Oregon Area Community Book's Blog

November 24, 2010

“Miss Oregon”—Not Just Another Beauty Pageant

Filed under: Business, Community — Tags: — oregonareacommbook @ 10:47 pm

by Bobbi Dumas

Anytime a “Miss Something or Other” is mentioned, the inevitable conclusion is that it must be a beauty contest. The Miss Oregon title signified much more.

Miss Oregon, a now defunct event that selected a young woman from the village to act as a representative of Oregon’s Chamber of Commerce, was once a centerpiece of the community calendar. For many of the participants, as well as the women and men who worked tirelessly to put the pageant together, its loss remains huge.

There was at least one contest that predated the Miss Oregon pageant, a popularity event held during the Depression that had the community cast votes for young women who signed up, and ultimately crowned the winner the Oregon Queen. However, the more modern pageant started in 1966, and Pat Anderson (now Wilkening) was crowned the first-ever Miss Oregon.

“It was a big event,” Pat Wilkening remembers, “and it was generated as part of the 125th birthday celebration of Oregon. That year, Oregon also hosted the Alice in Dairyland contest, a big Wisconsin tradition. I remember that the Chamber liked the idea of having someone represent the village across the state, and we were the first small town to do that. The pageant was started, basically, to promote and celebrate Oregon.”

The experience for the girls that year was fairly straightforward. “We each had interviews with judges beforehand, and then we had to do a talent during the pageant. No bathing suits. The Chamber encouraged women between age 16 and 21 to participate, and about 18 of us signed up, with 10 finalists making it to the pageant night.” Pat was crowned on April 22, 1966, by Miss Madison.

 

April 22, 1966: The recently crowned Miss Oregon Pat Anderson, Miss Madison Pat Giese, and Miss Oregon runner-up/alternate Annetta Koepe, represent the Chamber of Commerce, sponsors of this big event.

An excerpt from Pat Anderson (Wilkenson)’s winning speech.

Wilkening’s experience as Miss Oregon was unique. For one thing, she was the only Miss Oregon to attend the Miss Wisconsin contest. After that year, likely due to the cost of entry, Miss Oregon stayed in Oregon – at least from a contest perspective, anyway. “Of course Miss Oregon’s job was to represent Oregon, so I attended community events in Oregon and surrounding areas, taking part in parades and celebrations. Since it was our 125th anniversary celebration, I took Oregon booster buttons to then-Governor, Warren Knowles. Because of that, I was asked, along with Miss Octoberfest, to do a Wisconsin State ‘We Like It Here’ promotion, where we flew with the governor across the state into different communities. It was a lovely experience.”

 

Governer Knowles helped publicize Oregon’s 125th anniversary celebration. From left: Dr. M. J. Wischhoff, Oregon Chamber of Commerce director and general chairman of the anniversary event, Governor Warren Knowles, Jim Cannon, Chamber secretary and chairman of the recent Miss Oregon pageant, Pat Anderson, Miss Oregon, Norm Champion, Oregon Chamber of Commerce President.

Pat considers her year as Miss Oregon a life-changing experience. “It was wonderful. I can’t express how much it did for me, in terms of building my self-confidence and other skills, like public speaking and being comfortable in front of a crowd. But it was so much more than a beauty contest,” Wilkening notes. “There were area musicians who played for the pageant, and Ginny O’Brien helped organize them and make it into more of a show. My year, Buzz Hanson (an active Chamber member and community ambassador) wrote a song that the girls sang as part of the pageant evening. Everyone came and a number of people from Oregon participated. It was a real community event.”

Indeed, ask any person involved in the Miss Oregon pageant history from its beginnings, down to the last couple years, and you’ll hear the same note of affection and wistfulness toward the pageant-era. Most will credit Ginny O’Brien, now 88 and still active in Oregon, as being the principal contributor to the pageant in its first decade.

