Blue Mt. Forum bids adieu

By Guest Column Linda Elegant March 07, 2009 09:02 am
Sir Brian Urquhart, former Undersecretary of the United Nations, spoke in La Grande in April 1997 on the topic, “The United Nations: Past, Present and Future” at the first event sponsored by Blue Mountain Forum.

He was followed in August by state Sen. David Nelson and Rep. Mark Simmons discussing “Reflections on the 1997 Legislative Session.’’ In November of that year, Wayne Inman, retired Portland police officer and retired Sheriff of Yellowstone County, Montana, who had been featured in a documentary, “Not in Our Town,’’ spoke about racism in American society.

The first year’s programs had been planned by a local group that met for the first time on Feb. 6, 1997, at the home of Gary and Kate Hathaway to form an organization whose purpose was “to bring to this region informed and distinguished speakers to promote diversity and substance in public discourse.”

David Bishop, Camille Hawkins, Dick McDaniel, Jill Nichols, Vince Savage, Lani Schroeder, Mickey Savage, Doc Savage and Sue Orlaske participated in the discussion of the Statement of Purpose, election of officers and appointment of committee chairs. The High Desert Forum of Bend was a model for the formation of Blue Mountain Forum.

In October 1997, under Chair David Bishop, the group incorporated as a non-profit organization.

Many of the group’s early programs were presented at the Union County Senior Center. Tickets for a small charge were required, though students and members were admitted free to many programs. Major contributors were the Education and Arts and Sciences programs at Eastern Oregon University, Union County Commission on Children and Families, Oregon State University Extension as well as the Forum itself.

By the end of the first year, Blue Mountain Forum had 200 members at $25 per member and invited others in the community to join.

Among other early programs were presentations by Bill Sizemore, executive director of Oregon Taxpayers United, on Jan. 15, 1998, and Russell Sadler, syndicated columnist, on Nov. 14, 1998.

In 1999, the Blue Mountain Forum presented a workshop on “Youth Aggression and Violence” for teachers, councilors, volunteers, family workers and others interested in understanding aggression and violent behavior in youth and finding ways to prevent or solve these growing problems. Dr. Mark Eddy of the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene and Dr. Charles Martinez, National Institute of Mental Health Postdoctoral Fellow, were featured speakers at the workshop, which took place in the conference room at the Ag Service Center on McAlister Road.

Ted Kramer of The Observer, John and Louise Van Schoonhoven, Hanley Jenkins, Nan McDaniel and Paul Oester had joined the BMF board by the end of 1999.

“The West: Its Past and Future” was the title of a two-day conference presented at the Blue Mountain Conference Center Oct. 13-14, 2000. The program included conversations about western identity led by Doc and Connie Hatfield, ranchers from Brothers; Teresa Jordan, writer; Walt Minnick, CEO of Summer Winds Garden Centers; and William Kittredge, Eastern Oregon native and writer. Kittredge also presented an address at the Saturday luncheon titled “Balancing Waters.”

Ed Marston, publisher of High Country News of Bend, chaired the two-day event. High Country News, Grande Ronde Model Watershed and eight other partners helped to finance the program. Jennie Tucker was the paid coordinator under the direction of Sue Orlaske and Jill Nichols.

Tucker joined the Blue Mountain Forum as program coordinator in the summer of 2001 to develop programs presented by the Forum. She continued in this position until 2008.

A one-day symposium, “The Blue Mountains: A Sense of Place,” took place April 15, 2006, at Eastern Oregon University. Presenters included Kathleen Dean Moore of Oregon State University; William Lang of Portland State University; Bobbie Connor, executive director of Tamastslikt Cultural Institute; Ellen Morris Bishop, geologist and writer; and Jeff Blackwood, retired Umatilla National Forest supervisor. Sponsors of the event, in addition to EOU and BMF, included Wallowa Resources, Wildhorse Foundation, BLM, Oregon Council for the Humanities. and the U.S. Forest Service. Spencer Beebe, president of Ecotrust, presented the keynote address and the program concluded with an original musical composition of poems by retired EOU professors Thomas Madden and George Venn set to music by John McKinnon of EOU, and performed by McKinnon, Peter Wordelman and Matt Cooper.

Under Tucker’s leadership, the Forum expanded its programs to include Chautauqua lectures and literary events including the annual Oregon Book Awards author tour as well as individual authors.

Over the years new people have joined the Blue Mountain Forum Board including Ted Brown, Linda Birnbaum, Les Tipton, Linda Elegant, Tim Sheehy, Judy Loudermilk, Don Sands, Marilyn Levine and Sarah Witte of EOU, and Tom Bradbeer. One member of the original board, Camille Hawkins, has served throughout the 12 years.

The Forum established partnerships with other local groups and institutions including the local Chamber of Commerce, Grande Ronde Model Watershed, Eastern Oregon University, The Observer, Earth’NBooks, East Oregon Forum of Pendleton and Cook Memorial Library.

More than $60,000 has been received from grants and contributions in the period 1999-2008.

Other popular programs have included Wes Hare, city manager, speaking on “Iraqi Community Development’’; Dr. Shapur Shahbazi of EOU speaking on “The Middle East’’; John Damis of PSU on “Turmoil in the Middle East’’; Harriet Isom, rancher of Echo and a retired U.S. ambassador, speaking about her experiences as a career diplomat; and Joan Burbick, who presented a program on “Rodeo Queens and the American Dream.’’

Dr. David Allen shared photographs and tales from his motorcycle travels including adventures on the Silk Road. Dr. Frederick Pratter spoke about his teaching at Tajik State University in Tajikistan. On July 8, 2007, Ursula LeGuin and Molly Gloss, writers, presented a reading to an overflow crowd in the Cook Memorial Library community room. In 2008 Kevin Cahill, La Grande High School French and English teacher, gave a popular two-part presentation: “From the Classroom to the Countryside, a year in Southwest France,” about his experiences as a Fulbright Exchange teacher.

The board of Blue Mountain Forum has decided to conclude its existence following a program by Molly Gloss at Cook Memorial Library at 7 p.m. March 11. It will transfer remaining funds on hand to Cook Memorial Library for continuing public service programming and events that will fulfill the original purpose, “to bring to this region informed and distinguished speakers to promote diversity and substance in public discourse.’’ A potluck celebration for members and friends of the Forum is planned for May 2 at Pleasant Grove Grange in Summerville.

The board expresses acknowledgement and gratitude to the many people who have worked on programs, supported and attended events over the years and to the community partners who have helped make the many programs and events possible. It encourages the people of Union County to continue support and participation as the library assumes this important function.

Linda Elegant has served as president of the Blue Mountain Forum the past two years.