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A Cut Above: Chef Aly Sedlock

Fossil’s Royal Stag chef Aly Sedlock feels at home in Wheeler County

Aly Sedlock says that she knew from a young age that she would either live in a big city or out in the country. “Anything in the middle sounded boring,” she says.

Originally from Salem, food has been a constant in Aly’s life and her childhood memories revolve around her grandmother cooking everything from scratch and her love of canning.

When her grandmother wasn’t around, Aly’s dad was the main cook at home and she enjoyed eating his food and they often cooked together.

But throughout high school, becoming a chef was not on Aly’s radar.

“I thought I was going to be a business person for a long time,” she says.

Aly moved to Portland and says that she started to become attracted to the lifestyle of cooking and working in a restaurant. But it was 2008 and with the economy in a recession, Aly had a hard time landing a job. So, she enrolled in culinary school and then began working in restaurants in Lake Oswego and Oregon City.

Then, Aly says, she met a boy and moved to Dufur. “I loved it – I loved the lifestyle,” Aly recalls. “I worked on a goji berry farm and bottle-fed calves and hucked hay.”

While in Dufur, Aly bartended at the Past Time – the local watering hole adored by locals and travelers. After a couple of years, Aly moved to Grass Valley and began cooking again at the Grass Valley Market.

When Evergreen State Holdings LLC setup the hemp production site in Grass Valley, the owner, Ted Swindell bought the Grass Valley store so his employees could have a place to eat. It also marked a turning point for Aly, who was back in the kitchen and working with her partner, who managed the market. Aly excelled in the kitchen and felt the creative juices flowing.

“I had heard about the Royal Stag and I liked the vibe.” – Aly Sedlock, chef at the Royal Stag

But then Aly had her daughter and decided to stay at home with her – though she did start a catering company and cooked for select events and clients. When her daughter turned three, Aly was ready to get back to work.

“I had heard about the Royal Stag and I liked the vibe,” Aly says.

The timing couldn’t have been better for owner Shawn Hawkins, who had recruited a chef from Florida when the restaurant opened but saw him leave due to housing limitations in the area. Hawkins says that in retrospect, the chef wasn’t the right fit for the place and that it was a blessing in disguise after Aly came along.

“It’s rare that you have a chef, an honest to goodness trained chef in a town this size. I hope people recognize that and appreciate that.”Shawn Hawkins, owner of the Royal Stag

Hawkins had paired down the original menu before Aly started but says that she has been given creative freedom and that she has his complete trust.

“It’s rare that you have a chef, an honest to goodness trained chef in a town this size,” Hawkins said. “I hope people recognize that and appreciate that.”

Aly likes to cook with local and seasonal ingredients and with Hawkins, has created a strong partnership with Painted Hills Natural Beef and with the Davis family, who has an expansive garden near Service Creek.

“I was in Service Creek a lot this summer,” Aly says. “I would go over almost every day. They would stock their shelf and I would take almost everything else.”

Aly’s arrival gave Hawkins the time he needed to concentrate on finishing the bar, which he opened on New Year’s Eve. The bar has a separate menu and there are two distinct parts of the restaurant – one that is finer dining in the front and one that caters to the bar crowd in the back. Hawkins is also working to get the ten-barrel brewing operation set up in the adjacent building to the south.

The Royal Stag’s dining room in Fossil, Oregon (file photo)

“I was in Service Creek a lot this summer. I would go over almost every day. They would stock their shelf and I would take almost everything else.” Aly Sedlock, chef at the Royal Stag

While staffing has been a continual challenge, Hawkins says that he is relieved to have a real chef in the kitchen and that Aly is the perfect fit, though he recognizes that she needs help and that more kitchen staff are needed.

At Hawkins’ first restaurant – Tiger Town in Mitchell, employees came to town as visitors and fell in love with the area, and then took jobs. Still, Hawkins had to buy a house for them to live in due to a lack of housing.

“I’m definitely glad that life has brought me in this direction. I love gardening, I love animals, I love being out in the middle of nowhere and our family life. And I love working hard and earning it.” – Aly Sedlock, chef at the Royal Stag

Aly is hopeful that someone who has a passion for food and wants to cook will come along, even if they don’t have any experience.

“No experience is just fine,” she says, “I’ll take no experience because I can train somebody how we need to cook here.”

