years ago, every piece of wood necessary to build a house was produced in Sweet Home. Today, it’s down to veneer and specialty products.

At one point, there were 30 empty storefronts on Main Street, Debbie Paul said.

“We were scared, terrified and facing huge change because we were a timber-dependent community,” Paul said. “But that fear gave us the incentive to bond together and become quite familiar with each other in seeking solutions.”

Then-mayor Dave Holley was instrumental in bringing the state economic development agency to Sweet Home to complete an economic analysis, and the community formed SHEDG in 1991.

Similar to studies throughout the years since, the analysis noted the Sweet Home area’s strengths, natural beauty, the people, all good for tourism, and outdoor activities and weaknesses, like job training and the distance to the interstate.

Tourism jobs tend to pay less with lower hours, and people started going out of town to work, Paul said. That means they can’t come home by 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. to coach sports or be involved in committees.

Sweet Home needed new industry, Paul said. SHEDG and its partners went to work to bring workforce training and elder care to Sweet Home. The city constructed the flex building to serve as an incubator for new businesses. Volunteers were busy with projects like the Wilderness Village Museum and developing a marina on Foster Lake.

Early in SHEDG’s development, Proctor, along with Marge Geil and Leslie Ancke, came up with the idea of a fund-raising concert, Mansfield said. Geil and Ancke attended a Wynonna Judd concert back east, and they pitched the idea to her. Wynonna committed to performing at the concert for two years.

She returned and performed again at the 20th anniversary Ore-gon Jamboree.

SHEDG worked with Pro Tours talent agency until they parted ways in 1994, said Mansfield, a member of the board at that time. The subsequent event manager was overwhelmed and struggled in the position, and the event was losing money the following year.

Horner asked Mansfield to meet her for lunch, and SHEDG invited her to be the event manager.

“We all had to come up with $4,000 to meet the financial demand,” said Mansfield, who with her husband Clarence had recently purchased Sweet Home RV. “For me, as a new business owner, that was like $100,000 at the time.”

The board asked the county commissioners to match the board’s contribution, Mansfield said. The county liked the event and the community’s economic development efforts and lent the Jamboree $50,000.

Mansfield described the event as a “hope and a prayer.”

The event turned profitable, and SHEDG repaid its loans in the following years and developed a rainy day fund, freeing it up to pursue its mission, Mansfield said.

SHEDG created the Sweet Home Community Foundation to pay for projects in the community using Jamboree revenue, Horner said. “With some of our success, we did visual things to say, hey, here we are.”

That included improvements to the entrances to Sweet Home, the beautification of the Highway 20 median strip and a mural program, Horner said. SHEDG also developed a micro-loan program with Wells Fargo Bank.

The Jamboree continues to host special events during the Jamboree to provide revenue to the foundation.

Throughout the years, SHEDG has continued to spend Jamboree revenue on additional projects. Through the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort, an ad hoc committee made up of business owners, government officials and others interested in economic development, SHEDG has provided funding for various downtown improvements.

SHARE has distributed funds for seasonal decorations, storefront enhancements, the Farmer’s Market, cleanup efforts and grants for new murals and mural maintenance, as well as a Downtown Retail Market Analysis.

“It looks a lot nicer downtown than it did 10 years ago,” said current SHARE committee Chairman Scott Swanson.

Prior to giving a special performance at the annual meeting, local country singer Trevor Tagle reflected on the Jamboree’s history as well. He moved to Sweet Home during the eighth grade and attended his first Jamboree during his freshman year.

“It blew my mind,” Tagle said, fondly recalling the Gary Allen concert. “I had my first serious girlfriend, and we danced.”

After his friends convinced him to start playing country music, Tagle was soon tapped to perform at the kickoff party. Since then he’s played a few times at the Jamboree. Last year, he played the main stage.

“Every year, it gets better,” he said of the festival. “The way it’s organized, the way it’s clean, the great acts you bring.”

Playing the main stage was “the best moment ever” for Tagle, he said. “Thank you for even making this happen. Thank you for the opportunity.”

Festival Director Robert Shamek shared a number of factoids about SHEDG and the Jamboree.

Over 25 years, SHEDG has had nearly 300 board members, he said. “We’ve had a little over 350 artists walk across our main stage (some were repeats). We have set up over 40,000 reserve seats. We have had over 12,500 volunteers. They have donated over 300,000 hours not just to the Jamboree but to our community.”

More than 200,000 patrons have gone through the Jamboree’s front gate, Shamek said.

Few festivals are grassroots, Shamek said. Most are run by corporations

“You started with a couple of dreams,” Shamek told Paul, Mansfield and Horner. “And you turned it into reality.”

The Jamboree started as an “event,” with attendance of less than 5,000, Shamek said. It’s grown into a “festival” since then, and he would like to see it become a “super concert,” with attendance regularly more than 15,000.

In other business, Kittson-MaQatish gave special recognition to two people during the annual meeting. First was Carli Erickson, SHEDG’s administrative coordinator.

“This individual puts up with change,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “This person works hard, takes a call at the last minute to get things done. We change. Board members come and go. She’s the memory of the organization.”

“She doesn’t have to look things up,” Wendi Melcher said. “She knows.”

Search was named Board Member of the Year. She is board treasurer and heads the board’s Finance Committee.

“I could not do this person’s job,” Kittson-MaQatish said. “She lets me lean on her. Without this person, I think we’d be a little bit lost.”


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