Ticket master for the Jamboree

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Mel Wagoner moved to Oregon three decades ago with a bad case of burnout.

He’s found greener pastures here, literally.

Wagoner and his wife, Peggy, have converted their 12-acre farm in Crawfordsville, Country Memories, into a wedding reception and social function facility. They are set to host six weddings, a party and a church gathering this summer.

Wagoner says his wife does most of the work to make the grass green at their place, as he works year-round as part-time ticket manager for the Oregon Jamboree, a job he’s had for several years. He supervises ticket sales, assigns reserve seating and handles campground reservations, coordinating with Ticketmaster, which handles Jamboree tickets.

“While I’m doing all that, Peggy’s home planting flowers, mowing grass, weeding and painting,” he said. “She spends an enormous amount of time working on (the farm).”

Peggy Wagoner also works for the Jamboree, as a volunteer, running the advance ticket sales desk at the festival and volunteering for a month each spring and fall selling advance tickets and sending tickets out.

The Wagoners, with four of their five daughters and their son, ended up in Sweet Home back in 1975 after Mel had had it with Southern California, where they lived at the time.

Wagoner was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the high-Sierras town of Big Creek, northeast of Fresno. He served in the Air Force from 1954-58, in New Mexico at a nuclear weapons stockpile, then moved back to California, where he worked for 16 years for Southern California Edison.

Over Memorial Day weekend of 1975, the Wagoners drove up to Oregon to have a look. They stopped in Chemult, near Bend, where one of their acquaintances had a home, but didn’t like it there. However, on the way home, they spent the night in Eugene.

“We loved it,” said Peggy Wagoner. “It was beautiful.”

They went back home and made plans to move north.

Mel Wagoner and their son, Steve, drove back up in August to look for a home and a real estate agent showed them the small farm across from Finley Pioneer Cemetery, just outside Crawfordsville. It included a two-bedroom, one-bath home, which was a little tight for a family of seven, but the location was right for them.

“We’ve expanded it since then,” Peggy Wagoner said.

They raised “kids, sheep, horses, cows – we raised everything,” Mel Wagoner said.

After moving to Sweet Home in 1975, he worked for the local school district for two years, then for Pacific Power and Light, from which he retired in 1989. Then he went to work for the state at the Community Services Consortium office in Lebanon, from which he retired in 1999 as office manager.

The Wagoners say they are active in their church, Hillside Fellowship, and they spend a lot of time keeping up with the younger generations. Their children are Cindy (who lives in Sisters), Kathy (Montclair, Calif.), Kim (Sweet Home), Sandy (Sweet Home), Jennifer (Columbia, S.C.) and Steve (Henderson, Nev.). They have 18 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We’ve been active with our grandkids in sports, more than our kids,” Mel Wagoner said.

The Country Memories operation began in 2002 when the Wagoners’ granddaughter was getting married and decided she wanted to have the reception at her grandparents’ farm.

“In April we were running sheep on the ranch,” he said. “We got rid of the sheep and started converting it into a suitable location for her reception.”

They converted half an acre of pasture and the corral into a lawn, and the riding arena into a reception area and dance floor.

“By the end of the reception, several of (their grand-daughter’s) young friends wanted to know if they could get married there,” Wagoner said. “We looked at the time we spent to get it ready and realized that some of the young ladies couldn’t afford the high prices to rent facilities.”

So the Wagoners decided to get into the wedding business in a small way, which has led to more changes at the ranch.

They built a bride’s cottage for brides and their attendants to change in, converted the tack room in the barn into a groom’s room, built a stage for ceremonies and converted the lambing pens into a food prep area for meals.

“We try and add a little bit every year,” Wagoner said.

He got into the Jamboree at the behest of former Police Chief Gary David. Wagoner, who was a reserve police officer in California, started volunteering in 1994 at the second Jamboree.

He worked eight years in the security detail until he retired from the Community Service Consortium, then volunteered to organize the ticketing operation.

“I worked 400 or 500 hours as a volunteer to set up the ticketing,” he said. “Then I negotiated with the board and with (Event Manager) Peter (LaPonte) to work part-time.”

The Wagoners said they enjoy working with the country music festival, primarily because of the clientele.

One regular attendee, a long-haul trucker, calls the Jamboree office every couple of weeks to “check in,” find out about any new developments in the line-up, and just shoot the breeze, Mel Wagoner said.

This year she’s invited the Wagoners and some other Jamboree staff for dinner at the campsite where she will have her fifth-wheel camper parked.

“To me it’s fun,” said Wagoner. “I enjoy dealing with the customers. Some of them we’ve known for years.”