One person, or small group, can affect change in the world

November 13, 2013 09:29 am

Three interviews in two days revealed a constant theme upon which I stumble so often I wonder if it deserves mentioning.

Three different individuals who recently moved to Wallowa County all told me, “People are so friendly, kind and generous.”

My entry into the county was fairly solitary, but my first friend remains one of my closest. She kept me from being utterly isolated in a canyon with mostly guests and migrating birds for company.

Friends of the former owner would stop in for a visit, a cup of coffee or a beer. Chuck Fleser was one of those people who made a difference in the lives of those who knew him, be it friends, family or guests at his motel. I was lucky to inherit some of them.

Last Sunday, I heard two different stories of how just one person, or a small group, can affect change in the world. The first was about a tiny Midwestern parish that started a publishing house, a parish the same size as St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Enterprise.

The other story was about Oskar Schindler, a German who saved the lives of many Jews during the Holocaust. In telling me his story, my friend emphasized how much Schindler did for 1,200 people all by himself.

I was recently asked to speak to a local group of women about being a small-town reporter. I mulled over the different angles my talk might take and I decided I wanted to address the importance of mentoring. I thought about the lousy examples of my past as well as some quite excellent ones.

Dr. Michael Coy, my anthropology professor, made such a dent in my soft, coddled mind that I will quote him forever. His energy, his knowledge and his humor kept his classes’ rapt attention. Cancer stole him at the age of 39. I miss him to this day.

Paul Gleason was my fire management officer on the Redfeather District of the Roosevelt National Forest in Colorado. He, too, was quite quotable and wove Chinese philosophy in with the mathematics of fire behavior. Cancer stole him before he turned 60. My friend John Mclean posted a picture of him last summer. I could hear his rumbling laugh as I stared at the picture of a man gone these last 10 years.

Making a difference in someone’s life can be as simple as a hug or as magnanimous as raising money in a time of crisis.

Sunday night I attended one of our quintessential Wallowa County events — a young boy from Lostine, Zeb Ramsden, contracted a rare disorder this fall called Steven Johnson syndrome, a reaction to antibiotics which burns the skin. Zeb was flown to Emmanuel Hospital in late September and has recovered well, but the family has incurred huge medical bills in the last couple months.

So, as we do, an auction was held at the Wallowa High School gym and undisclosed thousands were raised during the hour and a half of bidding. Auctioneer Craig Nichols got bids on everything from pies to hay to fence building. Zeb was in attendance, on the mend from a scary experience and obviously loved by his neighbors. Local piano legend Brady Goss leant his ivory-tickling talents, and a donation jar in the gym’s foyer was stuffed with fives, 10s and 20s.

No, it doesn’t surprise me to hear people say their first impression of this county is that of warmth and generosity, but, like the hymn on Heidi Muller and Bob Webb’s new album “Dulcimer Moon,” How can I keep from singing?