Santiam Place silent due to COVID, but owner Sally Skaggs hasn’t slowed down – much

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Every year, Sally Skaggs sets up a couple of holiday prop areas at her rental facility, Santiam Place, for events and photo-shoot opportunities.
Two vintage chairs with gold-colored cushioning sit beside an electric mantel fireplace and a Christmas tree. On top of the mantel is a pot of poinsettias and a set of books that Skaggs put covers on to depict the names of Santa’s reindeer.
Business parties and baby showers were lined up to rent the space, but Skaggs had to turn them away following new restrictions that don’t allow her to have more than six people due to COVID.
“I’m all decorated and nobody would come to my party,” she said with a laugh.
Skaggs bought the former church building 16 years ago and turned it into Santiam Place, providing Lebanon with a place for people to gather.
Churches used the space on Sundays, clubs met regularly, families and businesses hosted parties, counseling groups met, and weddings took place in the back yard, which Skaggs designed herself.
Now it’s mostly quiet. There’s been about a 90 percent reduction in business due to the pandemic, she said. For the most part, all she can do is rent out her tables and chairs.
“My next adventure is a guest house,” Skaggs said.
On her property sits a yellow house that she’s been fixing up. The federal stimulus check this year helped pay for electrical and handyman work, but there’s still some painting to be done.
“My intent is to rent it to traveling nurses,” she said.
The hospital, which is only a few blocks down the road, hires traveling nurses for 30-day to three-month stints, she explained. She believes her location is a perfect spot for those nurses to stay.
Skaggs is familiar with the hospital. She worked in the medical records department for 25 years, and only left the job in order to open Santiam Place.
But over the past several decades, Skaggs has worked behind the scenes doing volunteer work in various community groups as well.
A friend of hers, Trudy Bason, said there’s a joke that Skaggs must have learned how to clone herself because she always seems to be in more than one place at once.
“She’s amazing,” Bason said.
Much of her volunteer work involves the Strawberry Festival.
Skaggs was a member of the Jaycees for about 15 years, during which time she participated in community service work, including helping to organize the Strawberry Festival parade.
She also still works with the Strawberry Festival Association.
“We’re not the working board,” she clarified. “We are the association members, like the old-timers. We also kind of oversee what’s going on.”
As a member of the Beta Sigma Phi sorority for 20 years, Skaggs participated in serving strawberry shortcake to those who couldn’t leave home during the festival.
“The strawberry festival provided the berries and the cake,” she said. “We packed it all up in a little goody bag, and then we would deliver it.”
Her sorority delivered the cake to about 20 different sites in Lebanon, including assisted living facilities, nursing homes, group homes, the soup kitchen and the hospital.
As membership dwindled, her sorority’s chapter folded, yet Skaggs continues to serve the cake every year, operating the community service out of her own business.
A week following the Strawberry Festival, Skaggs is at it again, serving strawberry shortcake to bicyclists in the Strawberry Century.
“June is a very busy month for me,” she noted.
The Strawberry Century is an annual bike ride ranging from 13 to 100 miles, organized by the Santiam Spokes Bicycle Club.
Skaggs enlists help from another sorority chapter in Lebanon to serve shortcake to the bicyclists.
“Those people say, ‘I’ve been pedaling and thinking about that for the last 30 miles,’” she said. “They really enjoy it.”
Among other things, Skaggs has worked with the Chamber of Commerce, Linn County Cultural Commission, Parks and Trails Committee, and Habitat for Humanity.
For all her active volunteerism, Skaggs has been recognized by the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce as Junior First Citizen twice and Woman of the Year once through the chamber’s Distinguished Service Awards.
So how did Skaggs find so many ways to serve her community over the past four decades?
“You know, they find you,” she said with a laugh. “I can’t say no. I learned how to say no after many, many years.”
On a more serious note, though, volunteering is simply something she’s always done, she said.
“If you grow up that way, it’s no problem. I was always involved in something. When you’re a kid and you volunteer, usually you volunteer as an adult, as well.”
She said volunteering is not hard to do, and recommends people try it.
“I’ve met so many people,” Skaggs said. “That’s how you meet people. That’s how you make lifelong friends, and help out in the community and learn stuff about your community.”