Town of Volunteers

Roman riders from the Livestock Show's early days

Union is a city of "joiners" in a location that provides plenty of opportunities. In the surrounding County, there are over 70 clubs, fraternal societies, and service groups-plus another 60 associations, councils, volunteer programs, festival organizations, and similar community groups.

Within the town itself, there are four active churches-down from the five listed in the 1978 Union Centennial Album. The album also lists 57 lodges, clubs, societies, and boards (1 organization for every 35 residents), including seven clubs just for the younger generation. The nature of these organizations covers a broad spectrum of interests and purposes, ranging from the Masons and Odd Fellows, to the VFW and American Legion, the Union Concert Band and the Whirlaway Square Dance Club.

By 2005, some of these groups had vanished. A few new groups appeared, including Alcoholics Anonymous and a Food Bank. There were still almost 50 established groups in town, but fewer groups per capita (1 for every 45 residents). While most of these organizations have a social element, Union's volunteers also provide a functional backbone for the community. They take on jobs as diverse as volunteer firefighter, 4-H counselor, mayor, classroom aide, and museum curator.

If the city park needs a new bandstand, or the school needs a new athletic facility, the materials are scrounged or donated-or bought through fundraisers. The physical labor comes from students, parents and other volunteers.

2005 Livestock Show rodeo

One of the most visible volunteer efforts is the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show (EOLS), an annual event since 1908. It takes a full year of planning and broad participation to organize the "the oldest continuously run rodeo in the Northwest," maintain the grounds, and host the 3-day spectacle. Events include a professionally sanctioned rodeo, pari-mutuel horse racing, a parade, carnival, and livestock show and sale.

Even the city newsletter admits "there are meetings almost every night in Union." Since meetings outnumber official venues, many organizations allow their facilities to be used by other groups. For example, the Senior Meals program meets in the Methodist Church. Agricultural events are often held at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Association clubhouse on Main Street, where refreshments ranging from donuts to suppers are often provided by the Union County Cattlewomen.

Many of the town's public facilities rely on the support of volunteers. For example, the town library (established through the work of volunteers) receives both books and time from individuals and organizations, such as "our generous VFW Post and Ladies Auxiliary."

In recent years, the town has held an Awards Banquet to honor noteworthy community efforts, including an outstanding Man and Woman; Community Project; Student Volunteer; Emergency Services Volunteer; Business; and Civic Organization. Naturally, volunteers organize the event, and judges are drawn from the City's social-service organizations. In 2005, award recipients received an engraved plaque, and a complimentary "racing duck" from the Grassroots Committee-yet another group of voluntary civic boosters.

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