Buck Hermann, right, receives, a City of La Grande lapel pin from Mayor Dan Pokorney on Wednesday. Hermann was La Grande’s first mayor, serving in the 1960s when the city switched from a city commission to a mayor-led council system. (Dick Mason/The Observer)
L. W. “Buck’’ Hermann enjoys the distinction of being the first mayor of La Grande. Hermann, 95, however, is much more than the answer to a fascinating trivia question. He is a man who answers prayers and is an ultimate friend.
Hermann, who now lives in Hood River at the Hawks Ridge Assisted Living Community, was honored during a reception Wednesday in La Grande. About 50 people attended the reception for Hermann at Bear Mountain Pizza. Everyone greeting Hermann had fond memories of him and touched his heart.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Hermann said. “I didn’t know I had this many friends.”
Many at the reception were longtime La Grande-area residents who remember when Hermann served on the La Grande City Council in the 1960s. Hermann joined it when La Grande had a city commission rather than a council. The commission had a president rather than a mayor.
Hermann was president of the commission when La Grande switched to a mayor-led council system. This meant his title automatically was changed to that of mayor.
Hermann laughs about a phone call he received just before midnight not long after he became mayor. The call came from a woman complaining about a barking dog.
“I told her it is not the duty of the mayor (to address barking dog complaints),” Hermann said.
Many of those attending the reception for Hermann were members of the local Shriners organization. Hermann received a lifetime achievement plaque from the group, one deserved for a life spent leading the organization and assisting people in the community.
Few appreciate Hermann’s efforts more than Nicole Gannon of La Grande and her 10-year-old son, Kolby.
Kolby was born with a cleft palate, a condition that has been corrected by surgeons at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland. Kolby may not have received the medical care he needed at the Shriners Hospital, which provides free medical treatment, if not for Hermann, who volunteered to sponsor the boy at the hospital. Children need a sponsor before they can receive treatment at the hospital.
“He’s a pretty awesome guy. When he found out about Kolby he stood up and said, ‘I’ll be a sponsor,’” Gannon said.
Hermann started a local pizza fundraiser for the Shriners Hospital for Children for many years, one which has been enormously successful and continues today. Hermann led it for many years after retiring. Today, Lance Shoemaker of Imbler leads the annual fundraiser held at Bear Mountain Pizza. Shoemaker said he is constantly asked about Hermann when conducting the fundraiser.
“Everyone has to know how Buck is doing,” Shoemaker said.
The pizza fundraiser is conducted at Bear Mountain Pizza, which is fitting. The building is where Hermann operated his business, Hermann’s Trailer Sales, for decades. In addition to trailers, he also sold motorcycles, boats and snowmobiles. He joked that many people coming to see him on Wednesday were there to complain about something he sold them.
Hermann’s visit to La Grande was made possible through the new Senior Wish program at Hawks Ridge Assisted Living Center. It has been Hermann’s wish for several years to make a return visit to La Grande.
“All he has talked about is La Grande and what a great community it is,” said Kelly Emerson of the Hawks Ridge Assisted Living Center. “So one day I said, ‘Why don’t I take you? We decided to make it happen.”
Hermann, who was last in Union County 3-1/2 years ago, received a ride through La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley on Thursday morning.
“He was so excited to see everything. He was surprised at how much things had changed,” said his son, Bill Hermann of La Grande.
Buck Hermann rode in a Cadillac de Ville he had once owned. Doyle Slater of La Grande, who had purchased the car from Hermann several years ago, provided it for the former mayor.
Hermann enjoyed the drive through the Grande Ronde Valley but it is doubtful that he was happier on Thursday morning than he was on Wednesday night seeing his many friends.
“People talk about how they don’t want to get old,” he said on Wednesday at his reception. “I really enjoy it as long as my health is good.”