Senator Jeff Merkley’s Town Hall in Bandon

IMG_2549Every year, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley commits to visiting each of Oregon’s 36 counties and holding a Town Hall.  Bandon was honored to host this year’s Coos County’s Town Hall on Wednesday where about 140 community members came to ask Senator Merkley questions and give him feedback on important local issues to take back to Washington D.C.

After a welcome by Bandon School District superintendent Diane Buche and the Pledge of Allegiance led by a Harbor Lights Middle School student, Bandon’s City Council president Claudine Hundhausen introduced Senator Jeff Merkley, a native Oregonian whose family was involved in the timber industry.  The senator then took the microphone and wasted no time acknowledging local greatness: the number of high school students in the room, the elected community leaders, and Leslie Clarke who represented Bandon’s ASPIRE program which helps high school students explore options and prepare for their lives after high school.

Senator Jeff Merkley took a few minutes to update the group on some issues facing Washington DC right now, all with short timelines: the quickly dwindling Highway Trust Fund, soon-to-expire sections of the Patriot Act including legislation regarding collection of phone records, and the recent adoption (and his concerns about) by the Senate of the Fast Track legislation which would pave the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  He received rather enthusiastic applause from many folks when he mentioned his “no” vote on Fast Track.

Despite Merkley’s passionate feelings about Fast Track and the TPP and his willingness to discuss them further, the audience did not even approach issues regarding trade.  Questions did cover local and national issues including the protection of the local cranberry industry, veterans’ benefits, Oregon’s high school dropout rate, fracking, big banks, corporations and lobbyists, and abortion.

Senator Jeff Merkley addressed each question respectfully, obviously aware that the questions wouldn’t be posed if they weren’t important to the community.  Without dodging or doublespeak, he answered each question directly and as fully as he was able to.  He spoke remarkably easily and off the top of his head about nearly every issue raised, and when he was unfamiliar with a topic, such as some specifics about the cranberry market, he committed to following up and learning more.

Andrew P., a Bandon High School junior, asked the senator a question relevant to many Bandon residents.  He asked about action that has been or can be taken to protect local cranberry farmers from an oversupply of cranberries and lowered prices as well as whether or not the senator has considered giving incentives to big companies such as Ocean Spray to purchase local cranberries instead of purchasing berries from international markets.  After opening it up to any potential cranberry experts in the room, Jeff Merkley referenced action he took in response to the community’s earlier request to have the state buy local cranberries for the school lunch program.  He mentioned that he and others are promoting local products internationally, and assured the audience that with the help of his field representative, he will follow up and learn more about what he can do to protect local growers.

Bandon High School senior Rose G. brought up articles she has read about Oregon having the highest high school dropout rate in the country and asked the senator what he is doing in Oregon and in Washington DC about this issue.  Merkley said that when he has talked to educators across the state, their explanation for the high rate is a lack of funding.  He explained that in Oregon, funding for education has shifted from property tax to the state which causes a yearly or every-other-year battle and acknowledged that Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are underfunded.  To illustrate this point, Diane Bouche reported that Bandon schools just lost another $10,000 in Title I funding.  Positing another possible explanation, Merkley said that he has been told a number of times that interestingly, Oregon has some of the highest graduation standards in the country, so it is simply more difficult to get a high school diploma than in other states.

Senator Jeff Merkley took the opportunity to segue into another issue about which is he obviously passionate.  Underfunding of education, he said, is partially a result of national decisions and not about the wealth of our country.  Although we as a nation are wealthier than we were 30 years ago, he explained, our class sizes are larger, college is more expensive, and Pell Grants have diminished in relation to the cost of tuition.  If only 1/3 of the $120 billion a year spent on the war in Afghanistan, a war, he explained, where the strategy went “way off track,” it would have made a huge difference.  Merkely is continuing to look ahead to try to prevent what he sees as future mistakes.  He is co-sponsoring the SANE (Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures) Act which would update defense spending and prevent $1 trillion being spent on nuclear weapons.  The savings would translate directly into increased funding for education.

About 40 of the Town Hall attendees were Bandon High School students who had obviously spent a great deal of time preparing for the event, studying the issues and formulating thoughtful questions to ask the senator.  Their preparation paid off; the students asked relevant questions that spanned local and national issues, and they were praised by Senator Merkley.  Beaming, he told them they had done the best job of any high school groups he’s seen with their ready and detailed questions.

For more information on the issues that Senator Jeff Merkley is working on both in Oregon and in Washington D.C., go to



Get to Know the Bandon Playhouse

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From “Anything Goes” to “South Pacific” to “Steel Magnolias” to “Grease,” the Bandon Playhouse has been entertaining audiences with a wide variety of dramas, comedies, variety shows and musicals for nearly 40 years.

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Ron and Kathie Lecce.  Ron is the president of the Bandon Playhouse board, and his wife Kathie is a board patsy3member as well.  They made their way from California via the Medford area, and when Kathie, who has a theater degree, was hired as the new postmaster in Coos Bay, they began looking for a small town to finish raising their kids.  They decided on Bandon as their home base and feel fortunate to have much of their family still in town and in the area.

