22 Jun Bend Believers
Locals Who Dream Big
One launched a T-shirt company that helps feed the hungry. Another works for the fire department he grew up hanging around as a young boy. Yet another is an avid snowboarder who fights to keep tobacco away from kids. One has taught more than 2,500 kids how to swim. While another is an avid traveler who loves nothing more than coming home. And one couple started one of the most popular running events in the Pacific Northwest.
They’re all different in what they do and who they are, but they all have a common thread running through them: a lifelong affinity for Bend. They believe that, even with all the changes going on, this is the place for them and their families and their friends and their work. This is the story of six native Bendites and the passions that have kept them here.
It didn’t take much for Drew Norris to realize he wasn’t cut out for a desk job. Born and raised in Bend, Norris graduated from Linfield College in McMinnville with a finance degree before heading back home and working in accounting for a freight brokerage firm. “I really didn’t love sitting behind a desk all day,” he says.
But Norris had a natural alternative. His mom, Peggy, who moved to Bend when she was two months old, had been working for the Bend Fire Department for 26 years, and Norris himself had grown up around the local firefighters since he was 10. He talked with some of them about their work, went on a few ride-alongs and was hooked.
“I fell in love with the team aspect of it and getting to be part of the whole community experience,” says Norris, who’s been with the department since 2007.
That experience has included helping people during their darkest days—and feeling their gratitude for it later on. “People call us for the worst things ever,” he says, “and then you see them later and they recognize you and say ‘thank you.’ It’s an incredible feeling.”
For Norris, a married father with two young children, Bend is a place near his family, a place where, despite its recent growth, people still say hello when you pass them on the street. Sometimes he wishes that the old back roads were as unknown as they used to be, but, as an avid skier, runner, camper, boater and craft beer drinker, he can completely understand why people keep coming here. “I have no plans to leave,” he says. “This is a place where people dream about living or they save money to come and visit—but we get to live it.”
There’s a pretty good chance that if you learned how to swim in Bend in the past 15 years or so, you learned from someone who calls herself “Mermaid Jody.”
The mermaid is actually Jody Helgerson, a longtime swimmer and teacher who grew up splashing in the high Cascade Lakes after moving to Bend from Baker City at age six. She reckons she has taught more than 2,500 youngsters across the entire state to swim, including more than a thousand in Central Oregon alone.
“Teaching swimming is a gift to myself and the ones that I work with,” says Helgerson, who learned how to swim by the time she was seven. She moved back to Baker City in junior high, started teaching swimming at age 14 and became a lifeguard two years later.
After some time away, Helgerson returned to Bend, her Dancing Dolphins swim instruction business in tow, in part to help out her parents. The city had changed for her and continues to do so, but she has a deep fondness for it and all the surrounding natural beauty, including the alpine lakes she swam in as a child. “It still has a small-town feel for me,” she says. “Traffic is a bit crazy, but growth brings that.”
In 2014, Helgerson was diagnosed with breast cancer, an affliction that didn’t keep her down long thanks to an integrative medicine approach to healing. Within five months of her diagnosis, she was back in the water teaching more kids how to swim. “My gift with children and adults in the water gave me strength and hope that I could come out of this on the other side, a healthier, wiser person,” Helgerson says. “My love of family and life, and having faith, has given me the gift of being a cancer thriver.”
It’s not hard for Alana Hughson to conjure up her perfect day in Central Oregon: start with some of the region’s renowned sunshine and blue skies and, depending upon the season, either hit the slopes on Bachelor or head out to a scenic golf course and shoot better than a 95.
“Yes,” she says, “my golf game needs a lot of work.”
No matter the scorecard, Hughson knows a lot about what makes the region one to adore. She moved to Bend with her family in 1970 from Aspen, Colorado, and her father built the Entrada Lodge on Century Drive, which, at the time, was surrounded by nothing but forest. “I remember that the locals were pretty unanimous in thinking he was crazy to build a hotel in the middle of nowhere,” she says.
Now, of course, the old lodge is in a prime spot just outside of town on the way to one of the most popular ski resorts in Oregon. That, says Hughson, is a testament to her father’s big-picture belief in Bend and Mt. Bachelor.
With that same vision instilled in her, Hughson headed to Washington, D.C., for a 10-year stint as a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives. She returned to Bend in 1993, and became the executive director of the Central Oregon Visitors Association, which today helps foster the region’s $1 billion tourism industry. The scene has transitioned from being primarily a ski destination to one focused on year-round adventures, and though that’s brought more people to her long-time home, Hughson says Bend has remained a place of “caring, generous people who share a love and commitment” to the community. And the only thing she loves more than travelling is coming back home. “I never take living here for granted,” she says, “and I’m grateful for every day that Bend is my home.”