Regardless, Aly feels like she is putting down roots and says that she is here for the long haul.

“I’m definitely glad that life has brought me in this direction,” Aly says. “I love gardening, I love animals, I love being out in the middle of nowhere and our family life. And I love working hard and earning it.”

Hawkins agrees and says that unlike the previous two restaurants at the site, he is not “just passing through” and he is committed to making it work at the Royal Stag.

“I own property here – my family and life is here, this has to work because we aren’t going anywhere.”

Shortage of dispatchers tests Frontier Regional 911

Front-line emergency staff pushed to the limit and looking to fill ranks

CONDON, OR – When a man stole a rifle and began threatening people at the Jefferson County Fair in Madras on July 23, a 911 call was made.

Inside the Frontier Regional 911 Dispatch Center in Condon, some 85 miles away, a dispatch operator took the call and within 21 seconds, informed law enforcement personnel. The suspect tried to evade the police and aimed the rifle at bystanders, motorists and law enforcement officers before being shot and taken into custody.

Few know the demands that are put on 911 dispatchers, who are on the front lines of emergency response. Even fewer understand the challenges of doing the job in frontier communities – where unreliable cell phone service and distant trauma hospitals make every second count.

Now, those demands are compounded as there is a shortage of dispatchers in the area and existing staff are working around the clock.

Staffing shortages

The Frontier Regional 911 center in Condon was formed in 2002 to serve Gilliam, Wheeler, and Sherman counties. In 2012, Jefferson County joined Frontier Regional 911.

Located inside the ESD building on Condon’s Main Street, twelve people are needed to fully staff the center. Currently, there are just four.

Around the country, there is a shortage of 911 dispatch operators. Before the COVID pandemic, approximately 15% of 911 operator positions were vacant according to the Emergency Number Association, a nonprofit that advocates for 911 operators. Today, the association estimates that 30% of 911 operator positions are unfilled and in some places, like Frontier Regional 911, it is much more.

The signs of a growing problem have been clear over the past year.

In August, a rural emergency dispatch center in Washington state closed due to a shortage of 911 dispatch operators. In Austin, Texas several deaths have been blamed on long wait times for reaching emergency dispatchers.

Across the country, 911 dispatch centers are understaffed and those that remain are working unsustainable hours.

In Condon, the four remaining 911 dispatch operators are working twelve-hours on, twelve hours off, seven days a week.

According to supervisor Laura Smith, staff at the Frontier Regional 911 center typically work 170 hours a month. Recently, they have been adding up to 130 hours of overtime.

In an effort to recruit more 911 dispatchers, the 911 Frontier Regional Board of Directors agreed to raise pay rates and to institute a signing bonus. They also bumped pay for those in higher tiers who have been with the agency for several years.

The good news: there are two new-hires in training and a few applications have been turned in. The bad news: training takes up to eight months, including a three week requirement at the academy. There are currently six open positions unfilled at the agency.

A tight-knit team

Unlike businesses that close when there is a shortage of workers, 911 dispatch doesn’t have that option. Calls must be answered, and staff must work through long shifts despite being shorthanded.

The Frontier Regional 911 command center is a dimly lit room with arrays of computer monitors and a large map projected on the wall. 911 dispatcher Carol Greenfield and supervisors Laura Smith and Nicole Lathrop work in lockstep. Being in sync is crucial as each dispatcher depends on support from their coworkers.

Greenfield, who has been a dispatcher for twenty years, says that working closely together is crucial in this job.

Frontier Regional 911 Supervisor Nicole Lathrop has worked twelve on – twelve off seven days a week at times to keep the 911 lines open. (Stephen Allen/The Times-Journal)

“When something happens, you don’t just get one person calling 911,” Greenfield says. “Everybody calls and everybody has a different story.”

Listening to conversations that other dispatchers are having and working closely together helps to sort through the chaos and to identify the need.

“We’re in the trenches together,” says Nicole Lathrop. “We’re like a family, and in close quarters we spend a lot of time together.”

The next generation of dispatch

Wheeler County Sheriff Mike Smith says that the dispatcher job has about a fifty percent washout rate and that it takes a special individual to do the work.

