A lot can happen in one year

A look back on 2023

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

As Lebanon residents step into the new year with hopes and aspirations of how they will use it to serve them personally and as a community, the Lebanon Local takes one look back on what the community experienced in 2023.

Dorothy Page turned 100 in 2023.

Last year was a milestone for a select handful of Lebanon residents as they turned 100 years old. Among them were Dessie Davidson and Dorothy Page. The community also lost some of its friends, including “Smiley Wiley” Sims, Chloe Richmond, Skye Huskey, Jose Encizo, Jennifer Gere and (most recently) Skyler Stuckey. At age 79, the Lebanon Elks Lodge #1663 shuttered its doors, moving its members and assets to the Sweet Home Lodge #1972. Members called it “the end of an era.”

On the political and leadership level, Wayne Rieskamp stepped down as a city councilman after serving in the position for a total of 20 years. He shared that his three main areas of focus as a councilor were safety (an adequate police force), health (adequate facilities) and road maintenance. As he left, he believed two of the council’s current obstacles include relocating to a safer city hall and figuring out how to improve city streets.

The City Council acquired newcomers Wayne Dykstra, Carl Mann and Mayor Kenneth Jackola.

At the beginning of 2024, new council members Wayne Dykstra and Carl Mann were sworn in, as was new mayor-elect Kenneth Jackola, who replaced former mayor Paul Aziz. The latter served as mayor for 10 years and, like Rieskamp, expressed upon his exit a concern about the safety of the current City Hall.

Also last year, City Manager Nancy Brewer submitted her resignation, and Cedric Hayden stepped in as the new State Senator for Linn County. Lebanon Community School District’s assistant superintendent, Jennifer Meckley, was named the interim superintendent following Supt. Bo Yates’ resignation in January. The Boys & Girls Club hired former Sweet Home City Manager Ray Towry as executive director, who was replaced later in the year by Casey Humphrey.

The Lebanon Aquatic District added newcomers Jereme Guenther and Kim Kendall to its board of directors, while Anna Creel, Cindy Kerby and Linda Ziedrich joined the Parks, Trees and Trails Committee. Melissa Baurer and Clyde Rood took seats on the Lebanon Community School District Board, replacing Tammy Schilling and Richard Borden, respectively.

City Council meetings were often filled with concerned citizens throughout the year for a variety of topics on the agenda.

City councilors addressed some weighty topics in 2023. Among them were: determining public locations where people experiencing homelessness could rest at night, addressing a projected budget shortfall of $1.2 million, referring decisions about psilocybin and fluoride to voters, hearing about a payroll dispute among police staff, determining how to find a new city manager, and hearing concerns about and/or support for library books for children and young adults that broach the subject of sexuality.

Toward the end of the year, the City was faced with an unexpected event: dirty raw water. Following a court-ordered injunction, Green Peter Reservoir was emptied to its lowest level ever in an effort to pass juvenile Chinook salmon downstream. The action resulted in thousands of juvenile Kokanee that died from barotrauma, and half a century’s worth of built-up sediment that raised turbidity levels to numbers never seen before in Lebanon. This resulted in the City fighting to keep its drinking water safe for residents, and ultimately retaining a law firm to pursue damages.

Wing Ming’s received extensive damage to its building after a fleeing suspect crashed into it.

The Lebanon Fire District began constructing its new fire station on Oak Street. Plans for the facility were altered from a two-story to a single story structure after voters approved a $16 million bond because post-pandemic costs unexpectedly rose for its completion. LFD Chief Joseph Rodondi expressed to the city council concerns he has about the district’s ability to continue providing services to a community that is rapidly growing with an ambulance service that loses most of its revenue to federally mandated write-offs.

Three stories were reported in 2023 about cars crashing into buildings: a driver who might have been drag racing apparently lost control and ran into the Chamber of Commerce in March; and in November a man facing multiple warrants crashed into Wing Ming’s when attempting to flee from police, and a suspected drunk driver ran through the window of Papa’s on Main Street.

