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No snow days ... for local Habitat for Humanity volunteers

This week’s snowy, frigid weather, hasn’t stopped several stalwart volunteers from making progress on the framing phase of the Habitat for Humanity home going up in east La Grande. From eight to 10 workers have been on the job every day this week, including Thursday’s laborers, in foreground from left, Ryan Hildebrandt and Dave Dahlstrom and, background from left, Nic DeHart, Buddy Chris and Andy Kendall. The future homeowners, Matt and Kasey Hall, are expected to be moving in by June. The Observer/CHRIS BAXTER
Mother Nature’s best efforts are not getting the best of Grande Ronde Valley Habitat for Humanity volunteers this week.

The crew began constructing a home in east La Grande Monday and is making considerable progress despite rain, cold weather and extensive snowfall this week.

“The weather has not stopped us. We have tough volunteers,’’ said Ryan Hildebrandt, construction manager for Grande Ronde Valley Habitat for Humanity.

Elgin considers downtown overlay zone

ELGIN — The city council held a special hearing Tuesday to discuss a proposed downtown overlay zone that would permit future commercial development in support of the excursion train and rail station project.

“We have the train there, the passengers there, but no way to facilitate a commercial corridor without an overlay zone,” said Joe Garlitz, who presented the proposal.

The existing industrial zone doesn’t provide for the kind of commercial development that would support the Elgin rail station development plan project. Right now, people who are riding the excursion train are standing out in the weather waiting to board, Garlitz said.

CASA puts new spin on fundraiser

Change is on the horizon for a leading local child advocacy organization, Union County Court Appointed Special Advocates.

The change is not in how Union County CASA comes to the aid of children, but in how it conducts its annual fundraiser.

Union County CASA, for the first time in its 14-year history, is taking a theatrical approach to fundraising.

Cove Community School to close

Participants in a Cove Community School class, “Geology of the Grande Ronde Valley,’’ explore Catherine Creek with instructor Bruce Nolf, a retired geology professor from Central Oregon.
COVE — The days are numbered for the Cove Community School Collaboration.

Lack of funding is forcing the popular program to shut down at the conclusion of its spring classes.

The program requested funds at the February Cove City Council meeting in the amount of $10,000. The request was denied after being tabled for about the sixth time.

“The topic has been discussed a number of times and it didn’t seem there was enough funds to keep the program going,’’ Mayor Jim Lundy said.

Early reading program a success in Elgin

Angie Wilson's kindergarten class of 18 children splinter off into four levels of reading groups for 180 minutes of reading each day. This group is reading “The Man, the Pan and the Egg,’’ an at-grade level book. Seated in the foreground to rear are Kyla Hook, Wyatt Hallgarth, Savannah Gregory, Mariah Ewing and Austin Miller. Photo/TRISH YERGES
ELGIN — The Early Reading Intervention Program and full-day kindergarten classes are credited for placing Stella Mayfield’s two kindergarten classes up and over national reading averages.

Kindergarten teacher Angie Wilson teaches 18 students in her class and has four reading level groups among them. As she prepares for parent-teacher conferences at the end of this third quarter, she has good news to report.

“Ninety percent of our kids are reading at this time,” said Wilson. “About 70 percent of the kindergarteners are reading at the first-grade reading level.”

FFA awards honorary degrees

Santana Braniff sings “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ at the start of Monday’s closing ceremony at the State FFA Convention in La Grande. The Observer/DICK MASON
FFA chapters are only as strong as the support they receive from their communities and school districts.

People like Union County leaders Larry Glaze, Eddie Miguez and Mike Wood thus represent the local lifeblood of FFA. All three have been tireless FFA supporters for years.

On Monday their efforts were saluted in a major way.

The Oregon FFA organization bestowed its highest honor on all three. Each was awarded an honorary FFA state degree during the closing ceremony of the state convention in La Grande.

Introducing Jennie Hagen

This week The Observer introduces a new gardening column.

Garden Guide, by Jennie Hagen of Island City, will run twice a month from April through September and monthly from October through March.

Hagen has more than 30 years of experience gardening on the east side of the Oregon Cascades.

Imbler’s Nick West to serve as state FFA vice president

Imbler High School senior Nick West, second from right, was inducted as the 2009-10 Oregon FFA vice president Monday. The induction was conducted at the closing ceremony of the State FFA Convention. West is shown here with the other 2009-10 state FFA officers. They are, right to left, President Sam Palacio of Bend, Secretary Tyson Snider of Henley High School (Klamath Falls), Treasurer Derek Burbank of Dallas, Reporter Jana Scheily of Scio and Jordyn Coon of Santiam Christian High School near Corvallis. The Observer/DICK MASON
Imbler High School senior Nick West has a meeting set with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C.

West learned this Monday after receiving perhaps the most exciting news of his life — he had been elected FFA State Vice President for 2009-2010.

“I am very excited and elated. I am overwhelmed,’’ West said Monday night.

GRH wins national rural health care award

Grande Ronde Hospital has been named Outstanding Rural Health Organization of 2009 by the National Rural Health Association.

The award committee chose GRH because of the hospital’s “exceptional contribution to rural health services,” according to the notification letter from the association.

Meaghan McCamman, policy and program services manager for the NRHA, said GRH’s nomination was “judged upon the scope of your accomplishments in rural outreach, preventative health and education, quality and efficiency of care, and strong community support and involvement.”

Wallowa County will see contested races in May election

ENTERPRISE — One position remains open on the Enterprise School Board after the March 19 filing deadline, but all other Wallowa County special districts have a full slate for the upcoming May 19 election.

Both the Joseph and the Wallowa school boards have one position each for which two people are competing.

Following is a breakdown of the positions up for election and who has filed.