“In some ways, it’s easier to train someone to be a sheriff’s deputy than to be a dispatcher,” Sheriff Smith says. “To work in law enforcement, you need to be able to think on your feet and to use good common-sense judgement. But for dispatchers, you have to be thinking about three things at the same time and juggling tasks with other dispatchers. It is tough work.”

Gilliam Co. Sheriff Gary Bettencourt says that people who have worked jobs that require quick reactions and can multi-task are well suited for 911 dispatch.

“People that have worked in the restaurant industry often do well,” Sheriff Bettencourt says. “They have to remember a lot, juggle demands that come up and then return to previous tasks. That isn’t easy.”

Gilliam Co. Sheriff Gary Bettencourt inside the agency’s server room. Sheriff Bettencourt chairs the Frontier Regional 911 board of directors. (Stephen Allen/The Times-Journal)

As Sheriffs Bettencourt and Smith were giving the interview, Andrew Seale was completing his test to join the team. Seale has worked as a cook and has experience juggling jobs and tasks in several restaurants in Condon.

Restaurant workers are also accustomed to working late nights and shift work. But in addition to these skills, the job also requires the right kind of temperament and commitment.

Carol Greenfield says that for the right person, it is an excellent career.

“It’s a career, not a job,” says Greenfield. “For a woman in this area, there are few careers to get into with good pay, excellent benefits, life insurance, retirement. It’s an excellent opportunity – but you have to have the right personality. It’s not for everybody.”

For sheriffs in Gilliam, Wheeler, Sherman and Jefferson counties, the push to find more staff is at full throttle. Sheriffs Bettencourt and Smith have spoken at county court and are sharing job descriptions on law enforcement job pages and on social media. Supervisors Nicole Lathrop and Laura Smith are also doing interviews and looking for the right candidates.

Their hope is to not just fill the positions, but to recruit team members that have some longevity in the field.

“We’re looking for the next generation of dispatch,” says Sheriff Mike Smith.

Having support from Sheriff Bettencourt and Smith, who are both board members of Frontier Regional 911, is significant. Both have pushed to upgrade the computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems which can save dispatchers time and improve records. The current system at Frontier Regional 911 is twenty years old and is becoming outdated, says Sheriff Bettencourt.

“The new system will give us more capabilities and improve operability between agencies,” Sheriff Bettencourt said.

The Frontier Regional 911 board also believes that the new, upgraded system will streamline tasks and help with retention.

“We have mapping for every area,” says Sheriff Bettencourt. “People coming into the center now are impressed with our new system.”

The buildout of the system has taken a lot of time and staff have been cautious in each phase.

“We’re going to have this CAD system for the next 20 years,” says Sheriff Smith. “We got one chance to do it right.”

Local Influence

While experienced 911 dispatchers would be welcomed to join the team at Frontier Regional 911, having local knowledge of the area is an even bigger asset, say staff members. Sheriffs Bettencourt and Smith agree.

“Local influence is important,” says Sheriff Smith. “In Wheeler County, we’re sitting on 1,700 square miles. Emergency responders are dodging deer, elk, rocks, and trees.”

It is also common that a local resident that calls 911 doesn’t know the name of a road or a mile marker on the highway. They often give descriptions based off of landmarks or the name of a family that owned a property for many years.

A caller might say “there is an accident by the red barn at the old Potter place.” A local has a keen understanding of what that might mean whereas someone from outside of the area would naturally struggle.

Having such local input creates quicker response times and can save lives.

“It is essential, especially when it is volunteers who are jumping into ambulance to go help meet that need,” says Sheriff Smith.

While locals are sought after and encouraged to consider the position, Frontier Regional 911 is also looking outside of the area and to welcome staff to come to Condon. One challenge that the agency has faced is the availability of housing.

Limited housing options means limited applicants, says Laura Smith. “It’s a real struggle.”

Laura Smith, Frontier Regional 911 Supervisor, says limited housing is limiting new recruits to the 911 dispatch center in Condon. (Stephen Allen/The Times-Journal)

Sheriff Bettencourt says that the board is trying to think outside of the box and to be creative with housing solutions for new staff.

“We’re looking at the center owning a house at the upcoming workforce housing,” at the Condon Golf Course, Sheriff Bettencourt says. “We’re trying to be creative in our solutions.”

Jefferson County’s investment

When Jefferson County joined Frontier Regional 911 in 2012, the agency was significantly altered.

