Volunteers, who keep the show going at Oregon Jamboree, say it’s fun, fulfilling

Scott Swanson

It’s Friday, exactly a week before the gates are due to open at the 2017 Oregon Jamboree.

On the Sweet Home High School athletic field, a group of nine people busily cover a softball diamond with heavy protective fabric. Across the field, others measure out lines that will dictate the positions of vendors and Jamboree sales and information booths. Others install fencing that will designate the beer garden boundaries and other features.

This is the Site Preparation Team, the people who lay the groundwork for the annual three-day country music and camping festival held to raise money to raise funds for local economic development.

But they’re only the beginning of the effort required to construct – and deconstruct – the festival.

During the next couple of days, others would erect a tent city, lay out campgrounds and post signs to help patrons get there, among the myriad tasks necessary to get the festival up and running.

Robert Shamek, director of the Oregon Jamboree, said the number of volunteers currently is about 900, ranging from his bosses, the Sweet Home Economic Development Group board members, through most of the supervisory ranks to the hundreds of individuals in the brightly colored shirts who keep things running smoothly during the festival.

Five management team members, all of whom have volunteered with the event for years, head the various on-the-ground functions.

Penny Leland oversees security and guest services and serves as a liaison to the Sweet Home Police Department, where she works. Don Worden manages the camping, shuttle staging and parking. Carol Cromwell handles the accounting end of things. Donna Poirier is in charge of the backstage and volunteer hospitality – keeping the troops fed and as comfortable as possible. And Rob Poirier acts as Shamek’s “main man” on the grounds and oversees safety.

Shamek himself started as a volunteer “about 12 years ago,” he said.

“I think back then we had 600 volunteers.” The numbers increased, he said when the Jamboree expanded into Sankey Park and added to its camping facilities.

Many of the volunteers, particularly the nine individuals who have been with the Jamboree since it began in 1992, are local.

But others come from long distances – or come back, in some cases.

Audi Garcia, a bus driver from Clarkston, Wash., lived in Sweet Home from 1995 to 2013 and is in his 16th year as a volunteer, with the Set-Up Team.

“I like people. I enjoy working with these people, especially with Robert,” Garcia said. “Ever since he took over I think he’s done a great job. He’s made a lot of good changes and he’s a nice guy.”

Garcia said he started out in Crowd Management but “I didn’t like that too well, so I switched over to set-up and tear-down.”

He said he likes the purpose of the Jamboree: to raise money for a community that has seen hard times due to the environmental policies that have resulted in the shutdown of most of the national forest around Sweet Home to logging.

“The one thing that attracted me was the money went to the town, and there’s no politics, no religion, anything like that. It’s pretty neutral. I support that. Mostly, it’s just the people that I work with. I like it. It’s fun.”

Debbie Aman, a longtime local teacher who now lives with her husband Mike, a former local school principal, in Tualatin, said they enjoy seeing old friends in Sweet Home.

“It gets to be kind of like a family,” she said. “So it’s just fun to come back and see people. This is the only time of the year we get to see some of them.”

Alan Humiston, 27, of Milwaukie was setting up chain-link fencing Friday morning with Jake Dickson, 23, of Sherwood.

Both are employees of Larry Crist of Sherwood, a longtime volunteer. Humiston said it’s his first year.

“These guys are always talking about it. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do since they told me about it. I’m into country music. Free tickets, that always helps.”

Dickson was back after volunteering last year.

“It’s just a great experience, with all the other volunteers, getting together. Watching the concert come together is pretty crazy to watch. You see a field and then, a week from now, you’ll see something so much different.

“It’s hard work but it’s worth it in the end.”

Shamek said volunteers generally are asked to work three six-hour shifts during the actual festival. The preliminary festival site and campsite set-up teams work longer hours – “four days straight, 16 hours on one day.” Site set-up crew members put in an average of 50 to 60 hours each, he said.

Humiston said he expected to work last Friday and Saturday, then be back this Thursday, Friday and Monday for more set-up and tear-down.

“They’re die-hards,” Shamek said.

“This is the best one to be on, because you don’t have to work during the concert,” Dickson observed.

Shamek said the Jamboree’s volunteers are committed.

“Our retention of volunteers is really good,” he said. “We have a ton of people who return every single year.”

Vicki DeLong is one of the original volunteers, who have served at every Jamboree since 1992. The others are Peggy Emmert, Margery Lillich, Larry Johnson, Coreen Melcher, Jim Melcher, Daryl Nothiger, Donna Poirier and Darlene Vavrosky.

DeLong started in crowd management and later switched to Volunteer Hospitality, where she’s worked with her husband Mark since the late 1990s, making sure volunteers are fed and cared for.

“My whole family has been involved,” she said. “My husband and I enjoy it. He’s been there a long time with me. He doesn’t go to the concerts at all, hardly. Normally, he just comes down and volunteers, then goes home.”

DeLong, whose children have graduated from Sweet Home High School, said she does it because she believes the Jamboree is something that’s “good for the community.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s something that we plan to be involved with as long as we can.”

Johnson, another original, was sitting in a meeting in 1991 when local community leaders Marge Geil and Leslie Ancke proposed holding a camping-based country music festival featuring Wynonna Judd.

While there were naysayers, Johnson, who was high school athletic director at the time, said he thought it could be done.

“I thought, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

They did and he’s been involved ever since, particularly the supply to soda and water sales booths, container recovery and general site clean-up.

He recalled being disgusted by the litter left behind following the initial Jamboree, after the audience left.

“Forty minutes later the field was clean,” he said. “We have an excellent clean-up crew.”

The Jamboree provides some $30,000 a year to local schools, a critical part of their budget, he said.

It also provides local youths, particularly athletes, a chance to serve.

“We always preach to the kids that they should give back,” Johnson said. “This gives them an opportunity to do that. They work hard.”

He remembers one in particular, Sara Winslow, who was the first girl to serve on a Jamboree ice crew.

“I called her into my office and said, ‘I know you’ll be the hardest worker out there.’

“She was.”

Now, he added, Winslow is personal assistant to country music star Miranda Lambert.