Pauline McMannes, who pretty much ran the show later, remains amazed at what Oregon pulled together in those first few years. “Ginny didn’t run a pageant, she ran a show. At the time, the pageant was held in the high school auditorium. Ginny was involved with the Madison-area theater guild and had a lot of connections with area artists and musicians. Each year, she would pick a theme, and then would basically write a musical around it. The talent in this town, and the way it came together on the night of the Miss Oregon pageant, was truly something to behold. And it was something everyone in the community got behind. The school, the chamber, businesses and families. It was a sell-out crowd every year. She wrote something every year, produced, choreographed, and found talent in the community to take part. Oregon really stepped up to the plate the night of the pageant, and the whole community just shone.”

If you ask Ginny, she’ll acknowledge that it was hard work, but she modestly attributes the success of the event to “all the people who just put their shoulders to the wheel. Really, it was everyone, not me,” she claims. “The school encouraged the girls to take part, and the people in the community rallied around it. The newspaper wrote about the event and the girls, and everyone turned out. It was a lot of work, but when you’re having fun, you don’t notice. It was truly one of the best things I ever did, and working with the people here who were so committed to making it great, for the girls, and for the community, was an honor.”

 

1978 Miss Oregon Tracie Halverson rides the Summer Fest float with contestants Kay Ferguson, Julie Brindley, and Laura Cower.

Jim Bossingham, owner of B.J.’s Hair Salon, was one of the area residents who was involved from the beginning with Ginny O’Brien’s mini-musicals. He took part by singing in the pageants, helped with the planning later, when Pauline McManus was the major force behind the event, and in 1990 saw his daughter, Deb, crowned as a Miss Oregon. From every angle, Jim feels the event was a great asset to the community, and he would love to see it come back.

“For my daughter, it made a big impact. It helped her sort of grow into her skin, so to speak. It was a very positive experience. But it wasn’t just about my daughter, it was about all the young women who took part. It was never a popularity contest. It was about being able to talk to people, to be polite and social, and a good spokesperson for your community. It was different from the other places they spent time and experiences they might have had. And on the night of the actual pageant, especially in the days when Ginny put together such a fabulous show, but later, too, when the young women had to stand up and give a speech in front of a packed room, it was just such a wonderful experience for all of Oregon. Honestly, everyone was so proud. There was this wonderful feeling of accomplishment in what our small town could put together. The joy was palpable.”

 

“]

1989 Miss Oregon Erin Farrar awards the blue ribbon at the Madison Horse Show. "

Pauline McMannes, perhaps the person most responsible for the event for the longest time, adjusted the Miss Oregon pageant from the musical show into a quieter, less entertainment-focused evening, in part because she knew she wouldn’t be able to replicate Ginny’s accomplishments. “The full production aspect of it rolled back a little, and it became more about the young women and how they would represent Oregon.” Around the time Pauline took over, the event moved from the high school to various supper clubs on the north side of the village (same building, different management/owners through the years) and the talent segment was dropped.

Pauline invested hundreds of hours in the pageant each year and wound up planning it twenty-seven times. “All the young women who participated got a lot out of it, not just the winners. I spent a lot of time with them, helping them feel comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, learning how to give a speech, coaching them so they’d feel comfortable when it came time to sit down with judges for their interviews. The girls tended to bond over the experience, too. It was a special thing.”

Pauline’s Miss Oregon calendar started in January, when paperwork was gathered and the participating young women and a parent were invited to a meeting at Pauline’s home where they would discuss the rules, the schedule and the criteria. Each contestant was required to have an area business or business owner sponsor her. The week-end before the crowning, the women would experience the first segment of the Miss Oregon contest when they each met with four judges, two men and two women from other communities across Wisconsin. The participants were told to dress appropriately for a business interview, and would spend ten minutes with each judge. Pauline organized the judges, a broad spectrum of professionals that ranged over the years from bankers to (legal) judges to business owners, and everywhere in between.

The judges were looking for a number of things, mostly having to do with social skills and the ability to be at ease in conversation with a wide variety of topics and people from every walk of life. Once the interviews were tallied, the same judges would attend the pageant event, a week later. On that evening, the contestants stood in front of the usually standing-room only crowd and gave a speech. The topic was determined at the original organizational meeting, when each participant put a topic into a hat and then picked them randomly. They had from then until the pageant night to write and prepare a speech.