Although Frontier Regional 911 did get a big bump in its annual budget, there were also very different emergencies and new demands for 911 dispatchers.

“We went from having 5,000 calls a year to 50,000 calls a year,” when Jefferson County joined, says Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt.

The number of calls and the severity of incidents have increased considerably in recent years, says Frontier 911 supervisor Nicole Lathrop.

“Every summer we get busier and busier, with more traumatic calls,” Lathrop says. “There are more chases and violent confrontations between police and suspects. Last week there were three shootings in Jefferson County.”

This year, Frontier Regional 911 is averaging 6,394 calls per month. A staggering 87% of 911 calls are from Jefferson County.

Jefferson County joined Frontier Regional 911 in 2012 and now accounts for 87% of all 911 calls. With territory into the Cascades, the Warm Springs Reservation and Madras – the territory has a higher crime rate and different emergency needs than the frontier counties of Gilliam, Wheeler and Sherman. (map from crimegrade.org)

Recently, the Frontier Regional 911 board hired a consultant to go over their data and to assess the demands of each county. The data showed that calls from Jefferson County made up a vast majority of the calls to the center and that the time required for each call was significant.

“Having the consultant information and large amount of calls from Jefferson County warrants a discussion,” says Sheriff Bettencourt. “We have to talk about managing expectations of Jefferson County,” under the current agreement he said.

Dispatcher Carol Greenfield said that a deputy from Jefferson County offered to take staff on a ride-along to better understand the territory.

“Jefferson County’s territory goes to the Cascades,” says Greenfield. “It’s hard to get a handle on that amount of territory.”

By and large, Jefferson County has not actively supported recruiting staff for the 911 call center. Sheriffs Bettencourt and Smith say that the current model is not sustainable.

“Our next board meeting is not until January,” Sheriff Bettencourt says. “We need solutions now.”

Supporting staff

Despite the challenges that staff have endured, moral remains high at the Frontier Regional 911 dispatch center in Condon, says Sheriff Bettencourt.

The stress that staff endure is evident but so too is their resiliency and desire to help each other.

Staff do have access to counseling as part of their benefit package. Former Wheeler County Sheriff Chris Humphreys is offering specialized counseling services for dispatchers and law enforcement personnel as part of his job with Community Counseling Solutions. Staff also said that in-person counseling is available after an especially traumatic event, such as the death of someone in the community that they know.

They are also thankful to have supportive families.

“A shoutout to my family,” says Nicole Lathrop. “We couldn’t do this without their support.”

Sheriff Bettencourt says that dispatchers have found ways to bring their family members into the 911 facility to have quality time together.

Over Halloween, Nicole’s daughter came to the dispatch center with breakfast for her mom. As Nicole returned to work, her daughter went to a table and began carving a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern.

Wheeler County Rattlers win first Championship, cap undefeated season


Rattlers down Triangle Lake Lakers 30-0, cement place in history

SISTERS – The Wheeler County Rattlers are the top 6-Man team in the state. The team hoisted the Oregon Six-Man Football trophy after holding Triangle Lake scoreless and controlling the championship game on Saturday at Sisters High School.

In front of an adoring crowd, the Rattlers again displayed a stingy defense – the Triangle Lake Lakers could not find paydirt, despite having several possessions inside the red zone.

The win in the championship game showcased Wheeler County’s toughness and endurance.

Spray Senior Thomas Chase said that after hard fought possessions at the beginning of the game, the Rattlers were able to wear down the Lakers. “We wanted it more,” Chase said after the game as the celebration broke out. “We’ve been at this for four years – if you would have told me a year ago that we would win the championship, I might not have believed it,” Chase said. “This is amazing.”

The 2021 season has been an historic one for the Wheeler County Rattlers. The team sensed that they were on the verge of being great in the abbreviated 2020 season played last spring. Once all of the pieces were put together, the team proved to be formidable.

As the team celebrated on the field with bubbles of Martinelli’s – fans posed for photos and gathered on the field and in the stands. Wheeler County residents past and present shared the victory with the team.

Soaking it all up was Rattler Head Coach Jerry Anderson and assistants Jon McMurray and Darrell Yount.

Pointing to the crowd, coach Anderson held the trophy and said “this is for you!”