The Parks, Trees and Trails Committee discussed ideas for how to spend a $2.6 million grant for accessibility improvements at Cheadle Lake Park. A master plan was designed to include expanded parking, an amphitheater and full-size baseball fields. Funding, however, could at this time only pay for a multi-use path and ADA parking, and progress toward the installation of the amphitheater would next be tackled.

ENTEK received a $200 million federal grant to build one of the first U.S.-based manufacturing plants of battery parts for the expected rise in electric vehicle production. The company broke ground for the expansion in Terre Haute, Ind.

Gov. Tina Kotek toured the Veterans Home while visiting Linn County.

Governor Tina Kotek toured Linn County, including a stop in Lebanon to visit the Veterans Home and meet with city leaders.

After being closed for more than a year, Lebanon’s Department of Motor Vehicles finally reopened its doors on a part-time basis. Also, a new law was enacted allowing drivers to pump their own gas.

The old water treatment plant at 1155 S. 2nd St. was demolished in 2023. Fed by the Albany-Santiam Canal, the plant was built in 1947 and went offline after the City severed its reliance on the canal and built a new plant on River Road.

News came out that the Lebanon Downtown Association was in hot water because legal filings with the state and federal government were long overdue. Members restructured the executive board and got the nonprofit back on its feet. Since its restructuring, the downtown has seen the installation of three new murals, Movies in the Park and the revival of Quirky Turkeys.

Nearly 200 adults and children rallied to support Dr. Dana Kosmala after hearing the pediatrician had been “let go” by Samaritan Health Services.

A sleep trailer had a trial run in Lebanon, giving Crossroads Community and houseless individuals an opportunity to test out the trailer as a safe option for sleep pods.

In March, Crossroads Community hosted a week-long trial for a “sleep trailer,” built by Salem resident Jason Christensen. The trailer consisted of eight sleeping pods for houseless individuals. Later in the year, resident Paul Napper began holding meetings in an effort to start a grassroots movement for a solution to Lebanon’s people who are experiencing homelessness.

In the school district, the Keller Williams Gillott Home Team spearheaded the “Educators Apple Award,” a monthly program acknowledging those in the school district who serve students. The high school’s Future Farmers of America took first place in the annual soils contest, followed by a win at state to qualify them for nationals, which hasn’t been achieved by the class in many, many years.

Lebanon Local covered an update on the high school construction class, which has made progress on its newest project to complete an entire subdivision on Kees Street.

The Lebanon High School cheer team took first place at state (their second win in a row) in 2023. Provided photo

Lebanon High School’s cheer team captured first place at the state championship for their second year in a row, and qualified once again for this year’s championship. They will be attempting to capture their third state win in a row next month.

In preparation to move sixth graders to the middle school, the school district began construction of a new building at Seven Oak. It also opened its first preschool class at Cascades Elementary. Meanwhile, students and parents approached the school board to address a long-time problem: leaking roofs at Lacomb.

A new private school opened this year. Located between Waterloo and Sweet Home, Lake Town Academy was initiated by Sweet Home resident Ashley Knight and Lebanon resident Molly Haselip, both of whom indicated they wanted to give parents and children different options for how children can be taught.

Lebanon Local published its first annual graduation guide in 2023. Following the tradition of its sister newspaper, The New Era, the special publication includes a profile of each graduating senior.

Jean Frazier accepts a delivery from Meals on Wheels route driver Butch Craig.

Lebanon Local took a look last year at a small handful of the volunteer-run organizations that make Lebanon a great place to live. We highlighted Dala’s Blue Angels, a group of volunteers who promote the awareness of child abuse and raise funds by various means throughout the year to support multiple advocacy organizations. We also looked at volunteers who deliver Meals on Wheels to individuals in need, those who are making efforts to sustain Lebanon’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration, and the nearly 8,000 hours it took to make the Strawberry Festival a raving success.

And finally, as Lebanon Local moved into its eighth year as a publication, competitor Mid-Valley Media shut down the historical Lebanon Express paper, which had been serving the community since 1887. Some months later, Lebanon gal Malisa Anderson introduced a new local-focused magazine called “Lebanon Neighbors.” Also in 2023, Scott and Miriam Swanson, owners of The New Era and Lebanon Local, announced their retirement after selling the company to former employee Chris Chapman, of Sweet Home.