Wildfires, a pandemic and more brought their share of challenges to overcome in 2020.

However, the communities in Grant County persevered and provided gems of good, positive news — even when it seemed scarce. Here are a few highlights from the year.

Grant Union eclipse data published in science journal

Three Grant Union High School students and Grant Union science teacher Sonna Smith went beyond spectating the 2017 eclipse and got published in a peer-reviewed science publication, according to an article on Jan. 15.

Grant Union graduates Donavan Smith and Gage Brandon, who were seniors at the time of the article, were shocked that the experiment they conducted more than two years ago came up again, and now they are published.

The data and research were cited in the article, “Acceleration of Coronal Mass Ejection Plasma in the Low Corona as Measured by the Citizen CATE Experiment” and published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Smith and Brandon were freshmen when they participated in the Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse experiment along with GUHS graduate Declan Jensen and her friend Anthony Allen, Rocklin, California.

CASA fundraiser

brings in $16,000

Grant-Harney County CASA celebrated another St. Patrick’s Day benefit dinner with music, dinner and laughter, but it was an event that highlighted the growing generosity and support from the Grant County community, according to an article from March 11.

Community members came together for the fourth annual Court Appointed Special Advocates St. Patrick’s Day Dinner and Auction on March 6 and managed to raise an estimated gross income of $16,839, which is about $2,000 more than last year.

Executive Director Hannah Hinman was happy at the response from the community with tickets being oversold, businesses donating and great sponsorships.

“Every year I’m always kind of stressed coming into this fundraiser, but every year I am reminded of the generosity and support the community has for us,” Hinman said.

Covering the need: Volunteers make masks for health care workers

Sylvia Ross, the director of Blue Mountain Home Health and Hospice, said that 70 people — from local community members to those who live out of town and have family working at the hospital — made masks or gowns for the Blue Mountain Hospital, according to an article from April 15.

Jessica Moore, a Grant County resident, shared her story on providing a little over 120 masks for the hospital at the time of the interview.

“I always find joy standing back and looking at the big picture of how strongly this community pulls together when there is a need. Not surprisingly, we had a need, and our community does what our community does: rose to the occasion,” Ross said.

Drive-in ceremonies for graduation

COVID-19 presented challenges for graduation ceremonies, but schools in Grant County developed ways to recognize the seniors safely, according to an article from May 5.

Grant Union High School’s graduation ceremony was “drive-in style” as parents and graduates parked in the Grant Union parking lot to recognize seniors.

Prairie City School held a graduation ceremony in their football field as a drive-in celebration. Both Grant Union and Prairie City followed the graduation ceremony with a parade.

A team of seniors delivered a swing set for a 7-year-old boy with cancer

A team of up to 15 seniors delivered and assembled a swing set to a Wyatt Simmons, 7, of Mt. Vernon who won his battle with cancer so far, according to an article on June 10.

Professional photographer Tanni Wenger formed the Wyatt Strong Senior Project team and the group came together to carry out the project.

“I just wanted these kids to give back to the community,” Wenger said. “This little community does so much for them.”

After providing project ideas to the seniors, she said they decided on a project for Simmons.

Wyatt’s mother, Areah Anderson, said the support from the community kept her and her family going since Wyatt was airlifted from Burns to Portland after seeing the family doctor for appendicitis, but later turned out to be a Wilms tumor. This rare kidney cancer is said to be highly treatable.

“We just barely moved here, and it has meant a lot to all of us,” Anderson said. “The boys love their swing set, and everything that they’ve done is amazing.”

Dollar General submits application for store in John Day

The Zaremba Group, on behalf of Dollar General, submitted an application to the city for a store in John Day, according to an article on June 10.

John Day City Manager Nick Green updated the council on the Dollar General on Oct. 27 and said that all the permitting with the city was completed.

Highway 26 dedicated to POW/MIA

Roughly 80 motorcycle riders from the Oregon Veterans Motorcycle Association passed through John Day to dedicate Highway 26 to Prisoners of War and service members missing in action as community members lined the streets with flags to honor them, according to an article from July 1.

Larry Moyer, president of the Central Oregon Chapter of the VMA and a Persian Gulf War veteran, said each rider has a personal reason for participating in the ride.

Meredith House breaks ground

The new facility for the Heart of Grant County’s domestic trauma service center in John Day is under construction, according to an article from Aug. 26.

The new center, the Meredith House, will feature improved privacy to talk to victims, a conference room to have more group activities in a private settings and the capability to house up to two to three families.

“There is a need here, and I know a lot of people don’t want to recognize it, but some of the stuff that goes on here, the domestic violence, the sexual assault and the human trafficking is all here,” said Heart of Grant County Director Beth Simonsen.

Highway 26 salutes prisoners of war and service members missing in action

Roughly 50 people came out to honor prisoners of war and service members missing in action at the John Day Elks Lodge parking lot as John Day and five other cities dedicated Highway 26 a POW/MIA Memorial Highway, according to an article from Sept. 23.

John Day resident and Vietnam veteran Robert Van Voorhis said the purpose of the POW/MIA Memorial Highway is to honor Oregon’s nearly 1,000 POWs, of whom 200 died in captivity.

He said Highway 26 is the eighth highway in Oregon dedicated to POWs/MIAs.

Thanksgiving to go

Over 30 volunteers served upwards of 300 Thanksgiving dinners at the Elks Lodge, according to an article from Dec. 2.

Elks Lodge member Chuck Howe said the volunteers served over 400 pounds of turkey, 60 pounds of ham and all of the fixings, including mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, rolls, stuffing, cranberries and pies.

The annual event, free and open to the public, was by takeout or delivery only.

A convoy of Christmas cheer

Grant County residents got into the Christmas spirit at the Timber Truckers parade, according to an article on Dec. 16.

“This has been one of the best years ever,” said Leslie Traylor, an event organizer.

Traylor said there were 29 entries.

The parade brought back a sense of normalcy in a year like no other, where people’s lives slowed to a near halt with school and restaurant dining closures, bans on gatherings and other restrictions.



Rudy Diaz is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at rudy@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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