When retired preschool owner Colleen Strohm and her husband moved to Maupin after their retirement, they found a vibrant community, but no local newspaper. Strohm says she tried to talk others into starting one, but after no one took her up on it, she finally realized she’d need to do it herself. She and her husband launched “The South Wasco Times” in October. Strohm is the publisher, editor and reporter for the monthly print paper. Her husband, retired Portland State University professor Doug Lowell, takes photographs and manages advertising sales and distribution. The Times is not online, and Strohm says she has no plans to change that — part of the appeal is that the paper is printed … on paper. She and Lowell join us from Maupin to talk about the community response, what readers can expect from the Dec. 1 edition, and how they plan to keep the endeavor sustainable into the future.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. When Colleen Strohm and her husband moved to Maupin after they retired, they found a vibrant community but no local newspaper. Strohm, who used to run a preschool, says she tried to talk other people into starting a paper, but eventually she realized she had to do it herself. The result is the South Wasco Times. The inaugural issue of this monthly print paper was released in October. The third one is coming out soon. Colleen Strohm is now the publisher and editor and one of the reporters, her husband retired Portland State University Professor Doug Lowell takes photographs and manages advertising and sales and distribution. He reports as well. They both join me. It’s great to have both of you on the show.
Colleen Strohm: Hi, Dave. Thanks for having us.
Doug Lowell: It’s great to be here.
Miller: Thanks for joining us, Colleen first. How did you end up living full time in Maupin?
Strohm: The pandemic had a lot to do with it. I had a preschool in my home and I loved what I did and I didn’t imagine retiring. But suddenly the rules were different. Suddenly I would have had to let go of half of my children. How do you decide who to let go of? All of a sudden, children couldn’t share play dough. They had to stay 6 ft apart. There’s no way to run a quality preschool with those rules. So it was really frustrating. My husband had already retired, and we decided to just go for it. We sold our house and moved to Maupin.
Miller: So much of your answer was why you left Portland and got out of preschool. But why Maupin in particular?
Strohm: Well, we first were going to move to Mexico or Portugal because we thought we couldn’t afford to live in this country on our retirement. But then our daughter got pregnant and she was like, “You can’t move so far away.” So we started looking closer to town. We’ve always loved Maupin. We used to come here fishing in the ‘90s. We love Eastern Oregon. And so we looked, found a house for sale and I thought, “We have got lots of time because it’s been on the market for 100 days.” And then we got a call saying someone put an offer on it. So we ran over here, put in an offer, it was the only house we ever looked at and got it. So now we live right on the Deschutes River and in this town of 423 people. And it’s wonderful.
Miller: Doug, what was your plan for retirement? And did it include being a sort of the second banana for a new newspaper?
Lowell: Far from it, Dave. My background is advertising. I spent 36 years as a creative director and copywriter and then I taught for a while. No, my idea of retirement was to try and find the cheapest place we could to live, on what I knew, was not quite enough. And then with our daughter getting pregnant, we thought, “OK, two hours from Portland.” And then I love Maupin. So it’s like, OK, if we do it right, maybe we can afford this. Well, one of the things is, we could use some extra income. So when Colleen decided to start the paper, we realized it was an opportunity to maybe just kind of bring us up to the level of basic comfort in retirement.
Miller: Colleen, when did you realize that you wanted to actually create a newspaper?
Strohm: How about a month before I did it. I really just dove in. So, there used to be a newspaper here, a monthly, and he quit three years ago. It was called Wam Pin Rock [News]. And people missed it. It was different from what we do. When we met with the editor of the Wam Pin Rock, he was very helpful and very encouraging. But he gave us some advice that we didn’t follow. He said, “Don’t do any news. You’ll step on people’s toes. People will be upset. Don’t do news.” And we said, “Well, we hear you but we’re not gonna do that.” So we really do want to do news. And we want the things that are important to people here, not just the grange meetings and who brings the rhubarb pie, you know.
We wanna cover the school board and what happened to the big money that everybody contributed. Two or three years ago there was a bond issue. And so what happened to that? Did we do everything that we were planning to do with the bond? Why are there three gyms in such a small school? We wanna cover the city council meetings and see what happens. Because until recently, there really hasn’t been anyone giving any oversight. So if you don’t go to a meeting, you don’t really know what happens. I mean, you hear about it at the gas station the next day. You hear about it at the post office. But it’s not always what really happened.
Miller: Well, in fact, that’s one of the things you noted in your first editor’s note, that you went to a city council meeting and then the next day you heard people spreading, I assume, unintentionally real misinformation about what happened. What are examples of things people did say that you knew, because you’ve been at the meeting, were simply not true?
Strohm: So it was a meeting about parking. And it was amazing to me the next day when I heard people say, “I heard they’re gonna put signs on the main street saying 15 minutes. They’re gonna put signs every 20 ft.” No, there’s none of that. Someone said, “I heard they’re going to pave over Kaiser Park and make that into a parking lot.” Now, that was mentioned 14 years ago when they first gave us the park, someone had considered that, but no one ever talked about it as if it was going to happen now. People just said things. It was just amazing to me to hear people say things that just weren’t true.
Miller: So, I mean, it really does sound like a game of telephone where something was mentioned and then it gets passed along and taken out of context and then some people end up getting misinformation about what’s happening in their community.
