Volume XII | Issue 1 | Spring 2012
Jim and Linda Glawe help paint the museum in Spray, just one of three projects completed by the Wheeler County Ford Institute Leadership Program cohort. Photo: Debbie Starkey

Wheeler County makes it a trifecta perfecta

Fossil, Spray and Mitchell are the three largest towns in the wide-open spaces of Central Oregon’s Wheeler County. The small county is home to about 1,400 souls. Because of its size, the area struggles to attract businesses and host events.

“It was like the three towns were in competition. If one town got something, everyone felt like ‘How come they got something—we didn’t get that!’,” says Mitchell resident Bob Mair. Mair, a member of the recent Wheeler County Ford Institute Leadership Program cohort, says he thinks the training went a long way to smoothing some of those tensions.

the program is changing things in Wheeler County

Marjorie Sharp works for the county and lives in Fossil. She was also a member of the county’s first cohort. She says the program allowed participants to sit down, get to know each other and learn that their differences were not as big as they thought.

“It was an eye-opener for all of us,” she says.

The cohort did a project in each town. In Spray, participants painted the museum and helped write grants for other museum renovations. In Fossil, the group painted the park play structures. In Mitchell, they redid the public restrooms and “painted everything that wasn’t growing,” Mair says.

Pitching in to help the program participants were civic leaders as well as other townsfolk. Since the Leadership Program started, Sharp says she’s beginning to see more people join other countywide groups.

Mair agrees that the program is changing things in Wheeler County.

“It’s the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here for cooperation between all the towns,” he says. “People are taking part, things are happening and it’s good. Anything that brings more people to the area and makes people welcome and makes them want to come back helps all of us.” 

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