The Community Crusader
After spending nearly 15 years of her life in Bend, Penny Pritchard struck out after high school for South Lake Tahoe, where she snowboarded like crazy and worked on her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada in Reno. But while she loved the new scene, something that had always been present in Bend was missing. “It felt like the whole community vibe was lacking in Reno,” she says. “My bachelor’s was in community health sciences and I felt like we were missing that piece.”
For Pritchard, who went on to earn a master’s degree in public health and also co-found a nonprofit that takes foster kids snowboarding, that missing link was part of what brought her back to town after 10 years away. So was the fact that her family was here in Bend, as was a job as the tobacco prevention coordinator for Deschutes County. In that role, Pritchard works hard to keep youngsters from picking up tobacco, an uphill battle considering the bottomless resources the tobacco industry expends on targeting young and active youth. One ad in a glossy outdoor magazine that Pritchard came across showed what could be typical Bendites packing into the mountains for some backcountry skiing—it was published by a smokeless tobacco company. “That one really struck me to the core,” says Pritchard, an avid snowboarder who recently bought herself a snowmobile. “That is really targeting a specific group of young people.”
The Bend Pritchard returned to a couple years ago was a little different than the one she’d left a decade before—more crowded, less affordable—but still the place she’s glad to call home. “It’s such a great place, and I really wanted to move back,” she says. “I’m going to have to really, really save to buy a house and have a family here. But the generosity of the people is still the same. People get upset about everyone wanting to move here, but it’s a good problem to have.”
For Patrick Wurtz, who grew up here in Bend from the age of seven, Bend has become a hub for creative ideas and entrepreneurs. He believes the new Oregon State University-Cascades campus is only going to make it even more so in the near future. Which makes Bend a great place for someone like Wurtz, an entrepreneur who co-founded the local T-shirt business 541 Threads in 2011 with his friend Zack Nutter.
“Look at the brewery startups and all the other local businesses that we have been able to sustain,” says Wurtz. “We are also getting a ton of people moving to town with incredible experience in business. The talent pool for jobs is getting better, and with the new college coming in it’s going to be a great opportunity for students to get involved in startups and small businesses.”
Wurtz’s small business has morphed into Be Oregon, which he, Nutter and designer Conan Breitmeier call an “Oregon lifestyle company” that sells everything from T-shirts and scarves to trucker hats, mini kegs and phone cases. For each item sold, Be Oregon feeds a person through the NeighborImpact Food Bank, which serves all of Central Oregon.
Of course, the same entrepreneurial energy that has worked for Wurtz, along with the region’s plentiful outdoor bounty, has given Bend its share of growing pains. But for Wurtz, who appreciates the fact that, in Bend, one can ski, raft and golf all in the same day, it’s hard to fault people for wanting to grab a slice of the Bend life for themselves. “This perfect little oasis we had to ourselves is not a secret anymore,” he says. “Everyone wants to live the lifestyle that Bend has to offer.”
Carrie and Scott Douglass
Carrie and Scott Douglass’ story is a sweet one.
She was born and raised in Bend; he spent his early years in Portland before moving to Bend. They met in sixth grade in a youth program at St. Francis. They went to prom together as friends before heading their separate ways, she to study music and education at University of Portland, he for a degree in logistics and transportation at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. A few years later, in 2005, they met up for dinner in Boston, something that sparked their relationship and eventually led them to tie the knot. “Carrie was always my gold standard,” Scott says.
Fast-forward a few years when the couple found themselves in Oakland, forever reading about this great Central Oregon town that everyone was raving over: Bend. “We thought, wow, we left this place but it sure seems like it’s a great place to live,” says Carrie.
Looking to make their way back home, the couple started in 2008 by launching the Cascade Lakes Relay, an annual 216-mile relay with teams of 12 runners each. The first year was rough, in part because they were still living in California. “When you lose $80,000 your first year, you think that maybe you should be doing something else,” Scott says. “But people loved it and we decided to keep it.”
Their instincts served them well. Once they moved back to Bend, the event became an annual favorite that draws more than 3,000 runners and raises tens of thousands of dollars each year for local charities. They’ve since added several other running events as well, including the Bend Beer Chase.
Like other long-time residents, the Douglasses, now parents to an eight-month-old daughter, have seen the traffic worsen and the costs rise. But they aren’t going anywhere. “What we truly love about Bend is the sense of community,” Scott says, “and what that’s created is people working together, helping each other and creating this shared vision of what we want the community to be.”