School activities provide focus
Rural communities foster dependency and independence
Karla Chambers has just a few minutes to talk. It’s 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, and she and her husband, Bill, are leaving soon for a daughter’s basketball game. It’s a long drive, as are most of the away games in their rural league, but not going is not an option. Sports are an integral part of the warp and weft of life in small-town Oregon. Chambers, a board member of The Ford Family Foundation, reflects on what that life means to her.
I grew up in Sherman County in the fourth generation of a farming family. We didn’t have a stop light in the entire county. It was a 75-mile round trip to school on the bus, and we were 64 miles from the closest doctor and grocery store.
Friday night football and basketball games were the highlight of the week, and community activities centered on school activities. It was a community where you survived because you were fiercely independent. But you also survived because you depended on the community—on the other ranchers’ skills and resources.
My sister and I were the first in our family to go to college. I got married, got my master’s degree and became the youngest faculty member at Oregon State University. My husband and I, who have four children, started Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis in 1985. We just celebrated 25 years of private operation.
Today, we live in the Willamette Valley on one of our farms. In many important ways, things haven’t changed that much since my childhood. My closest neighbor is still two miles away. My children go to a rural, Christian school with a strong agricultural and rural influence. We travel two to three nights a week, attending every one of the children’s football and basketball games.
The parents of our school commit to 40 hours of volunteer work per year. My husband, Bill, serves on the school board. I help with fundraising activities, and I keep the basketball scorebooks.
We were at Toledo for basketball one night recently. The gym was completely full. Everyone had worked hard that week, and that one night they all came together to watch their kids play basketball and have a hot dog. I don’t know what else was happening in Toledo that Friday night, but it wasn‘t anything that could compete with that game.
There are a hundred life lessons these kids learn through athletics, and to me that adds a real richness to these communities. Traveling around to other districts and around the state is the key way people get to know each other—there isn’t any other reason I would go to Toledo or to Bonanza or to Waldport. It’s just a tremendous way for Oregonians to stay connected, and to build community.