The Bandon Playhouse is an integral part of the Bandon community, and there’s much more to running a theatre than one might think!  Ron and Kathie were happy to share with me the history and goals of the Bandon Playhouse as well as its strategies, structure, successes, struggles, and future plans.

On July 26, 1976, some local theater-types, including Sharon Hennick, Tosca Means, and Alice Stadelman got together and decided that Bandon needed a community theater.  Their simple goal was to give live entertainment to the people of Bandon, and within just one year, their first production “Picnic” was on stage in Bandon High School’s cafeteria, regardless of its lacking sound and lighting systems.  Working for many years without a facility of its own, the Playhouse used the high school and then Ocean Crest Elementary School for its shows until they began working with the Lion’s Club on a facility project.  They put their creative and motivated heads together, and the idea for the Sprague Theater was

The Lion’s Club began raising money for a building project, and the design phase began in November, 1996.  Many businesses and individuals in the community stepped up and donated funds, materials and skills for a new theater.  Cardas Audio was a major contributor, not only donating money, but playing an integral role in the planning phase, making design recommendations for maximum amplification of the sound.  The seats were donated by Coquille’s Sawdust Theater which was undergoing renovations, and the seats were then “sold” to donors.  Today one can see name plates commemorating those donors on the back of each seat, and inside the lobby is some beautiful wall art in the shape of a tree, each leaf inscribed with the name of an individual or businesses who donated money to the building of the theater.

beauty & beast 2The creation of the Sprague Theater was truly a community effort.  Beaming just a bit, Ron said, “You could actually call it ‘grass roots’ theater.”

The original plan for the Sprague was for it to be a true community theater, to be used not only for the Bandon Playhouse productions but for other groups as well.  Today, it is also used regularly by the MarLo Dance Studio, New Artists Productions, the Bandon School District, and the Bandon Showcase, and it


is available for groups to rent for large events such as weddings and conventions.

With a building to call home, the Bandon Playhouse continued its goal of providing quality live entertainment to the community.  Early on, they realized they needed to appeal to the diverse interests of the town’s residents and visitors, so they decided to do a variety of productions each year, typically a comedy or drama in February, a comedy or drama in June, a musical in August, and a Christmas production every other year in & beast

For many years now, the Playhouse has kept a fairly regular performance schedule, putting on 3-4 productions a year, but it has had its share of struggles.  For a variety of reasons, they have had to cancel a couple of productions. “It hurts,” Kathie said, “but you have to just try to get on.”  It is also difficult at times to find directors for the productions they’d like to do, and they have had people come up from Coos Bay and even Portland on a couple of occasions to direct.  Although it is very rewarding and well worth it, directing is a big job and is a time commitment.

Putting on a play is a true team effort, and there are many different and very important people involved.  An audience is typically focused on the actors, and many are aware of the presence of the director’s artistic vision, but few think about the incredible work that goes on behind the scenes.  A stage manager alerts waiting actors to the approaching curtain and organizes props, set builders carefully construct scenery, crews tear down the set at the end of each run, and seamstresses carefully alter costumes to fit the actors.  People are also needed to serve as ushers, to run the snack bar, and to be front of the house manager of the night and make sure that all goes well in the lobby.

Businesses in the community give a great deal of help to the theater as well.  Many buy ad space in a play’s program, and others sponsor individual productions.  It has been an important way for businesses to be involved in the greater community and for the theater to get critical financial support.

Everyone is encouraged to get involved in the theater in whatever role they feel comfortable.  When a director is ready to get a production going, the Playhouse puts notices in “The World”, the Coffee Break, and the “Bandon Western World” to call for actors and other volunteers.  Ron encourages everyone to consider how they might get involved.  “The best thing we can tell people is, ‘if you think you’d like it, come out and try it!’”  In an effort to bring in directors, the members of the Playhouse community are happy to support anyone who has an interest in directing, even though they may not have experience.

Becoming a general member of the Playhouse for a $5 annual fee is another way for people to get involved.  Members can attend the meetings on the first bethlehemThursday of each month and give their feedback, suggestions, and input to the board, and membership is a requirement for involvement in a production.  Experience in theater is not a requirement for membership, just an interest in the theater and its success, and the board is always happy for “new blood” to join.  Board members are elected from this group annually.

The Playhouse is looking forward to an exciting future, and they have their 2015 season set and ready to go.  Their first production will be a reader’s theater in June.  A reader’s theater feels somewhat like a radio program where the talented cast, typically small, works without a director and rehearses only a few times before the performance.  They sit with the scripts and read their parts, the audience’s imagination filling in the scenery and action.  In August, the Playhouse is looking forward to putting on the fun musical “Spitfire Grill” with a cast of 6, and in December, they will bring back “Bethlehem Road,” written by Bandon resident Neil Davis.  Since its first run in 2007, Davis has added to and refined the Christmas-themed musical, and we will see a couple new numbers this year.

The Bandon Playhouse has kept its goal to produce diverse shows, and its productions have always been high quality.  They’re all very proud of the work they’ve done, from popular musicals such as “Grease” to entertaining comedies like “Lend Me a Tenor” to lesser known yet thought-provoking dramas such as “The Trip to Bountiful.”  As a non-profit organization, all the money made from ticket sales goes back into the theater.  Not all productions net the same kind of return, however.  The well-attended musicals support the others that don’t see the same kind of ticket sales.

