27 June 2012 by Published in: Opinion No comments yet

“Once Upon a Time in Clatskanie”

by Deborah Steele Hazen

The brainstorming that resulted in that phrase being selected as the theme for the 2012 Clatskanie Heritage Days celebration took place the last time the board of directors for the Clatskanie Chamber of Commerce met at Hump’s Restaurant this spring.

We were all feeling nostalgic about the closing of Hump’s after over 60 years of operating in the heart of Clatskanie. We recalled memories from various points during the long tenure of Hump’s as Clatskanie’s most prominent eating and meeting place, and it was suggested that we ask Pam (Humphrey) and Eric Sellix, the second generation owners of the family-owned restaurant, to serve as this year’s Heritage Days grand marshals.

Pam and Eric thanked us for the honor, but said they planned to be on a long-overdue vacation during the celebration.

As conversations have a habit of doing, our memories of Hump’s evolved to other memories about the “good ol’ days” in Clatskanie. Since the age of the people in the room ranged from 30-something to 70-something, the “good ol’ days” meant different things to each of us.

Since the theme has been announced I’ve had a couple of people remark that they think it’s all about fairy tales.  Perhaps the popular network television series, “Once Upon a Time,” has something to do with that. Well, that’s fine. Part of the idea of developing a parade theme is to keep it open to interpretation and creativity. I’m hoping to see plenty of that in this year’s 4th of July parade.

Stories About Us

In combination with the fact that the organizers of the 4th of July-centered festivities chose long ago to call it “Heritage Days” – an annual celebration of our heritage – what this year’s theme brings to mind for me are stories about Clatskanie.

And, my favorite stories about this town are the ones where the community got together to accomplish a worthwhile project.

There are many examples, the most well-known one being the building of the swimming pool through an all-volunteer effort in the wake of several tragic drownings in the summer of 1958.

Seventy years ago this year, the Clatskanie People’s Utility District began providing electricity to the community. That was a case of local people working together to accomplish a goal that has resulted in low-cost electricity for seven decades.

In the 1980s, this community united to build a library. In 1996 we fought back from a disastrous flood and mudslides.

Along the way there have been successful drives to build ballfields, light them up, and most recently to replace scoreboards; to build the veterans memorial, and  to begin the restoration of the Clatskanie I.O.O.F. hall/theatre building.

This kind of willingness of the people of the Clatskanie area to work cooperatively together for the common good – what we often refer to as community spirit – is, in my opinion, Clatskanie’s defining and most important characteristic.

A lifelong resident and a local businessman for all of his adult life, Rich Larsen will serve as grand marshal of the 4th of July parade. He has been a participant, and frequently a leader, in many of these projects and programs for the good of the community and its residents.

The Story of 

Heritage Days

Among these community spirit projects is the Heritage Days celebration itself.

There is evidence in very early photographs and other historic archives, that the people of Clatskanie have celebrated the 4th of July with various events and activities going back almost to the mid-1850s when the first white settlers arrived.

We date the modern 4th of July celebrations from that summer of 1958, when the volunteer firemen and others involved in the building of the swimming pool, held a huge barbecue in the park to raise funds for the project.

Over the past half century or so, Clatskanie’s 4th of July celebrations have evolved from loosely organized events, centering around barbecues originally put on by the volunteer firemen, then the Clatskanie Area Recreation Endeavor, the non-profit foundation that operated the pool until the Clatskanie Park and Recreation District was formed; then the American Legion and finally the Clatskanie Kiwanis Club.

The number of events expanded, the JayCees were in charge for a few years and then a committee made up representatives from the various organizations in town took over the planning and coordinating. For several years the celebration was known as the “Clatskanie Scramble,” before the name was changed to “Heritage Days” in the 1970s.

That joint organizational committee evolved into an independent committee, which finally burned out about 20 years ago.

It was then that the Clatskanie Chamber of Commerce, made up of representatives of local businesses, industries, government entities and organizations stepped up to take the responsibility for continuing and expanding Clatskanie’s 4th of July traditions.

The Heritage Days Committee is a standing committee of the Chamber but it is open to all interested in helping with the planning and operation of the celebration. In fact, our Heritage Days chair for the past few years, Dave Borgstrom, was the last chair of the independent committee some 20 years ago.

One new volunteer this year commented that she couldn’t believe how few people do so much to put on this celebration that thousands enjoy.

Heritage Days Happily Ever After

There is no way to pay for the costs of the fireworks, porta-potties, garbage service, awards, music, and other Heritage Days-related expenses other than by vendor fees, fundraisers and contributions. Some people have said that it is the responsibility of local businesses to support Heritage Days. They do – and generously.

But, take a look around, the business community is dwindling. Some large, out-of-town-based corporations that do business locally contribute, but not to the degree one might expect.

Why isn’t it the responsibility of everyone who enjoys the Clatskanie Heritage Days celebration to donate a little – either through buying buttons and raffle tickets, or making a direct contribution?

Tax-exempt contributions should be made out to the Clatskanie Foundation and designated for either the fireworks or the logging show. Contributions for general expenses, non-tax deductible, may be made out directly to Clatskanie Heritage Days. All checks should be mailed to Heritage Days at P.O. Box 635, Clatskanie, OR 97016.

There will be one major change in the 4th of July events this year, the Kiwanis Club has decided not to put on the barbecue – a decision made by a combination of factors, decreasing availability of volunteers, competing food vendors and changing tastes and habits of the crowd.

Kiwanis is sponsoring bounce rooms to entertain the children. Due in part to gas prices, Clatskanie has not been able to attract a carnival for the past two years. The carnivals like to go where the biggest crowds are – where they can make the highest profits. So the responsibility falls back on the shoulders of the local people to provide their own fun – the logging show, the trout derby, the rubber ducky races, the “Strut Your Mutt” dog show, Kiwanis Bingo (grand marshal Rich Larsen’s special duty every 4th of July for the past 40 years or so.)

Here’s wishing everyone a fun, safe and enjoyable Heritage Days celebration, and may we all live happily ever after!







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