Wallowa looks to improve its water system

WALLOWA — The Wallowa City Council voted March 17 to approve a request from the city maintenance department to pursue a drinking water infrastructure improvement funding opportunity through federal stimulus package funds.

The proposed improvements are already in the city’s water master plan. They include acquiring property in the Greenhill area and adding a second water storage tank to alleviate the water shortage problems that plague the city of Wallowa from June through September every year.

Skiing Fergi

JOSEPH — Two weekends ago while skiing at Ferguson Ridge, Nancy Huff and I happened, by chance, to meet a pint-size charmer. Her name is Maggie Miller, and she’s only 4 years old.

The chance meeting came about when Maggie and her skiing buddy disembarked the T-bar lift ahead of us, although at the time we didn’t know her name. It was near the end of the day and the crowd had thinned to where it seemed the four of us were the only skiers on the hill. While deciding which run to try we observed one of the two tykes skiing off toward Hayes Maze — a favorite run for tots —  leaving Maggie by herself.

Head Start readies children for kindergarten

ENTERPRISE — What would a 4-year-old say to President Obama if given the opportunity?

Preschool students in the Head Start program in Enterprise got the chance to tell Obama why they are thankful he is supporting their preschool. They talked about how their letter would get to the president, where it had to go, who would take it and how they should prepare it to be sent. Teachers escorted a parade of curious, eager 3- to 5-year-olds to the Enterprise Post Office amid comments such as, “President Obama is my president,” and, “He’s everybody’s president, even my sister’s president!”

FFAers explore job opportunities

More than 30 employers, colleges and other organizations met with students at a career fair, part of the FFA state convention, held at La Grande Middle School. The Observer/ANTHONY WILLIAMS
Logan Ortmann knows that, as a young man soon stepping into today’s economy, his generation will be paying for the current federal bailouts.

Despite that and the rest of the news surrounding the American workforce, Ortmann feels optimistic about his future. He visited the career fair over the weekend at La Grande Middle School that was part of the State FFA Convention and said he has several opportunities available in several fields when he graduates from high school.

“I’m interested in the culinary arts, protective services and nursing,” said the Union High School senior. “I’m currently going to enroll at (Blue Mountain Community College) after the job corps.”

Old skill comes back to life

Bronc Johnson, left, of Lost River and Allen Esqueda of Chiloquin cut through a log Sunday during the double-buck saw competition at the State FFA Convention in La Grande. Looking on are judges David Neese, left, and Will Coltrin. Neese is the advisor for the Chiloquin FFA chapter and Coltrin advises the Creswell FFA chapter. The Observer/DICK MASON
Some consider it a lost art. But Sunday afternoon it was re-discovered by dozens of high school students attending the State FFA Convention.

It is the art of two-person (double buck) cross-cut sawing.

While many FFA students were taking part in public speaking and job interview exams Sunday, several dozen tested their team sawing skills, some for the first time.

DAV van needs drivers

serving those who served: American Legion Post 43 members Dean Norton, Virgil Lewis, Jon Marsh and Ted Hooey are among a half-dozen volunteers who provide transportation for veterans to the VA medical center in Walla Walla. The Legion hopes to recruit more people to drive the Disabled American Veterans van. The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Virgil Lewis fought in World War II. Ted Hooey is a Korean War vet. Their wars are long over, but they’ve never gotten out of the habit of serving their country.

These days, Lewis, 78, and Hooey, 75, are two of just a handful of volunteers working to make sure veterans are able to keep appointments at the VA medical center in Walla Walla.

Members of American Legion Post 43, they drive the Disabled Americans Veterans van whenever they get the call.

Veterans advocate, Union civic leader dies

Jack Zimmerman, a Union citizen long noted for activism on behalf of veterans and service to his community, died suddenly Thursday afternoon. He was 74.

His wife, Bonnie, said Friday that Jack became ill Thursday morning and was flown to Boise. He died at St. Luke’s Hospital.

“I think a lot of people will miss him,” Bonnie said.

State picks Davies to lead EOU

Bob Davies
The first page of a new chapter in Eastern Oregon University’s history was written Friday afternoon.

Bob Davies, vice president for university relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was chosen Eastern’s next president by the State Board of Higher Education.

“I am very, very honored. When the phone call came it hit me what it means. I am very humbled,’’ Davies said.

'Reach for success'

FFA members from around the state gather at the La Grande High School gym Friday night for the opening ceremonies of the 81st annual State FFA Convention. The Observer/CHRIS BAXTER
The Fourth of July came 3 1/2 months early Friday evening at La Grande High School.

A lively fireworks show on the school’s south fields capped opening ceremonies at the 81st annual State FFA Convention.

Ceremonies, almost all based in the LHS gym, will not soon be forgotten by many of the 1,500 FFA members who attended. A high-tech, concert-like atmosphere prevailed in the gym. All eyes were focused on a stage flanked by two large video display boards, illuminated by sophisticated lighting and complemented by a professional-grade sound system.

New home for Elgin's Food Bank

MONTHLY FOOD BOXES are put together by food bank volunteers (left) Harlan Scott, Pat McMullen and Peggy Hayes at the food bank's new location at 1 N. Eighth Ave. in Elgin. Photo/Trish Yerges
ELGIN — The former Derv’s Drug Store space at 1 N. Eighth Ave. is the new home of the Elgin Food Bank.

Property manager Bob Crouser was going to sell the property, said Peggy Hayes, board member and vice president of the food bank.

“It was Bob’s idea that we move in,” she said. “If we could rent it for $200, he wouldn’t sell it. We’ve never paid rent before. It’s always been free, so we welcome cash donations to cover that and the gasoline expenses involved with picking up food from Community Connection.”

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