Transportation group honors Union woman

December 03, 2001 12:00 am

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

When Carmen Gambill of Union got to the Oregon Transportation Conference at Seaside, she thought it was going to be a disappointment.

First, her registration didnt seem to be there. Then, no one would tell her why she was there.

Then the awards started being given out, and the one she thought she had a chance at went to someone else.

Gambill decided that the conference meal might be the best chance she was going to have to eat a great meal before she drove home to Union.

No one let a hint drop, Gambill said. I just about lost it.

With all the expected awards handed out, the emcee at the conference started talking about one more volunteer. Someone who has been volunteering to help out rural transportation since 1972. Who drove the original blue bus. And on and on.

I thought it was sounding familiar, Gambill said as she recalls the day.

It was. The comments were about her.

Gambill had been nominated by Frank Thomas of Community Connection for the Volunteer of the Year Award for the Oregon Transportation Partners Awards. The award honors achievements and contributions of organizations and individuals enhancing communities through public transportation improvements.

But when her nomination was reviewed, volunteer of the year didnt quite seem to fit.

Instead, the nominating committee decided to provide a special first-ever award for Gambill.

The committee decided Gambill had earned a Lifetime Achievement award, said Kari Seely, information specialist for the Transit Association.

The award ceremony noted that Gambill had been one of two gifts to Union Countys Community Connections program from the Air Force back in the early 1970s. The other gift was a 16-passenger surplus bus.

Gambill, it was noted, often drove from Union to La Grande to volunteer with the transportation program, a duty she continues today.

Little stops her. After finding winter tires for a newer Community Connections bus earlier this week and getting them put on, she picked up her regular passengers and drove into La Grande for doctors appointments, shopping, and the noon meal at the senior center.

Since this all happened last Wednesday, as county roads were being closed, Gambill said the trip took longer since everyone had to wait in La Grande until the highway to Union was reopened in late afternoon.

When the association added everything up, they determined that Gambill has driven more than 300,000 accident-free miles providing public transportation during 78,500 trips.

According to Seely, Carmen has transported elected officials, youth offenders and everyone in between.