Commentary, Front Page, Oakridge/Westfir, Uncategorized

First Oakridge bureau reporter for Register-Guard has ‘fond memories’ of the Upper Willamette area

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dean rea,musings,highway 58 heraldSome Herald 58 Herald readers may remember Mike Richmond.

The 26-year-old former Marine freshly graduated from college was hired in the fall of 1962 to live in Oakridge and to report news of the Upper Willamette region for the Eugene Register-Guard.

mike richmond,eugene register-guard,oakridge bureau reporter
Mike Richmond as he appeared in the Aug. 3, 1962, issue of The Eugene Register-Guard that announced his assignment to cover news in Oakridge and surrounding area. Register-Guard archives

Mike was one of three reporters assigned to the newly established bureau system of covering news outside the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area that I directed as the county editor.

I soon moved on to a teaching career at the University of Montana and lost track of Mike and other members of what we called the “Rat Pack.”

So, much to my surprise and delight, I recently heard from Mike, who moved on from Oakridge to a reporting career at the San Diego Evening Tribune in California,  He is now retired in Jupiter, Florida.

In his letter he wrote:

“I have fond memories of Oakridge, the great people I knew and the beautiful environment. I remember meeting Doug Bates’ father at a shoe store he owned downtown. The Bates brothers were in high school at the time I believe.

“My lifelong interest in nature and the environment was really embedded during the year in Oakridge and other years at the U of O and The Register-Guard. One time, I rode horseback several hours with a Forest Service pack train carrying roof shingles up a mountain to a fire lookout. I interviewed the college kid who was from the East Coast who spent weeks at a time at his lonely post. He would also be the one to re-roof the lookout cabin.

oakridge elementary school pupils,fire pole,mike richmond,eugene register-guard
Oakridge and Westfir elementary school students took turns sliding down the pole in the city’s fire station either in 1962 or ’63. Mike Richmond/Eugene Register-Guard

“Especially memorable is the annual Oakridge Tree Planting Festival whose queen was Mary Alice Helikson, a high school senior. When I asked her what she wanted to do with her life after high school, she said she wanted to be a doctor. Decades later, in 2005, when my U of O alumni directory arrived, I found the notation that Ms. Helikson was a pediatric surgeon in Portland.

“There were plenty of accidents in those years on Highway 58 . . . I remember a Southern Pacific freight train derailment involving a half-dozen or more cars on the edge of town and lots of debris strewn on the ground. I had to hurry taking photos because I saw railroad cops and ‘suits’ heading toward me. I dashed away and dropped my film off at the Highway 58 service station in time for it to be put aboard a Greyhound bus that would take it to Eugene.”

In his letter, Mike said, the year he lived and worked in Oakridge “had so much to do with how my career with the San Diego Evening Tribune starting in 1967.”

While there he covered most of the major news beats, including, city hall, state and national politics, energy and the environment and transportation. Among highlights of the politics beat was the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami Beach.

jackknifed truck,highway 58, 1962-63,mike richmond
Snow on Highway 58 caused this semi-truck to jackknife during the winter of 1962-63, and reporter Mike Richmond was there to photograph it. Mike Richmond/Eugene Register-Guard

“I was fortunate to travel through seven European countries and visit a number of places in Mexico and elsewhere thanks to occasional assignments from the travel editor. I flew through the eye of a hurricane off the Baja California coast in a Hurricane Hunter aircraft. During the Vietnam War the Navy flew me several hundred miles out to an aircraft carrier in the Pacific that was returning from the war. I interviewed pilots who had shot down Russian aircraft.

mike richmond,eugene register-guard,softball award
Richmond, who is now 86, recently was inducted into a senior softball association’s Hall of Fame for his public service. He continues to play the game three mornings a week, which he says “is the best lifestyle medicine there is.”

“After retiring from the newspaper in 1992 when the morning and evening papers merged, I was on the San Diego staff of U.S. Rep. Lynn Schenk for two years followed by six years as San Diego district director for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.”

After Mike left Oakridge for California, Jim Boyd and Doug Wilson were among those who covered Upper Willamette news for The Eugene Register-Guard. Besides the bureaus that I established in Oakridge, Cottage Grove and Florence, a fourth was subsequently opened in Junction City. All were eventually closed.

After getting in touch with Mike, I asked if he would be interested in returning to Oakridge and serving as the editor of the Highway 58 Herald. He declined, saying that he’s busy playing softball in a senior citizen league where he recently was honored for his service.

He admitted, however, that the honor may not have been so much for his prowess as a player as for his volunteer service as a communicator, a skill that he sharpened more than six decades ago in an Upper Willamette community that he still “fondly” remembers.

Longtime Oregon journalist Dean Rea, widely known for his years as a University of Oregon journalism educator and as an editor at The Register-Guard in Eugene,  serves as editor of The Herald.

mike richmond,train derailment,oakridge bureau reporter,eugene register-guard
Wreckage from a 1962 train derailment near Oakridge was photographed hurriedly as Southern Pacific railroad authorities closed in. Mike Richmond/Eugene Register-Guard


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