Cottage Grove

The Western Oregon Opry, part 1

I spent a delightful rainy afternoon at the home of Annie Manning and Neil Fain surrounded by newspaper articles, photo albums and golden memories.
Additionally, Larry Barkemeyer, Bob and Sharon Stratton, and Tootie Williams gathered ’round the kitchen table and took turns reminiscing over a truly special community treasure known as the Western Oregon Opry.
“Those were great times” is the comment that I heard over and over again. The Opry, from the beginning, was planned as family entertainment that was good, clean and wholesome. It started off upstairs in the old Dorena Grange in 1982, and steadily grew into something much larger while still remaining family oriented.
It was the vision of Jim Deur who wanted to help kids grow up right and be able to be there with their families. The music covered quite a variety, bluegrass, old time, new and older country tunes, mountain music, gospel and all mixed in with skits and novelty items.
Some of the early folks who helped Deur put on the show were Glen Wagner and Rob Murtaugh. When Deur was called to Washington for a job, the Opry was hanging loose without a rudder, so Manning stepped up to help keep it going.
The Western Oregon Opry was a volunteer effort, nobody got paid, money was raised by the modest entrance price, as well as food and drinks sold by the Grange were donated to various causes. The Opry proved very popular, and the monthly performance often filled the house to capacity.
“The format was really not only to provide a show,” said Manning, “but to provide an atmosphere for families to enjoy and it also gave a place for local musicians a place to share their talents.”
Barkemeyer and the others agreed, it was a tightly run ship with not too much down time, the next performer was waiting in the wing while you did your set, then off to make room for the next performers.
Stratton remembered a legendary skit performance of the Hatfields & the McCoys complete with carved wooden mountaineer rifles. Banter with the audience as well as signs that were “hillbilly-uped” and repartee with arriving guests added to that Opry flavor.
To keep it interesting, the younger set did more modern music, such as Cindy Lauper’s “Time after Time,” performed by Kristy Manning. Then, we had the Eckstein Family, the Booher Family and more that stole the show many nights. But that was the Western Oregon Opry, something for everybody. Throughout the night there would be the Opry house band to warm up the crowd, fill in the gaps and sometimes close out the night.
“People are still excited about what we did,” said Stratton.
After awhile, the Opry folks saw the need for more structure and they incorporated into a nonprofit corporation with a board of directors and legal status. The emphasis probably should be on the nonprofit because everyone volunteered their time and energy, and you could feel that in the house: Performers putting their hearts into the show for the good of the community.
“If I can take people away from their daily cares but for a few moments, I’m happy,” reflected Manning, AKA Annie Mae Rhodes bandleader.
Tune in next week as the story continues, The Western Oregon Opry goes to the World Fair, Expo 86, in Vancouver B.C.!

Dana Merryday – 541-942-7037, 205 – [email protected]



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