“We worked with them for months,” says Pauline. “I would help them any way I could. This wasn’t planned so that the girls who had the parents most willing to coach them would win. I would coach them if they needed it. I helped a lot of girls. I’d go over their speeches with them and give them suggestions. My goal was to make sure they all felt as comfortable as possible going into the competition. And you know? I believe almost any girl who signed up could have been a Miss Oregon. They were all great. But if they wanted help, I’d give it to them. I spent a lot of time with the girls, and they spent time together. If you ask most of them, they’ll tell you it was a fun time. A lot of them developed some special friendships from participating in Miss Oregon.”

The pageant crowning event was a dinner/dance, where the contestants wore formals. The judges would listen to the speeches, and would watch the young women during the dinner. “They were looking for other things than just how they gave their speeches,” Pauline adds. “How did they treat other guests? How did they interact in the crowd? Were they polite? Did they mingle, or just talk to one or two other people? Once, one of the girls sat in a corner all evening and read a book. Well, she was a nice girl, but you didn’t really want her to represent Oregon at social and community functions.”

After all the speeches were finished, the judges tallied the scores, and Miss Oregon was crowned, usually in the early spring. “The newly crowned Miss Oregon would dance with her father for a few minutes alone on the dance floor, and then all the other young women would join them with their fathers.”

Becky Bomkamp was crowned Miss Oregon in 1982.

“I know a lot of people think pageants are silly, and there were naysayers even in Oregon, when the pageant was a highlight event. But I honestly believe we provided a great experience for the young women of Oregon, and we helped them develop skills that would help them throughout their lives. We tried hard to make this event about being poised, friendly, articulate young women, comfortable in who they were and how they presented themselves to the world. We tried to separate it from beauty or popularity.”

Speaking to women crowned as Miss Oregon, you get the sense that they agree with that assessment.

Ginger Neath (now Zimmerman), Miss Oregon 1972, was a longtime dance studio owner in Oregon, and remembers the pageant as completely removed from her high school experience. “I wasn’t popular in school. In fact, I was already studying dance seriously, with the intention of becoming a professional. The Miss Oregon pageant was a pivotal point in my life, and was a wonderful experience, but I’m sure, for me, winning had more to do with my outside interests and passions, and being able to talk about them, than it did any school popularity.” (And in Ginger’s case, doing them, since her experience included a talent – and she chose Hawaiian dance, which she was studying with intensity.)

Becky Bomkamp (now Groenier), Miss Oregon 1982, also feels grateful to the experience. “It impacted me, certainly, though I can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. It was a great year, and I met a lot of interesting people. It certainly added to the layers of who I am and what I’ve done. And since it wasn’t a ‘popularity’ contest, it seemed more real to me. You had the sense that the most popular girl at the school wouldn’t win just because she was the most popular girl at the school. It was about more than that.”

Oregon Observer, Thursday, March 18, 1982: 'Cooning' lions Last Sunday the Oregon Lions Club sponsored a Coon dog trial at the Oregon Sportsman's Club north of the village. Many entries from surrounding areas participated in the event. Raffle tickets were sold and Kenneth Loomes was the first-place winner of a shotgun. Joining in the festivities was Miss Oregon, Becky Bomkamp. Shown: Miss Oregon Becky Bomkamp draws the winning ticket, with Oliver Culles (left), head of concession and food, and Joe Byrne, (right), chairman of the raffle, in the white hat.

 

Deb Bossingham agrees. “It was a great program. There was scholarship money and a stipend for clothes. The duties of Miss Oregon included attending lots of area functions and community events, but I also welcomed new businesses into the village, and acted as an ambassador for the Chamber both within Oregon and outside of it. My dad was a Shriner, so we traveled to places all over Wisconsin, and it was fun to be in the parades and represent my hometown.”

