Founder of Lebanon events leaves behind lifelong memories

When Warren Beeson blew into Lebanon from Prineville in the mid-1980s, he couldn’t know the impact he would make on the small town.

Thirty-some years later, it’s time to leave as he moves to live closer to his children in Tennessee.

“(Leaving is) hard in some ways, but I’m looking forward to being with my family and make some new friends,” he said.

Beeson is essentially the driving force behind two of Lebanon’s annually celebrated events, the Star Spangled Celebration and the Christmas Tree Lighting at Ralston Park. His final contribution to the community was the establishment of Lebanon’s first fenced dog park.

Star Spangled Celebration

Beeson moved to Lebanon when he accepted a management position at the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce. It was during his time there, he said, that he first thought the city could use a Fourth of July celebration, but there wasn’t any ideal location to do it.

So the idea sat on a shelf.

Some years later, the Strawberry Festival board initiated the Lebanon Community Foundation, an independent board that would allow them to acquire property for the parade. Beeson was one of the initial members on the foundation board.

Ronn Passmore, current vice president of the Lebanon Community Foundation, said Beeson was “instrumental” in getting Cheadle Lake Park up and functioning by garnering grants through Weyerhaeuser to pay for the development of the road, sewer and other basic infrastructure.

Once the park had successfully hosted the festival carnival for several years, it was time for Beeson’s idea to be removed from the shelf, dusted off and put to work.

“My idea was an old-fashioned, family-oriented Fourth of July celebration where people could spend most of the day there, and the kids would have games to play and things to do,” Beeson said.

He envisioned booths for food vendors and community organizations, and, of course, the fireworks show at night. But, as with everything, they needed money to make it a reality.

“Figuratively speaking, Ronn and I were going up and down the town talking to businesses saying, ‘Give us your money and we’ll do something good for the Fourth of July,’ and they did,” Beeson said.

The first event was held in 2004. The economic crash in 2008 forced them to reduce the Star Spangled Celebration to just a fireworks show, but it’s an event that continues to draw hundreds of spectators.

For Beeson, the Fourth is a reminder that he lives on the “greatest nation on God’s green earth.”

“The United States of America is a very special place,” he said. “Independence Day is a day for all of us to think about it and celebrate it for its uniqueness.”

It also took Beeson several years, but he was able to negotiate with Rob Freres for the donation of Cheadle Lake to the Lebanon Community Foundation, Passmore said.

Christmas Tree Lighting

While Beeson was chamber manager, he also got a bright idea that was intended to liven up a dispirited community.

“In ’87 the depression had set in around here. The mills were closing, people were moving out of town; it was serious. The spotted owl was a big thing and the timber lands were closing down; it was bad,” he said.

Thanksgiving was around the corner that year, and Beeson looked out his office window toward Ralston Park and thought to himself.

“This town could really use a pick-me-up; something that people could feel good about that was exceptional and would be excited about, and improve the morale in general because everyone was depressed,” he said to himself.

Then he realized the large cedar tree “would make a hell of a Christmas tree.”

Thanks to Beeson, Lebanon once again has an annual Christmas tree lighting, said Larry Arnold, Lebanon’s fire chief at that time. Arnold said the tree had already been used as a city Christmas tree for many years, but the practice had stopped because they didn’t have enough lights to make it work properly.

The fire department, and particularly fire Capt. Dale Miner, had participated in putting on the event every year.

So when Beeson asked the city and the fire department for help in making it happen again, both agreed to get it done for Christmas that year, Beeson said. Knowing there was very little time for such a big project, he made sure the pressure was effective by heavily promoting the tree lighting ceremony to residents.

Still, he was surprised it was actually accomplished on time, he said. They had the mayor out to turn the switch on, and everyone in attendance counted down from 10.

“When Warren suggested we do something, we tried and we lit the whole tree, but the wiring system wouldn’t allow the lights to come up,” Arnold said.

Beeson said the lights came on for a minute, long enough for everyone to ooh and ahh, but the breakers couldn’t handle the amount of power being drawn from the lights.

Councilman Ron Miller, who worked as a purchasing agent for Willamette Industries, then made arrangements for the company to give them an electrician and the wiring they needed, Arnold said. They got it up to code and were able to put as many lights on the tree as they wanted.

Saying goodbye with a Dog Park

Beeson has been less active in the community for many years now, but as he prepared to leave for his new chapter in Tennessee, there was one last idea he wanted to see for Lebanon: a fenced in dog park.

He took the idea to his old friend, Passmore, who is also chair of the city Parks Committee/Tree Board. Though Passmore agreed it was a doable idea, he made it clear Beeson would have to be the one to make it happen, Beeson said.

So Beeson “hand picked” a team of people he knew would help him make it happen: Bob Gordon, Nancy Chlarson, Sally Morgan, Connie Schmidt-Walling, and Mike Farnsworth.

“It’s a marvelous group of people. They’re self-motivated, they get things done and they get it done the right way,” he said.

And giving. Thanks in large part to Laura Gillot’s Keller-Williams group for their donation to the park, Beeson was able to see its installation before he waved goodbye to Lebanon on April 9.

If it wasn’t for an already-active group of volunteers who’ve crossed paths with Beeson over the course of his life, he may never have been able to give Lebanon what he has.

Beeson came from a very small farming town in southern California, where he grew up in a working class family with little money. He lived miles from town, and the only things his parents participated in were church and Cub Scouts.

“I had no idea there were things like service clubs and volunteer committees to improve the community in different ways,” he said. “We had our little community festival, but when you’re a kid, you don’t think about how this stuff happens. Now I know somebody does a lot of work; it’s a lot of work.”

The first time Beeson witnessed the power of volunteerism was when he worked as a 4-H extension agent for Klamath OSU.

“Those people would do anything. It was astonishing. That was the first exposure I ever had to that. I began to realize there’s a whole world out there of volunteers.”

When he worked in the chamber, he became aware of the impact the business community made.

“I’d come to realize business people are the backbone of the community, at least in civic affairs,” he said.

And here in Lebanon, he was affected by business leaders and new friends who displayed a trust and integrity he’d not seen anywhere else.

“That’s the kind of people I’ve always run into here. There’s a few bad apples here and there, but there’s way too many good people here.”

Since his time in Lebanon, Beeson has been honored as the Chamber of Commerce’s 1998 Man of the Year and, most recently, 2017 Senior Citizen of the Year.

Bob Gordon, who’s known Beeson for many years, nominated him for the latest award.

“I’ve been in Lebanon since ’81 and I just can’t think of any one person that’s maybe done more for Lebanon, but a lot of people don’t know about it,” Gordon said.

Passmore agrees Beeson is among one of the many residents in the area who chooses to volunteer his time and energy because it’s a great community that makes one want to give back, he said.

“I think his character is top,” Passmore said. “If he said he’d do something, his word was his bond.”

Beeson’s involvement includes: being a member of Rotary and the Strawberrians; he helped build Century Park; was on the board for the Boys and Girls Club; helped coach softball at the Club; was on the school board twice as an interim board member; and was business owner of Grava Graphics, now Gateway Imprints.

He helped rally the business community together in ways that impacted Highway 34, Linn-Benton Community College programs, and downtown revitalization groups, and promoted business education and morale.

But after all that, only one thing from Lebanon means the most to him.

“What makes me feel the best is the friends I’ve made along the way.

“That’s pretty special.”