First COVID vaccination in Wheeler Co.

Dr. Robert Boss of Asher Community Health Center is the first person in Wheeler County to receive the vaccine for COVID-19. Dr. Boss received the vaccination on January 4th. Residents at Haven House were also offered the vaccine today.

Ten vials, containing a total of 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine were delivered to the Wheeler Co. Public Health Department last week. The Moderna vaccine is a two-part vaccine, so a second inoculation will be required after 28 days.

Healthcare workers around the country are the first to receive the Moderna vaccine, which has shown a 94% effectivity rate. Emergency responders and staff at the Asher Clinic have been offered the inoculation.

After finishing with vaccinations at the clinic, staff from the Asher Clinic went to Haven House and offered the vaccine to residents of the facility.

Rufus man sought in double homicide

On March 16, 2023, at around 2202 hours, the Klickitat County Department of Emergency Management received information from the FBI Taskforce out of Yakima, Washington, of a possible suspect involved in burning two bodies on the Yakama Nation Tribal Reservation in the Toppenish, Washington, area.

One of the suspects was believed to be in the Goldendale area.

On March 17, 2023, at around 0203 hours, Officer Michael Steljes with the Goldendale Police Department, Deputy Zack McBride with the Sheriff’s Office, and agents with the FBI Taskforce located a vehicle associated with one of the suspects in the case, in Goldendale. A traffic stop was conducted on the associated vehicle and two subjects were taken into custody. The fist subject was determined to be a suspect in the burning of the two bodies and the second subject was determined to not be involved in the incident, but was found to have a warrant for his arrest in an unrelated case.

Through the investigation, it was determined a homicide involving the two dead bodies had occurred on Box Canyon Road north of Goldendale in Klickitat County, Washington. A third crime scene was located along Highway 97 on the Yakama Nation Tribal Reservation.
Agents with the FBI Seattle Office, as well as Agents with the FBI Yakima Office processed the crime scene where the bodies had been burned. The Washington State Patrol sent a Detective unit as well as a Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team to assist in processing the other crime scenes.

A second suspect was identified and is believed to be the shooter. The second suspect is believed to still be armed with the weapon used in the homicide and was believed to have been driver to Rufus, Oregon.

The Sherman County Sheriff’s assisted in the investigation, and called in The Dalles Police Department SWAT Team, as well as the Mid-Columbia SWAT Team.
Attempts were made to arrest the second suspect at his residence, but the suspect left approximately 20 minutes before the SWAT Teams arrived.
Warrants were issued for the second suspect charging him with two counts of Murder in the First Degree. The second suspect was identified as John Scott Raczykowski, 31 years old of Rufus, Oregon.

Raczykowski is believed to be armed and dangerous.

Biggs TA Travel Center burns to the ground

14 fuel pumps spared from blaze

By Jessica R. Wheeler

The TA Express Travel Center on the west end of Biggs Junction caught fire early Tuesday morning, reducing the building to rubble in a matter of hours.

The fire was reported by staff about 5 a.m. Tuesday, with a dryer vent being the possible source of the blaze.

An official investigation into the cause of the fire will be carried out by the state fire marshal, Sherman County Undersheriff James Burgett said, but he’s not sure how soon.

“If it’s still hot and smoldering, they’re not going to go into it quite yet,” Burgett said.

Employees were safely evacuated from the building, and no injuries were reported, he said.

Crews from North Gilliam Fire, North Sherman Fire, Moro Fire, South Sherman Fire and Sherman County Ambulance responded to the blaze. They had the situation under control within a couple hours, and by 9 a.m. the area was in mop-up.

Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey was on site shortly after the fire started and captured some photos just as the building became fully engulfed.

Unfortunately, the building was completely destroyed by the time the blaze was contained, with only a shell of the frame remaining.

“It’s gone,” Burgett said. “The building is going to be a total loss. Thankfully the crews did save the (fuel) pumps on both sides.”

Sherman County Emergency Services Director Dana Pursley-Haner said crews initially were concerned about the fire spreading to the fuel pumps, but they were able to quickly secure the location and contain the blaze.