The Miss Oregon contest saw a lot of change over its nearly three decades of existence. Alice Seeliger, former Oregon Chamber of Commerce President, notes that there were a few reasons for the event’s eventual demise. “While I do think there was a change in the attitude toward beauty pageants in general (and we did have our share of opponents to the program), we purposefully made a sincere effort to promote the program as less of a beauty pageant and more of an opportunity to earn scholarship money by becoming a very visible representative of the Chamber and the business community. And, appropriately, we promoted gender equity by renaming the program ‘Oregon Ambassador’ to allow young men to participate in the program. At least one young man did take advantage of that opportunity.

“I think once Pauline stepped down, the people who took over didn’t understand how much work she’d put into it to make it as special as it was, volunteer organizers were reluctant to take over the task, contestant applications dwindled, the Chamber needed to reallocate its resources and, eventually, the program was discontinued. It’s a shame, really.”

That’s a sentiment shared by almost everyone who had anything to do with the pageant. The Miss Oregons and Oregon Ambassadors, the planners, the supporters – all of them feel that the program was so much more than what people think of when they hear the phrase “Miss Oregon.” And in its passing, Oregon lost a wonderful community event and a great resource for its young women and men, not to mention visibility for Oregon in other communities.

“I’d love to see it come back,” Pauline McMannes comments, her voice soft and wistful. “I’d be willing to consider doing it myself again, if it meant the Miss Oregon pageant came back.”

“Miss Oregon” Chamber Representatives, 1966-1992

  • 1966 Pat Anderson
  • 1967 Betty Hoffland
  • 1968 Marcia McAllister
  • 1969 Nancy Stoneman
  • 1970 Laurie Kennan
  • 1971 Barb Miller
  • 1972 Ginger Neath
  • 1973 Gail Bentley
  • 1974 Lynn Okey
  • 1975 Terri Winch
  • 1976 Pam Jensen
  • 1977 Debbie Abrams
  • 1978 Tracie Halverson
  • 1979 Kelly Champagne
  • 1980 Penny Swinehart
  • 1981 JoLynne Jensen
  • 1982 Becky Bomkamp
  • 1983 Andrea Lukonic
  • 1984 Carla Christensen
  • 1985 Jill Guerink
  • 1986 Jackie Garvoille
  • 1987 DeAnne Anderson
  • 1988 Renee Frank
  • 1989 Erin Farrar
  • 1990 Deb Bossingham
  • 1991 Jeanne Horstmann
  • 1992 Tina Gefke
Advertisements

12 Years at the Home Café

Filed under: Business — oregonareacommbook @ 4:09 pm

by Roberta West and Doris Schnabel

One day in November, 1963, Fritz Kivlin and Earl Wheeler asked the Powers sisters (Roberta and Doris) if they would like to rent a defunct business. The sisters talked it over they decided that they would.

The restaurant had been closed for months. The sisters had to do a lot of cleaning before they could open up. There was still food on the dishes and silverware all over. It took them two months to get it ready to open.

Finally they were ready to open for business on January 20, 1964, at 5 a.m. They decided to call the restaurant at 104 North Main Street in Oregon the Home Café.

One day the foremen of the construction crew working on the new Highway 14 begged them to open up at 4 a.m. so the crew could have a solid breakfast. They decided to open up at 4 a.m. and to pack lunches for the workers as well.

 

Home Cafe ad from FFA 1976 personal planner

There were other early risers who appreciated a good place for breakfast open at 4 a.m., including an Oscar Mayer worker who came from Evansville and a DJ working the early shift at a radio station in Madison.

Every year the hunters would come to eat first. They also served a lot of police officers.

The café hours were Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday open at 4 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. On Wednesdays and Fridays they stayed open until 7:30 p.m. They closed on Saturday at 2 p.m. and stayed closed on Sunday. They needed a day off!

The restaurant was famous for their homemade pies. They made a variety of different pies. They also had homemade cinnamon rolls and doughnuts. The doughnut recipe came from their Grandma Kelly. They also made cakes, cookies, and brownies.

