ONE VERY SPECIAL SONG IN THE REPERTOIRE WAS ”TOUCH A HAND, MAKE A FRIEND.” THIS SONG WAS THE CENTRAL MESSAGE FROM THE LITTLE TOWN OF COTTAGE GROVE, TO REACH OUT THE HAND OF FRIENDSHIP TO ALL OF THE OPRY’S AUDIENCES, AND MAKE A FRIEND IF YOU CAN. Photo provided
Last week in this column, you were either introduced to or were reminded of a Cottage Grove cultural institution: The Western Oregon Opry. This week we learn how the Opry went international, representing Cottage Grove at the World’s Fair, Expo 86, held in Vancouver, B,C. on July 5th, 1986.
Expo 86, World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, which ran from May to October, coincided with Vancouver’s centennial, and was opened by Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
July 5th was Cottage Grove Day, and over 100 Grovers had made the trip – most of the City Council, The Western Oregon Opry, an a cappella group called ”The Grovetones” and just regular folks who had planned their vacations to be there for the Grove’s big day.
This presentation of all things Cottage Grove was the result of over eight months of effort by the CG Expo Committee and many volunteers. The idea to present Cottage Grove’s many attributes on the world stage was conceived by Mayor Jim Gilroy and commissioned by the City Council.
The City’s program was one of 41 Oregon towns and counties that used the Oregon state pavilion at Expo 86, and one of the best organized, according to state officials.
The Opry’s appearance at Expo was the culmination of a tremendous amount of effort and determination. Annie Manning was looking for a way to participate in ”Hands Across America,” a national program to fundraise and publicize the plight of the hungry.
The Opry had to audition and be approved by the City Council, and spent over a year of fundraising and organizing to prepare for the trip.
The group, in addition to figuring out how to get there, had to develop and polish a world class act that remained true to the Opry’s roots. There were many rehearsals and woodshedding sessions in addition to their monthly gigs at Dorena Grange and, oh yeah, day jobs to work around.
The group did a dress rehearsal of sorts with a performance at the Chamber of Commerce’s ”Bonanza Sweepstakes Dinner” shortly before crossing the border.
The Western Oregon Opry’s contingent didn’t travel by chartered bus, and instead jammed amps and equipment into personal cars before heading up Interstate-5, according to Larry Barkemeyer.
Tootie Williams said, ”We couldn’t believe The Opry was actually going until we got to Portland.”
Western Oregon Opry members representing Cottage Grove were: Annie Manning, Kristy Manning, Iris Barkemeyer, Larry Barkemeyer, Glen Wagner, Tootie Williams, Doug Daniels, Dorothy Booher, Bob Stratton, Chuck Booher, Chris Booher, Sharon James and Rudi Booher.
Decked out in white shirts, red silk vests and white cowboy hats, the band performed ”Blue Canadian Rockies,” ”Cripple Creek,” ”Your Cheatin’ Heart” and theme song ”Western Oregon Opry” among other tunes and skits.
One very special song in the repertoire was ”Touch a Hand, Make a Friend.” This song was the central message from the little town of Cottage Grove, to reach out the hand of friendship to all of the Opry’s audiences, and make a friend if you can.
This song was meant to promote the hunger program, and the band hoped that people would feel compassion and love for their fellow beings – to help those hungry and in need.
Where better to share that sentiment than the World’s Fair through music while representing their hometown?
The song, originally recorded by the Staple Singers, had hit number one on the Country Charts in a version by the Oak Ridge Boys in 1985. So important was this theme to the Opry crew, that it was engraved on a appreciation plaque given to Annie Manning as a token to her leadership by the grateful members.
After regaling throngs of Expo visitors, the Opry still had plenty of music left in them when they returned to their hotel. They spilled out into the hallway and kept the music rolling for hours. When guests congregated in the halls, Opry members inquired politely if they were bothering them. The guests assured them no, and asked the musicians to keep playing.
After the Opry returned to Cottage Grove, they were super juiced and energized for months on end. They had a big party to celebrate their accomplishment. From looking at the photographs of their performance at Expo 86 and hearing the stories, it was a proud day for the Western Oregon Opry and for Cottage Grove, Covered Bridge Capital of the World!
P.S. My sincere apologies to Jim Duer, founder of the Western Oregon Opry for my having misspelled his name in last week’s column. His contributions deserve better, thank you Jim!
Contact Dana Merryday:
541-942-7037; [email protected]