By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
RICHLAND The second-oldest community in all of Oregon is right here in Baker County.
Not old as in founded centuries ago. Old as in well, let's just say that most Richland residents have been around the block a time or two.
According to the 2000 Census, Richland home to 147 people has the second-highest median age in all of Oregon. It's 62.9 years. That means that half the people are about 63 or older; half are younger.
Richland has just 14 people 9.5 percent of the population age 19 and under. Conversely, 68 people 46.3 percent of its residents are 65 and older.
How does a community with that many seniors get along in a world that values its youth so much? As it turns out, quite nicely, thank you.
Library's new home
Up until last week, the Richland branch of the Baker County Library was downtown in a storefront. But after a Herculean effort by longtime Richland librarian Bonnadene Nicolescu (who's been on the job since 1957), county Librarian Aletha Bonebrake and a band of volunteers, the branch library has been moved to Richland Elementary School.
With some remodeling, a couple of new computers and a whole lot of effort, the group moved about 5,000 volumes into the school's former office in time for Monday's grand opening.
andquot;Our old space was a dark hole,andquot; Bonebrake said. andquot;This is bright and airy. The patrons are thrilled about this place, and we're thrilled that the Pine-Eagle school board has offered us this space and for free! They just wanted the building to be alive with community business.andquot;
andquot;It's so bright and big,andquot; Nicolescu added. andquot;It's more like a library and not like a bookstore, which is what people thought we were when we were downtown. We're very excited.andquot;
The town's 147 potential library patrons as well as others who mosey in on their way to, say, a day of fishing at Brownlee Reservoir will soon have use of two brand-new computers, which will be connected to digital subscriber lines to give patrons quick access to the Internet. Library hours are 12:30 p.m. through 4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 8 a.m. through noon Tuesday.
A new City Hall
Richland's city hall is far from old. With grants from state, county and private funding sources, the former gas station has been transformed into an accessible space complete with landscaping. The town's meeting spot is adjacent to the volunteer fire department.
Last week, recorder Gerri Stevens said, 18 people (12.2 percent of Richland's population) turned out for the city council meeting.
andquot;Maybe it's the new building, but we've had much better attendance lately,andquot; she said. andquot;People are taking more of an interest in their community. It's true that we're getting older, and as people grow older they move away from the community so that they can get the medical treatment they need.
andquot;We've been working with Baker County Unlimited to get a little more advertisement for our area. But as long as Brownlee stays up, there's quite a lot of activity.andquot;
Brownlee's water = lifeblood
Ah, Brownlee Reservoir. The literal ups and downs of water in the reservoir, City Councilor Nancy Gover and others say, determine more than anything else the city's economic well-being.
A healthy Brownlee allowed Sheila Hocker to hang up her boat rental shingle this summer. She's Rent-A-Boat (her grandchild couldn't say her name properly to the sign-painter, and the name stuck, Hocker says with a smile) relies on a near-full Brownlee and the fish it yields for its powerboat, paddleboat, kayak and canoe rental business.
andquot;The people have been so wonderful,andquot; Hocker said as she was preparing to draw her initial season to a close last weekend. andquot;A lot of old-timers came by to wish me luck when I got started.andquot;
Hocker's father-in-law, an avid collector, donated a lifetime's worth of stuff everything from hand-tied flies to coloring books for the kids for her to sell at the shop.
When the reservoir's down, area residents glean items from fishing boats including anchors and tackle boxes and Hocker sells those, too, on consignment for the scavengers.
On a good weekend, Hocker will rent all 10 of her boats, throwing in a tank of gas for extended rentals and a free bag of ice for the built-in ice chest on the paddleboats.
She doesn't rely only on word-of -mouth advertising. Hocker is known to mail her best out-of-town customers postcards: andquot;The fishing has been great this week. Wish you were here. Signed, She's Rent-A-Boat.andquot;
andquot;We're going to get the building painted next year, and we're going to start a food concession,andquot; she said. andquot;They'll be lining up for boats, just like they did some weekends this summer.andquot;
You want the real scoop on a town, you visit the local beauty shop.
andquot;I was born and raised here,andquot; said Isla Graven, who had invested more than two hours in Minajean Dailey's shop last Friday to receive a perm and a haircut. andquot;There's so much to do here that I don't have any free time. I'm related to most of the people in this valley, and I love that. The ones that aren't family are good friends.andquot;
Dailey, who lives in Keating, said she had been making the trip from home twice each day to take her child to school in Richland. Twelve years ago, she figured that instead of just waiting for him to finish his school day, she'd open up a business. Thus her andquot;M and K Daileyandquot; salon was born.
(The andquot;Kandquot; stands for a relative who decided not to join the business, she said.)
andquot;There aren't too many slow days,andquot; she said. andquot;People come from North Powder, Halfway even Baker City.andquot;
andquot;We talk about a lot of things,andquot; Graven interjected. andquot;Gardening. Boating. Fishing. The huckleberries were good this year, until they froze a couple of nights back.andquot;
Mosey on in for lunch
Come lunchtime, each of the six tables at the Cappuccino Corral and Cafe is taken, as are most of the seats at the counter.
A quartet of visitors Roland and Sharon Simentel of Wasco and Bob and Mavis Olsen of Morrow have driven their RV's into town to enjoy the scenery and to ride their bikes.
andquot;We'll go for a ride, drink a smoothie in Halfway, then maybe go the quilt shop,andquot; Roland Simantel said. andquot;There sure are a lot of nice people here. If you want to go fishing and you don't have a boat, you just call somebody. They're happy to take you out.andquot;
Together with her husband, Gregg, Marsha Soderwall owns the restaurant. She is the waitress and he is the cook.
andquot;This place gets busy before we even open,andquot; she said. andquot;We were here this morning at 5:30, and there were people from Sparta waiting for us.
andquot;It can get real busy, depending on how the fishing is.andquot;