People coming through Oregon to go to Madison would call ahead to order whole pies. Also people would order a tray of cinnamon rolls to take to work with them.

 

The Home Café at 104 N . Main Street in June 1972 and in July 1972, after the building next door was demolished.

The menu included roast beef every day, plus a second choice like chicken, pork chops, meatloaf, and others. They served homemade soup and chili and sandwiches. One of the favorite sandwiches was their beef salad sandwich.

Roberta did the cooking and kept the books, while Doris waited tables out front. Over time, they employed seven or eight workers, many of whom stayed for years. Dorothy Alling, Alice Jones, and Vera Klitzman were long-time cooks at the Home Café.

Family members also worked in the business. Roberta’s daughter waited tables and Roberta’s son came to wash dishes before going to school. The sisters’ mother and Doris’s mother-in-law also worked at the restaurant.

In the basement was a room where groups like the Chamber of Commerce and WP&L could meet over a meal. Meanwhile, upstairs the restaurant was a popular gathering place. A bunch of guys played “the number game.” Whoever lost had to pay for everybody else who was playing.

Every Christmas Roberta and Doris held a party for their employees. They made cookies for the kids at Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving.

Running a restaurant is difficult when raising a family. Doris sold her shareof the business to Roberta when she had her last child in 1971, but later returned to work for Roberta.

An ice storm in 1976 brought requests that the restaurant stay open 24 hours, to serve people who had lost their electric power. “They told us we’d get rich,” the sisters recall, but they couldn’t because they didn’t have enough help.

The appeal of rising early and working long hours, and the heat of 1976, finally wore thin. Roberta sold the business to Larry and Shirley Gilbert.

Today, Doris and her husband Lawrence live on Prairie View Street. Roberta and her husband Kenneth live on Park Street.

Doris Schnabel (left) and Roberta West (right) at the site of the Home Café in 2010.

November 18, 2010

Visit our “Pop-up Bookstore” Dec 4th, 1-4pm!

Filed under: Uncategorized — oregonareacommbook @ 12:54 pm

Local authors will sell and discuss their books at the Firefly Coffeehouse in downtown Oregon on December 4th, 1-4pm.

Oregon-area authors Julia Meyers, Coffee and Cake (a memoir about adoption and the search for birth parents,) Jann Kalscheur and Lynne Diebel, ABC’s Naturally (a children’s alphabet book), and Shelley Glodowski, Murder on the Wrong Note (a murder mystery) will be featured.

The participating authors will contribute 5% of their book sales to the Oregon Area Community Book project, a community collaboration that will capture the Oregon area’s past, present, and future.  Sales of the book, when complete, will benefit the Oregon Public Library and Oregon Area Historical Society. Thank you to our local authors who have agreed to participate!

Other area authors selling books at the event include:

  • Steve Busalacchi, White Coat Wisdom (interviews with doctors about their passions)
  • Richard Chamberlain, Hitchhiking from Viet Nam (memoir) Cybernetic Possum (poetry)
  • Patty Lucas, Journey to Michipicoten (historical novel)
  • Joanne Ritland, Conversations with Kids series, (bedtime books to enhance this special time of day)
  • Carolyn Sumner, Kate the Kook’s Book (cookbook from Evansville newspaper, 1950s, reprinted and enhanced)
  • Anne Vandenburgh, Lindbergh’s Badger Days (local history)
  • Sarah White, Write Your Travel Memoirs, (writing craft), Madison Women Remember (local history), and other titles
  • Jean Willett, Dear Mom and Dear Cousins (family letters compiled into engaging, humorous books)
  • Jerry Zelm, What Your Doctor Never Told You! (medical advice)

 

November 12, 2010

Ginger’s Dance School

Filed under: Business — oregonareacommbook @ 8:04 pm

by Ginger (Neath) Zimmerman

I began my career as a dance instructor in 1969, holding classes in my parent’s home in Brooklyn, Wisconsin. In 1981 I moved my studio to Oregon. In the 31 years of my teaching career, thousands of students from Oregon, Brooklyn, Evansville, Verona, Belleville, Stoughton, Janesville, Brodhead, Orfordville, Fitchburg and Madison have attended my classes. I’ve had many children study continuously at my studio from the very young age of 3 right on through till they graduated from high school.

