COMMITMENT TO PEOPLE FUELS LA GRANDE MAN'S SUCCESSES
By Alice Perry Linker
Observer Staff Writer
Bob Rainville greets his visitors with, "Would you like a cup of tea?"
Rainville's traditional cup of tea has been a starting point for his professional and volunteer ventures. His ability to make people feel at home and his ability to communicate are almost legendary in his adopted home of
"Bob is just the best kind of international representative of the United States that you can imagine; warm and genuine, truly interested in the people," said Michael Jaeger, who with Rainville has coordinated a major charitable endeavor in Ecuador under Rotary International.
Volunteering for Rotary has been just one of Rainville's interests during his 11 years in La Grande. He has helped to found the Eastern Oregon Mediation Center and headed United Way.
For the past four years, Rainville, who came to La Grande as the district ranger for the Forest Service, has been the coordinator for a new type of forest organization, the Blue Mountain Demonstration Forest. As August approaches, he will end his career with the Demo and his years in La Grande as he moves to Boise to join his wife Suzanne, the deputy supervisor for the Boise National Forest.
He's not ending his professional career, however. He will put his talents to use as a human resources specialist in firefighting administration.
The crews fighting a large forest fire become "a little city, with stressful conditions," he said. His job will be to mediate disagreements, work on civil rights and other issues for firefighting crews that number 300 or more.
Mediation has been a major interest for Rainville. Former Circuit Court Judge Eric Valentine, who was also instrumental in creating the mediation center, said that Rainville chaired the original committee that studied the possibility of a center.
"Bob was a guiding force in setting goals and objectives back in 2000," Valentine said. He kept us linked together through e-mail. He kept us on task and focused."
Meg Valentine, a volunteer mediator, teamed with Rainville for four years for mediation sessions.
"Bob never loses sight of the people involved," Meg Valentine said. "Although I say his commitment is to mediation, I believe his commitment is really to people, and mediation is a tool he has found successful in reaching out to others and helping them resolve some difficulty in their lives."
Rainville acknowledged his commitment.
"I've really enjoyed mediation for the past four or five years," he said. "I want to do more."
His skill as a mediator has become known outside the state, and he has answered calls from places as far away as Cody, Wyo., and Salt Lake City, Utah, to help in workplace conflicts.
"A lot of that type of mediation exists," he said. "I don't want a full-time job, but I hope to continue mediating on a regular basis."
His people skills have played a major role in his work with Rotary International. He is a member of a group that has been working to develop clean water sources for villages in Ecuador. Rainville first learned about the needs of Ecuadoran villages when he was touring with Peter Wordelman and the choir a few years ago.
"He made contact with a couple of small villages," said Jaeger, who is dean of the School of Education and Business at Eastern Oregon University. "He came back to Rotary and said, Â‘There's a lot of need in these villages for clean water.'"
Jaeger and Rainville have laid the groundwork for building the clean water systems, a project that will take two or three more years to complete.
"Bob could work with all types of people from all ethnic backgrounds," Jaeger said. "We'll be stopping somewhere (in Ecuador), say at 11,000 or 14,000 feet, and he'll see a family tending llamas and he says, Â‘Let's go talk to these people.'
"He really has this gift of being able to make a friend from a complete stranger."
As campaign chairman and president of United Way, Rainville's energy went toward raising money for Union County charities. During his year as campaign chairman, he visited The Observer almost weekly seeking publicity for the campaign.
"We had a very successful campaign that year," said Dawn Roe, executive director of United Way. "We raised $115,000 in pledges. He had a definite vision of how he wanted to run the campaign and he saw it through beautifully.
"Bob is a very dedicated community-minded individual. Very personable, always smiling, with good things to say about everyone."
Looking back on his years in
La Grande, Rainville reflected that his time as a foster parent was "the greatest learning experience and the most rewarding."
He and Suzanne were short-term foster parents over a three-year period, caring for children for a few months each.
"That gave me an understanding of the challenging situation people face when they come into the world," he said. "I appreciate the parents' situations and the difficulties they face in caring for their children."
Praising the quality of Union County's foster parents, he said, "There are some very skilled foster parents in this community."
Rainville was the Forest Service's choice to head up the Blue Mountain Demonstration Forest four years ago. He leaves the Demo with a sense of accomplishment, and he has at his fingertips the Demo's successes, miles and acres of stream and wetlands restoration; the acres of thinning and fuel reduction, and the numbers of plants that are being protected.
His goal is to expand the number of counties covered by the demonstration forest, and he organized and coordinated a summit meeting in late June involving several counties.
"We need to see where they want to go," he said. "We're looking at geographical expansion. We want to link natural resource work with employment opportunities."
The counties of the Blue Mountains are now working on raising money to support two jobs, one funded by the Forest Service and the other by the counties' efforts.
Rainville admitted that the Demo has not been totally successful in job creation.
"It's difficult to find markets for small wood," he said. "The low value, uncertainty of supply and the potential for manufacturing companies to receive financing are problems."
Rainville has said on several occasions that he considers La Grande home.
"We're really blessed by wonderful people motivated to make this a good community," he said.