Only the building’s shell of a frame remains at TA Travel Center truck stop in Biggs – destroyed by fire in early hours of March 7. (Sherman Co. Sheriff’s Office)

The TA Travel Center in Biggs is a relatively new addition to Sherman County’s busy truck stop along Interstate 84 and Highway 97, with construction wrapping up just a few years ago. At the time of the fire, it housed a large Chevron convenience store as well as a Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Krispy Krunchy Chicken.

According to a report Tuesday from Columbia Community Connection News in The Dalles, the TA Express franchise is owned by Biggs Petroleum LLC, based in Salem. Biggs Petroleum is owned by three Oregonians, Tony Singh, Nirmal Virk and Don Sidhu, who have similar businesses in and around Salem and Albany, Sidhu said. The Biggs Junction site has 14 fueling islands – seven for vehicles and seven for semi-trucks, all of which appear to be undamaged by the fire.

The Biggs Service District does not have a municipal water system. Instead, it is served by privately owned water systems, each with its own storage and varying levels of treatment. Additionally, there is no connectivity between the systems, and no capacity to provide sufficient water volume in case of a fire, according to a news release from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development dated August 2020.

New building permits are no longer being issued until adequate fire flows can be provided to commercial areas within the district, the statement said.

The USDA’s Rural Development program has invested $2.1 million into the project, with an end goal of drilling a well to supply drinking water for this very small community that primarily serves as a rest and refueling stop for traffic along the two major highways. A pump station will be constructed to provide well controls and water treatment, and a 400,000-gallon reservoir will be installed.

“I saw the fire crews hauling trucks of water from Rufus to Biggs,” Burgett said. “They have these portable pools they dump the water into and then pump the water to their trucks.”

EMS Director Pursley-Haner confirmed that water was delivered from Rufus with tenders to the Port-a-Tank to refill the engines that supply water lines.

She said even if crews had been able to access water hydrants, the blaze tore through the building so quickly that hydrants might not have made much difference.

“Unfortunately, the building likely would not have survived,” she said.

As an unincorporated municipality, Biggs Service District is its own separate entity, but it is currently managed by the county acting as its board of directors, Sherman County Judge Joe Dabulskis said.

He added that the water services project upgrade is well under way, and in fact is getting close to completion.

“They’ve laid the pipe, the fire hydrants are all set, they’ve dug the well, but the water tank is in progress,” Dabulskis said. “The tank is the next step.”

Dabulskis remembers attending the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new TA Travel Center in April 2020 said he was very disappointed Tuesday to hear about the fire that destroyed it.

“They took pride in their facility,” he said, noting that it was always clean, inside and out. He also mentioned how many times he’s driven by at 6 a.m. and seen workers outside picking up trash on the grounds so it didn’t blow up onto the hillside. “They’re good people, and it’s a huge loss for the area.” 

Dr. Seuss Carnival tonight in Sherman Co.

Sherman County PTO celebrates full calendar of events

By Jessica R. Wheeler

The Sherman Parent Teacher Organization is only partway through the academic year, but it has already hosted a full slate of events for families and youths — and there’s still more fun yet to come.

Tonight, the Sherman PTO will host the Dr. Seuss Carnival on March 3 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Later this month, the Missoula Children’s Theatre will put on two shows next month, March 24 at 7 p.m. and March 25 at 3 p.m.

Sherman PTO is a group of parents and teachers of Sherman County kids. According to its mission statement, Sherman PTO fosters a sense of community both inside the school environment and outside of school, as well.

“We bring parents together to meet one another outside of school, helping us to get to know our neighbors and meet families that are new to the county,” PTO said in a statement.

PTO President Liz Cranston said their team of dedicated volunteers has been working hard to plan back-to-back family friendly events all year.

“We strongly believe that building these relationships, learning about support organizations and gaining knowledge from each other will make us stronger parents and educators and in turn strengthen our kids and families,” Cranston said. “A huge part of that is simply planning fun, engaging and enriching activities for the whole family throughout the school year.”

Planning began in September with the start of school. Sherman PTO hosted a combined planning meeting with Sherman Boosters to bring parents and community members together to discuss options for the entire year. Sherman County Prevention has also been involved with events, with a focus on providing safe and fun activities for Sherman youths.

The organizations co-sponsored the annual Halloween Trunk-or-Treat festivities at the Wasco School Events Center, as well at the Smith Farms Haunted Barn just outside Wasco. In November, PTO helped support the Sherman Prevention and Sherman Wellness Center’s 5k Turkey Trot.