The interest was so strong that I needed classroom demonstrators, and found them among my own talented students. Some of these dancers continued with their classes and soon found themselves on the faculty at my dance school.

 

Ginger's Dance School 1994 group, dressed for "The Lady in Red". Front: Kristin Woodworth. Middle: Dawn Zuelke, Paul Rebman, Jenny Cornwall, Jeff Bellus, Amos Mikkelson, Dena Schneeberger, David Zuelke, and Carrie Loftus. Back: Jessica Wilkening, A.J. Wooten, Jenni Gefke, Bill DiMartino, Travis Powers, and Jamie Rogers

We performed recitals each spring to showcase the dancers. My students performed on national TV for the half time shows of the Hall of Fame bowl and Citrus Bowl. Locally, my dancers appeared in the Wisconsin Dance Ensemble’s production of the Nutcracker. Two young women who studied with me were crowned ‘Miss Oregon’—Deanne Anderson and Tina Gefke.

My own training includes a teaching certificate for Polynesian (hula and Tahitian) dance received in 1971, a BA in ballet, tap and jazz in 1975, and a Masters in 1982.

I loved each and every student as if they were my own, and became very close to all the parents too. Some of my students have gone on to become dance school owners, and teachers for dance schools in other towns and states. I instilled, poise, grace, confidence and the love of one’s self in each of my students. I’m proud of each and every one of them.

Today I live in northeast Wisconsin with my husband Robert (Zimmy) Zimmerman. I have four grandchildren, Braedan and Harrison (Tina), Elnora and Greta (Jenni). Do I miss teaching dance? Yes, very very much, but being able to keep in touch with so many of my former students is wonderful.

Ginger’s Dancers Remember…

Dance. It is more than just a word to me. It was a lifestyle, a desire, a love, a commitment. Dance did more for me than just teach me the techniques of ballet, jazz, hula, tap, etc. Dance taught me discipline, determination, self-confidence, and most of all fun. It gave me confidence in other areas of my life. Through the years of being a little dancer, advancing to Demonstrator on up to being an Instructor, Ginger ensured we felt proud of ourselves and our achievements as dancers and teachers. I made lifelong friends and remarkable memories that I’ll always hold very close to my heart. Lady in Red, Freeze Frame, Poi Balls, Ice Castles, Free Willy—the memories go on and on forever. Thank you Ginger! We love you!

—Jamie Rogers, Ginger’s Dance School 1979-1994

As I look back, you really gave us a lot of great dance experiences, not just in the studio, but taking us “small town” girls to the big city of Chicago and of course Hawaii.

—Faye Freidig -O’Connor

I started dancing for Ginger in the basement of her parent’s home when I was just three years old and I have never stopped dancing since! Ginger gave me the greatest gift anyone has ever given me, the gift of dance. While growing up, dancing was just a part of me, and the girls I danced with are still my friends today. I demonstrated for Ginger and learned how to teach directly from her by watching, listening and adopting her techniques, much the same way a carpenter passes down a trade.

We attended classes and seminars in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison. We traveled as part of a hula troupe and danced for people of all ages at Hawaiian events. During high school, she also inspired me to tryout for Miss Oregon, I was crowned Miss Oregon in 1988. After graduating from college at UW-Madison with degrees in Journalism and Psychology, I married and had kids of my own who were lucky enough to be able to take classes at Ginger’s Dance School in Oregon for a year or two.

In 2001 I decided to start my own school at a local fitness center in Brodhead. This year the Brodhead Dance Academy will celebrate 10 years of dance—all inspired by Ginger’s gift. Ginger’s gift keeps giving…

—DeAnne Anderson Boegli http://www.brodheaddance.com

November 11, 2010

Oregon’s Open Book Club

Filed under: Social — oregonareacommbook @ 9:06 pm

by Sarah White

“They call themselves the Oregon Open Book Club, but they could as easily be called the open mind or open heart book club.” So began a profile of one of Oregon’s oldest book clubs appearing in the Capital Times on June 25, 2005.