One of the first articles you wrote had the headline, “What is the deal with the yard signs?” Can you describe the signs in question and why you wanted to write about this?
Strohm: Oh, that was another big impetus to start the paper. So all of a sudden one day, these yard signs crept up. And one of them said, “Don’t Bend Maupin,” which is kind of clever. Right? We don’t want to become Bend. And the other one said, “Keep Maupin normal, let Portland have its weird.” So I thought, wow, these are pretty intense. And I didn’t know the people that had the signs in their yard. And when I talked to people they either thought, “This is great, we don’t wanna turn into Bend,” or “I just was confused about it.” A lot of people were.
So when I decided to start the paper, I looked these people up. I had conversations with them. I talked to people that I maybe wouldn’t have talked to otherwise and got a lot of information about what they felt and things that went back 12 years ago when they built the civic center. There’s a lot of feeling that people are moving in from Portland or from elsewhere and trying to make Maupin into that, trying to make Maupin into Bend or Portland.
Miller: Did the people that you were interviewing, for your story, see you as a part of that?
Strohm: Probably. I apologized all over the place. I know I’m new. I know that I’m not the person to do the newspaper but what the heck, nobody else is doing it. And I think they got that. They did appreciate that I, at least, asked the question and I wanted to hear their side of the story.
Miller: Doug, if there is a single page that, for me, captures what you can do in a community paper that you might not see in other places, it is the Canyon Rim Class of 2023, which was in the first issue. Can you describe the page?
Lowell: Well, first of all, it’s an entire full page of the newspaper divided up into 24 photographs or so, portraits I made in black and white, of the residents of the assisted living center here in town called Canyon Rim. And it was the idea of Virginia Sheer, the director of it who does a brilliant job up there. I’d be willing to live there now, after having spent time there. And that’s saying a lot.
Anyway, her idea was that the seniors keep saying whenever it’s time for the high school seniors to have their pictures taken, “If they want a real senior, they ought to come and take a picture of us.” So she decided to do senior pictures, put out the word on Facebook, I jumped on it, and spent probably two hours a day every three days a week for about two or three weeks photographing everyone, which was just an absolute pleasure.
Miller: Why did you want to put that in the paper?
Lowell: You know, the whole idea here is that community is the core of our existence. I’ve never felt the importance of community the way I have since we’ve moved to a small town and to a series of towns in the South County that are small. Community is one of the reasons we started the paper because we believe that disunity within the community comes from not having a common source of news. We also believe that when people know each other, familiarity breeds compassion. And I thought, we both thought, let’s include these people who are residents and give them a chance in the spotlight.
Miller: Colleen, has working on this paper changed your own sense of belonging or community in a place that you knew, I guess from before, from fishing trips, from vacations, but you’ve only been living in now for a handful of years?
Strohm: Oh, completely. I did jump in when we moved here. I wanted to get to know people so I started volunteering at the recycling center, and I joined the garden club, and got on the board and I did a lot. I met a lot of people but there were people I hadn’t met. There were people that I didn’t get to know through those venues. And now people know me as the newspaper lady. I mean, it was great. I met someone the other day and she was introducing me to her wife and she said, “she’s the one that runs the newspaper.” And she said, “Oh, we love the newspaper.” So that was pretty great.
Miller: Can you tell us about “Fooey and Flossie?” They are a monthly feature in your new newspaper?
Strohm: So I was at a meeting to restore the Legion Hall. And so we were talking about that and suddenly somebody brought up something about Fooey and Flossie. And I said, ok, who are Fooey and Flossie? This is a great name and turns out they’re the parents of three of the older residents here, including Rod, who runs the gas station.
Lowell: And let’s just say Rod Woodside has to be acknowledged as one of the most outstanding figures and a great pillar of our society. He runs the gas station, and man, if you ever want to know what’s going on, you talk to Rod.
Strohm: Exactly. So, I heard that, oh, gosh, that’s his parents. Well, the first story I heard is the one I printed in the first issue, and it was about a potato gun. And Fooey had made himself a potato gun that shoots full size potatoes and was shooting it at some buzzards up in his tree.
Miller: That’s a potato bazooka, I think. Not a potato pellet gun. Oh my goodness.
Strohm: And the woman across the street called the police because she swore that someone was shooting and she was getting hit by bullets. And so the police showed up at his door and Flossie met them at the door. Flossie was his wife and they said, “Do you know anything about this potato?” And she said, “No, I really don’t.” And so then, Fooey came and explained what happened and she said that the policeman had a very hard time not laughing about the whole thing. And just, he was one of those guys that got into mischief. So the next day, Flossie printed up her own wanted posters with Fooey’s picture on them and put them all over town. “Wanted for potato gun problems,” whatever, it is so funny.
Miller: And now month in month out, you will share with the South Wasco audience other stories about Fooey and Flossie.
Miller: Colleen Strohm and Doug Lowell, thanks very much. Congratulations.
Strohm: Thank you, Dave.
Lowell: Such a pleasure.
Miller: Colleen Strohm and Doug Lowell, the wife and husband team behind the new monthly print newspaper, The South Wasco Times. The first edition came out in October. The next one, the December issue, is just days away.
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