Adult ticket prices range from $12-$15 depending on the type of show, a bargain compared to other community theaters.  “It’s definitely not a money-making operation!” Ron emphasized.

Making money is not the goal of the Playhouse, however.  Their goal is to encourage performing arts and bring live entertainment to the people of and visitors to the Bandon community, and with the hard work of the board; the talent of the directors, actors, and backstage crew; and the support of the community, they’re doing just that.

Volunteer Opportunities in Bandon

You may have seen a number of notices lately in the Coffee Break calling for volunteers in a wide variety of areas.  This winter might be a perfect time for you to take your extra time and your talent and donate it to a worthy cause!

The ways your volunteered time benefits others are many and varied, but did you know that it can benefit volunteers of all ages just as much?  Volunteering helps tie people to the community and widen their support systems; develop social, employment, and general life skills; maintain mental and physical health; and live a longer and happier life.  Find our more on the benefits of volunteering.

There are many different volunteer opportunities right here in the greater Bandon area.  Whether you are interested in working with children, the sick and elderly, animals, hungry families or books, everyone is sure to find something to fit their needs and interests.

BRAVO: Bandon Readers and Volunteers Organization
Join others at Ocean Crest Elementary on Tuesday afternoons to help 1st and 2nd graders develop their reading skills by reading with them.  Contact the Ocean Crest principal Mary Rae Anderson at 541-347-9282 for more information.

CHH Hospice
Coastal Home Health and Hospice is looking for compassionate volunteers to help support patients and their families in the home and in indirect care with administrative-office support.  Volunteers help families and the CHH Hospice staff throughout Coos and Curry Counties.  For more information, call Lynnie Denne at 541-512-5040 or email her at

CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates
If you are interested in helping children who have been abused or neglected, consider becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate.  CASA volunteers work with the court system and Oregon Department of Human Services to ensure that all necessary information is given to the court so judges can make the best decisions for children.  If you are interested, attend an informational meeting on January 28 from 2-4 p.m. at The Grounds coffee shop inside Books by the Bay at 1875 Sherman in North Bend.  Volunteers will receive 30 hours of free training in March and April.  If you are interested, contact Laila Dunham at 441-435-7013 or email her at

Bandon Public Library
For those looking for flexibility and a bookish environment, consider volunteering your time at the Bandon Public Library.  They are always looking for helpers to check in and shelve books.  Stop in at the library at 1204 11th St. SW or call 541-347-3221 if you are interested.

Bandon Library Friends and Foundation (BLFF)
The BLFF’s mission is to furnish and continue to improve the Bandon Library with a view towards the inevitable growth and needs of the community.  They sponsor activities to advance literature and learning as well as special programs that enrich the lives of Bandon’s children, families, seniors, and new readers of all ages.  Volunteers are needed to help coordinate, prepare for and run their quality events.  Email the BLFF at if you are interested.

Coos County Animal Shelter 
Many people find themselves drawn to helping the non-human animals in our community.  To volunteer with the Coos County Animal Shelter, pick up an application at the shelter or use their website to download an application. To volunteer, you must be 18 years old and pass a simple background check, then you’ll be on your way to many of the positions available. For more information, contact Stacy, the volunteer coordinator at 541-297-5115

Bandon Feeds the Hungry
Bandon Feeds the Hungry is an umbrella organization incorporating Everyone At Table (E.A.T.), Good Neighbors Food Bank, and Senior Nutrition (Meals on Wheels).
Bandon Senior Nutrition/Meals on Wheels
Contact Bandon Senior Nutrition to find out how to volunteer.
1100 West 11TH
E.A.T. – Everyone At Table
E.A.T., Inc., run entirely by volunteers, has been dedicated to serving nutritious meals to community members on a limited income since 2004. They are often looking for volunteers to sweep and mop, make salads, serve salads, and wash dishes. Call Allison Hundley, 541-404-2268, for more information.
Good Neighbors Community Food Bank
Volunteer-run Good Neighbors needs volunteers to assist them in acquiring and distributing food to needy individuals and families in the geographic area of Bandon, Oregon. They serve approximately 165 Bandon families a month.  For information, contact Keith Young at 541-347-3268.

Bandon Chamber of Commerce
Helping visitors and tourists might be right up your volunteer alley.  The Bandon Chamber of Commerce is looking for volunteers who love Bandon and enjoy meeting new people to help with the only regional visitor information center staffed by volunteers year-’round.  Volunteers are needed four hours a week for meeting visitors and locals and answering questions about area businesses, activities and events. Training is provided.  Call 541-347-9616 for more information.

Volunteering does not have to be confined to organizations with websites and email addresses.  Look around you, and pay attention to the needs in the community.  Perhaps you would enjoy working in your child’s classroom.  Or you see that your elderly neighbor’s grass needs cutting.  You might notice that the single mom across the street doesn’t have time to walk her dog.  Whatever you choose to do, a little time and energy on your part can go a long ways in your community!