The Open Book Club sprang from the foundation laid by Nancy Stearns of the Oregon Arts Council during America’s Bicentennial in 1976. Given the directive to “get some things going in Oregon,” she began the cheerleading that led to the club’s first official meeting on Wednesday, February 2, 1977. The first book the club chose to read was Blackberry Winter by Margaret Mead, an autobiography considered interesting for its insight into the professional life of a woman scholar in the 1920s and 1930s.

After that first meeting in the Bank of Oregon’s community room, the club began to meet in the homes of its members. In its early years, participants were mostly women with young families. “We had a number of women who joined us but then went back to work. Now they’re retired, and are coming back to the group,” explained Bernie Treichel, who has been a member since the club’s beginning. In the early years the club met at 9:30 in the morning, but shifted to different weekdays. That allowed people with different schedules to participate. Meetings were publicized through local women’s clubs and posters at the library and post office.

The Open Book Club settled into a routine of loosely structured meetings with the role of discussion leader shared.  The club decides its reading list at the start of each season in September, with a title specified for each month through May. At least one book each season will be written by a Wisconsin author, and at least one will be drawn from the young adult genre. The club tried to select books available from the library, to accommodate members’ limited budgets.

December’s meetings have always featured holiday readings and festivities. “One year we had ‘old lady’ tap dancers,” Peg Schmidt, another founding member, recalled. February is often paired with romantic reading. May features poetry and, to celebrate the close of the reading season, a lunchtime potluck.

The club occasionally meets with Wisconsin authors. The group visited Peggy Dopp, one of the authors of Tomorrow Is a River, a book set in Peshtigo during the Civil War era, at her home in Waupaca.  “When we talked to her, it was clear she’d been writing it all her life,” Bernie said. Jacquelyn Mitchard is another author who has visited the Open Book Club.

"This picture was taken at the gathering for Jacquelyn Mitchard. Y Unfortunately Jacquelyn has her back to us. It was fascinating to heard her speak." -Penny Root

Over the years, the club’s reading selections have been eclectic. Authors have included James Baldwin and James Herriot, Danielle Steel and Maya Angelou. Surprisingly popular was Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear. “Why read prehistory? I couldn’t grasp how that could have relevance,” Peg recalled her objection at the time. That book became one of the most well-liked by club members. It generated a lot of discussion about everything from herbal medicine to women’s roles, in the years when we didn’t have very organized discussion.”

At the other end of the spectrum was Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly, published in 1990. “Most of us felt it wasn’t very realistic,” Bernie admitted.

The club has no rules for discussion, and members come to meetings even when they haven’t read the book. Discussion might start with “Did you like it?” and move on to aspects of the book or its subject matter.

Occasionally the club takes on charitable projects. “It came about after we saw the movie ‘Calendar Girls,’” Peg recalled. A cookbook to generate money for Habitat for Humanity  in Oregon and Brooklyn came first. With Bernie leading the charge to contact celebrities to donate favorite recipes and club member Mary McDaniel doing most of the editing, the book was completed and became a fundraising success. “We’ve started bringing personal care items to each meeting, to donate to the Oregon Area Food Pantry. That came out of a meeting with the Cynthia DiCamelli, the family coordinator at the Oregon School District, where it came up that people needed items like shampoo and tooth paste,” said Peg.

In 1977 the Open Book Club was the first book club in Oregon to publicize its meetings and welcome all comers.  Over the years, many friendships have been forged. Now meetings frequently draw more than a dozen readers. The conversations are so enjoyable that even blizzards can’t stop them. Schools may close, but not the Open Book Club.

In 2004 the group began meeting at the Firefly Coffeehouse. Meetings commence at 9:30 a.m. on the first Tuesday of every month and are open to all.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.