Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Morrow County honors returned POW

Morrow County gathered in April 1973 to welcome home one of its own. Michael “Butch” Benge, a graduate of Ione High School, was taken prisoner during the Tet offensive in 1968 in Vietnam. Following five years as a civilian POW, Benge was freed by his captors and flew home for a brief visit with his family.

Benge joined the International Volunteer Services in Vietnam in 1962 and then the Agency for International Development in 1965 as an area development advisor. He was adopted as a blood brother by the Montnegards, with whom he was working in the central highlands in Vietnam. Captured by the Viet Cong on Jan. 31, 1968, Benge was held in various places in South Vietnam for two years before being taken to North Vietnam.

“Welcome Home” signs on the walls of the Morrow County fair pavilion greeted Benge as he and his family joined 450 Morrow County residents at a potluck welcome reception April 16, 1973, in Heppner. Mayors Robert Drake of Ione, Gene Orwick of Lexington and Jerry Sweeney of Heppner presented Benge with keys to their respective cities, and other gifts included a tape recorder and typewriter, as Benge planned to write a book about his five-year captivity. He also was invited to attend the Oregon Legislature as an honored guest of State Rep. Jack Sumner of Heppner. Glenn Ward, chairman of the “Michael Benge Day” committee, said the outpouring of support was so great there weren’t enough jobs to give all the volunteers.

When Ward, a friend of the Benge family for 20 years, asked Benge how he was able to keep up with all the activities since his return, Benge replied, “Well, for five years I’ve been doing nothing.”

Benge returned to Washington, D.C., the following Monday, where he was being treated as an outpatient at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Following his release from the hospital, Benge planned to campaign around the U.S. to push for an accounting of other prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Quick action by teens saves diabetic girl

Glenn Hamby is well known in Pendleton as an advocate for kids. The Pendleton police officer has been part of the DARE program in Pendleton schools for many years, and recently grew out his curly locks with other members of the Pendleton police force to donate to kids battling cancer. But Hamby began his advocacy for local kids as a teenager when he and two friends saved the life of a girl on the edge of a diabetic coma in August of 1970.

Bruce Evans, a 10-year-old Pendleton boy, was wrapping up a day at the pool when he realized he couldn’t find his 9-year-old sister Sandra. The girl was diabetic and Bruce knew she could be in trouble if he couldn’t find her. He ran home and told his mother, Mrs. Dan Evans, who immediately called her husband and the police to search the North Hill area for the girl.

In the meantime, Glenn Hamby, 14, and friends Andy Palmer, 14, and Bryan Rainwater, 12, were also walking home from the pool when they saw a girl acting strangely in an empty lot, weaving and staggering. Glenn noticed a bracelet on her arm and recognized it as a medical alert bracelet from his Boy Scout training in first aid. Andy ran to find a phone to call police and Glenn found another phone to call an ambulance while Bryan remained with Sandy. The boys were waiting with her when both Gallaher and Dan Evans drove up at the same time.

Chief Gallaher and Evans put Sandy in the police car and took her to the hospital. She had passed through the diabetic convulsion stage and was sinking into a coma. After a night in the hospital, Sandy returned home and was completely recovered from her reaction.

In all the excitement, the Evanses didn’t get the names of the boys who saved Sandy’s life. Chief Gallaher had recognized Glenn, so the East Oregonian tracked down the other boys by calling his mother, Mrs. Robert Hamby. The boys were reunited with a grateful Evans family to receive their thanks.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pony Express rides again

An invitation for Idaho Governor Charles (C.A.) Robins to attend the Oregon City Centennial celebration passed through Pendleton July 28, 1948, on its way to Boise. But the invitation wasn’t traveling by U.S. Post Office mail, it was carried in a saddlebag on the back of a horse. As part of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Oregon City, invitations were sent to the governors of adjoining states via the Pony Express — or, at least, a recreation of the mail system that ran from Missouri to California between April 3, 1860 and October 1861 prior to the invention of the telegraph. Washington Governor Monrad Wallgren also had an invitation delivered by horse.

