Amanda Weisbrod

It was cold when Everett Grandeen rolled into town at 1 p.m. on Jan. 3, 1966. Only 5 or 10 degrees, in fact. The logger, 22 years old at the time, drove his two-wheel drive pickup to Northeast Oregon from his hometown of Corning in Northern California, looking for work and adventure as a “footloose and fancy-free” young man.

Grandeen, who was also an amateur rodeo star back in the day, decided Elgin was the place for him as it was full of “cowboys, mill workers and loggers” like himself.

“It was a wild town back then,” he said with a laugh, reminiscing about the old and rowdy days of Odie’s Steakhouse and Bronco Room, once a popular Union County destination for more than two decades.

While it was the type and quality of people that initially drew him in, Grandeen said it was the town itself that made him want to stay put in Elgin for more than 50 years. And ever since he retired from his job as a delivery driver for Franz Bakery, he has had even more time to give back to his community.

At the Chamber Awards Banquet in mid-March, the Elgin Chamber of Commerce recognized all of Grandeen’s efforts when they named him “man of the year.”

“The reason he was chosen for man of the year was because of his civic duty and how much he does through the Lion’s Club and Grande Ronde Hospital,” said Kathy Rysdam, treasurer of the Elgin Chamber of Commerce. “He’s very community minded and very active.”

But his love for philanthropic ventures didn’t truly spark until his two children were growing up, as he found himself running the Union County Little League organization and forming a Boy Scouts troop in Elgin. His activity in the community snowballed, especially when his time freed up, until he eventually seemed to have a hand in almost everything in town.

“It makes me feel good to help people,” Grandeen said. “And when they’re appreciative of it, that just makes you want to do more to help.”

Between his roles as a Lion’s Club member, the vice president of the Elgin Museum and Historical Society and a volunteer at GRH, Grandeen’s schedule is quite full. But Kathy Oliver, president of the Lion’s Club chapter in Elgin, said Grandeen always makes time if something needs to get done.

“Everett is a very busy man. He’s always doing something,” said Oliver, who has known Grandeen for more than 40 years. “You could call him at whatever time and he would do whatever you asked.”

During his speech at the banquet, Gerald Hopkins, president of the Elgin Museum and Historical Society and man of the year in 2018, listed many of the outstanding acts of service Grandeen has provided to the community: building sets for the Elgin Opera House, working with the Lion’s Club on roadside cleanup programs and collecting nonperishables for the food bank were only a few among them.

As soon as Hopkins mentioned Corning in the beginning of his speech, Grandeen said, he knew he was about to be named man of the year, and he could hardly believe it.

“In my heart and in my gut, I felt ‘oh this can’t be,’” he said. “It feels fantastic to follow so many people you respect and look up to.”

However, during an interview with The Observer, it was difficult for Grandeen to admit to all of the work he’s put into serving the community over the years, as he avoided the topic by circling back to the other “vibrant” Lion’s Club members and their efforts instead. Both Hopkins and Oliver praised Grandeen for his humility, and said this recognition is well-deserved.

“I would call him a very quiet, modest person who works very hard to help others, and a person you can rely on,” Hopkins said. “He’s kind of one of those unsung heroes where he goes about and does things when the spotlight’s not on him.”

As Lion’s Club president, Oliver said it’s members like Grandeen who really make the organization shine.

“We have a fantastic club, and it’s people like Everett who make it that way,” she said. “He doesn’t draw attention to himself — ever. But he’s a hard worker and he loves people. He’s a helper.”

And Grandeen wasn’t the only Lion’s Club member to receive an “of the year” title at the 2019 Chamber Banquet Awards. In fact, the entire organization was honored at this year’s event for its dedication to the City of Elgin and its citizens.

“The Lion’s Club is just a fantastic organization. They do so much for Elgin,” Rysdam said. “For any group that needs help, the Lions are there.”

Among the other honored Lion’s Club members were Elgin City Councilor Risa Hallgarth as “woman of the year,” Cowboy and Angel’s Place co-owners Teri and Dave Fuhrman for “business of the year,” and Elgin Family Dental staff member Lezlie Reid as “employee of the year.”

Oliver could barely hold in her excitement when recalling the feeling of pride she had for the Lion’s Club and all of its members the night of the banquet.

“The tables were even decorated in our colors, and I am just so proud of our club,” she said. “It was very heartwarming.”