Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Parents hit the desks in school switch day

EO file photo
Jill and Allen Stiffler attempt to solve an algebra problem sitting at the desk of their daughter Kim Carter at Weston-McEwen High School Feb. 23, 1994. Parents filled in for many students at the invitation of the school.

Parents of Weston-McEwen high school students entered the wayback machine in February of 1994 when they switched places with their kids and went back to school for a day. It was a chance to see what their kids were learning and doing, and most parents were pleasantly surprised.

Librarian Ruth Kostur and teacher Jennifer Riley were the brains behind the switch, which proved to be both instructive and frustrating for adults who scrambled to make it to class on time and stared blankly at math problems scribbled on a white board. The idea, said principal Wayne Kostur, was to get parents more involved in their students’ academic lives.

It wasn’t exactly a fair trade, though — while parents were dealing with sticky lockers and hypotenuse triangles, their teenagers were sleeping in and watching TV.

“It’s great,” said Tim Pupo, who switched with daughter Tammy for the day. “They ought to make it mandatory.” Pupo said his daughter had planned to make the trade mutual, and cover his job at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton, but a basketball injury put a kibosh on those plans.

For most of the 40-something students-for-a-day, school had changed considerably in the ensuing decades. Computers were now a mainstay in the classroom, and science classes were much more challenging. Some things, though, remain the same — math is still hard, and impromptu speeches still aren’t any fun.

The point wasn’t correct answers or perfect attendance, however. “If you had to struggle a little bit,” said teacher Elvin Taylor after his sixth period math class, “then it will help you understand the struggles your kids go through sometimes.” He was talking about trigonometry, but he might as well have been talking about the whole exercise.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tiny heroine saves parents from fire

Former Pendleton residents George Waterman and his wife Ina were living in Spokane, Wash., in 1955 where George owned and operated a tavern. In Pendleton George had worked as the manager of a paint store, while Ina was an assistant in the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce office. Their pride and joy was daughter Shelley, born in Pendleton three years earlier.

The precocious toddler repaid their gift of life that year when she saved her parents from a house fire in mid-April.

Early that morning (the East Oregonian did not have an exact date for the incident) a short circuit in the family’s living room caused a desk lamp to catch fire. The fire began eating away at the wall and burned a large part of the living room floor. At about 6 a.m., Shelley got up to get herself a snack in the kitchen, as was her regular routine. She smelled smoke and went to the living room to see the flames gaining headway. Because the window in her parents’ bedroom was open, they did not smell the smoke.

Did three-year-old Shelley panic and run screaming from the house? On the contrary, she walked into the bedroom and announced calmly, “Mommy, the house is on fire.”

The Watermans fled the burning house and called the fire department from a neighbor’s home. Firemen were able to save the rest of the home, and though most of their belongings were damaged by smoke and water, the loss was covered by insurance.

Had Shelley not been in the habit of getting up early and taking care of herself while her parents slept, which undoubtedly gave the little girl self-confidence and resilience beyond her years, she might have been an orphan that day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Teens and dynamite a volatile combination

Missing dynamite is a worrisome problem, especially when it starts showing up attached to the underside of bridges inside city limits. So Heppner police and Morrow County officials were breathing a little easier in February of 1964 after three 15-year-old boys admitted they were the culprits in the theft and subsequent explosive mischief that had been plaguing Heppner and its environs for some time.

According to a Feb. 24, 1964 story in the East Oregonian, after finding several city bridges wired with dynamite, officials checked the powder building (apparently located near the new high school in Heppner), and found 150 pounds of dynamite and a spool of primer cord missing. Some of the explosive devices they found were rigged with gun shells, from which the bullet had been removed, inserted in the end. Police were alarmed because it looked as though the shells had been pounded with rocks or hammers; anyone succeeding in setting off a blast in that manner would have been killed or seriously injured.

The boys also took their lives in their hands when they used primer cord as a fuse for some of their homemade bombs — primer cord also contains explosives. The boys admitted they used a .22 to set off some of the blasts. And they also confessed to blowing up a cattle guard on Black Horse Road.

The case was referred to juvenile court by District Attorney Herman Winter. At sentencing, Morrow County Judge Oscar Peterson ordered the boys to clean the county road from the city limits to the city dump once a month until the end of the school year, and serve as laborers for road work during the upcoming spring break. They also were ordered to make restitution for damage to the locks on the powder house and the cattle guard.

Most of the stolen dynamite and primer cord was recovered; the boys had used only 10 sticks of dynamite in their attempts to “make a big noise.”

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Frigid climate sparks Senate campaign, contest

Considering the recent polar weather systems ravaging the Midwest, I thought this Associated Press story from the Feb. 20, 1989 East Oregonian was appropriate (and amusing):

Byron Chamberlain, a high school assistant football coach from Sheridan, Wyo., was declared the winner of a tongue-in-cheek contest sponsored by the Billings (Mont.) Gazette to rename the state of North Dakota.

The contest was a response to North Dakota state Sen. Tim Mathern’s campaign to rename his state “Dakota.” Mathern said he wanted to dispel the notion that North Dakota was “some sort of arctic wasteland,” and blamed the word “North” in the name for the misconception. The 159 Gazette readers who entered the contest, however, for the most part made suggestions based on North Dakota’s famously frigid winters.

Among the entries were “Darn Dacolda,” “Zipdacoatup,” “Weardakotandhat,” “Saskatchacolda,” “Subtopia” and, bluntly, “Land of the Frozen Dead.”

Chamberlain’s winning entry? “Manitscolda.”

Chamberlain won a one-way bus ticket from Billings to Bismarck, N.D., or the cash equivalent of $45. He took the cash. Considering the high temperature in Bismarck of 5 degrees that weekend, it was a smart move.