Janice Daugherty, queen of the 1948 Umatilla County Fair and a member of the Hermiston Trail Dusters, rode into Pendleton and handed off the saddlebag containing Idaho’s invitation to Patti Folsom, queen of the 1947 Pendleton Round-Up, at exactly 8 a.m. Folsom took off so fast that a message from the city of Hermiston to the city of Pendleton was forgotten in the packet and had to make the trip to Idaho.

Folsom and other members of the Mustangers riding club in Pendleton ran their leg of the journey through Tutuilla and the Umatilla Indian Reservation on the way to Kamela, where they were to meet the La Grande Riders later that day. The journey was scheduled to cover 36 miles, with the packet changing hands every four miles. The Pendleton contingent arrived in Kamela so far ahead of schedule they traveled another six miles, meeting the La Grande group on the way. And they covered the distance in a record 3 hours, 11 minutes, according to old-timers who said “When you make 14 miles an hour, mostly uphill, you’re a-travelin’.”

Kathryn Lazinka, who rode three sections of the route, made the final handoff. Lazinka was one of the most famous Mustangers of the time and was leading for both the men’s and women’s senior championships for the 1948 Mustangers season. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Round-Up serves as backdrop for 1924 movie shoot

A rowdy group of Pendleton people was out in force in August 1924 when Hoot Gibson, star of Universal Pictures and the first all-around champion of the 1912 Pendleton Round-Up, arrived with a crew from the California studio to shoot the outdoor scenes for two movies. One, “The Ridin’ Kid from Powder River,” was staged on Emigrant Hill near Meacham, in the Blue Mountains east of Pendleton. The second movie, “Let ’er Buck,” would use the 15th annual Round-Up as its backdrop.

Accompanying Gibson were the movie’s director, Edward Sedgwick, female lead Marion Nixon, and Josie Sedgwick, who had the “sympathetic lead” role. The company also included Tommy Grimes, who won the steer roping contest in the 1923 Round-Up; Tommy Sutton, winner of the 1923 Northwest bucking contest; and many other notable cowboys and cowgirls. Pendleton locals Herbert Thompson and Mrs. James Sturgis also were chosen by Sedgwick to play small parts in “Ridin’ Kid.” Round-Up president Henry Collins and James Sturgis earned bit parts in “Let ’er Buck,” and many of the scenes for the second film were shot not only at the Round-Up Grounds but in Pendleton’s streets, with locals as extras.

Action scenes for “Let’er Buck” were shot during the rodeo’s daily performances, but the film crew had to follow strict rules. Nothing is allowed to interfere or slow up the competition during Round-Up competition. Nothing but the actual competitions are allowed in the arena, which is kept clear of everything but the competitors. Gibson and his company, in order to film the action of his story, had to take the action of the Round-Up as it really happened, with no specially arranged stunts. Where the story called for footage of Hoot or any of his company in the Round-Up events, they had to participate as actual competitors, and his cameramen had to take the results as they actually happened. But the “gang” was eminently qualified, as all were past rodeo champions.

As an added bonus for the troupe, Josie Sedgwick was chosen to serve as queen of the Round-Up during the 1924 celebration. Edward Sedgwick was made an honorary “Pendletonian” during the crew’s time in the Round-Up City. And Gibson was presented with Mrs. Wiggs, a bucking horse that tossed him in 1913, who was retired after 12 years as part of the Round-Up’s famous bucking string.

In 1912, Gibson drifted into Pendleton with not much more than the clothes on his back, and walked away with the rodeo’s highest honor. When he returned in 1924, he gave back something to the town that helped him get his start, spending a reported $80,000 in cash during the movie shoot. “Pendleton treated me right when I was flat,” said Gibson. “It never forgets the cowboys that helped put the Round-Up over when it was young, and I just wanted to show that the boys never forget Pendleton either.”