“Unfortunately, two different snow storms made us cancel the Polar Express, but we can’t wait to put it on next year,” Cranston said. Polar Express Night at the school typically features books and storytime, with hot cocoa and treats, in keeping with the theme of this iconic holiday storybook.

In January, they hosted a family game night with pizza, prizes and family friendly competition. February kicked off with both a family dance and middle school dance, held on the same night in different wings of the school. Volunteers and school staff came together to adorn both spaces with blacklights and assorted glow decor. Kids and families were invited to wear their brightest neon clothing and dance the night away.

Also in February, volunteers packaged up their annual hygiene kits for 5th and 6th grade students. The kits were stuffed with shampoo, soaps and body washes, toothbrushes and deodorant and were distributed to students free of charge.

“We truly have the best volunteers in our community,” Cranston said of the upcoming carnival. “All the booths will be manned by parents and community organizations. Bouncy houses, cotton candy, prizes, face painting and live fish are all donated this year by local businesses and organizations.”

Those supporting the school carnival and other events this year include MCP, MCGG, Dinty’s, Sherman Prevention, Four Rivers Early Learning Hub, the McGregor Company and others. PTO events are also funded in part by a grant from Sherman County Cultural Coalition.

Toward the end of the school year, the group is planning a Pinewood Derby, a Cinco de Mayo fundraiser and activities for Field Day on the last day of school.

Aside from fundraising events, parent volunteers raise money and boost school pride by selling Husky apparel. And next month, they will be recognizing classified staff and teachers with goodie bags, food and gifts.

“We also have amazing parents who take Gus the Husky all over, showcasing their careers and how what they learned in school helps them in their jobs today,” Cranston said of the PTO’s mascot, a plush Husky named Gus.

Deanna Christiansen of Sherman County Prevention, who is also the Booster Club secretary and longtime volunteer, said they would love to have more parents and volunteers throughout the year. “Remember, every parent of a 7th through 12th grader is a Booster Parent and can participate in events and meetings, and engage in events that support the intra/extra-curricular activities for all Sherman students,” Christiansen said. “Being active in Boosters or PTO is a wonderful way to connect with other parents, families, and to be an active part of the broader school community. We have been so excited to partner with PTO — coming together has felt wonderful this year.”

On To State: OSAA Basketball tips off today

Wheeler Co. Rattlers, Arlington/Ione Cardinals, Sherman Co. Huskies in 32 team bracket

With the district tournament in the rear view, remaining teams are now jumping into the state tournament.

The Sherman County boys and girls, Ione-Arlington boys and girls and the Wheeler Co. Rattlers boys teams are still in it.

In the 32-team bracket, the Rattlers have been given the 18 seed. Wheeler County travels to Molalla on Wednesday and will face the 15 seed Country Christian. The teams look to be evenly matched and it should be a good one.

The Ione-Arlington Cardinals are the number 28 seed and will face fifth seed North Douglas. It’ll be a tough matchup for the Cardinals, but the team has size. Guard Carson Eynetich also has bounced back from a dislocated ankle and will play.

The Sherman County Huskies battled and were able to make the tournament as the fourth team from the Big Sky.

South Wasco has been given the number six team but the team is without standout guard Jason Hull, who suffered a season ending injury in late January. Without Hull, the team has struggled down the stretch. Still, with the wins over the Cardinals and Rattlers, South Wasco enjoys easier competition in the opening rounds and could make a run.

In girls basketball, the Lady Huskies of Sherman Co. are in good shape and have been given the 23 seed in the OSSA 1A State Basketball tournament. The Lady Huskies traveled to number 10 seed Prairie City on Tuesday. Results will be shared next week.

The Lady Cardinals of Ione-Arlington dropped three games in the district tournament but still are alive for the state basketball tournament.

The Lady Cardinals were the number one seed from the Big Sky East and despite the losses at districts, were given the 25th seed in the OSAA rankings. The Lady Cardinals traveled to the number 8 seed Jordan Valley on Tuesday.

Rattlers survive Sherman Co. comeback, advance to district championship


SPRAY – There was no quit in the Sherman County Huskies on Thursday night.

Trailing from the start, the Huskies could have folded. But each time the Rattlers stretched their lead, the Huskies came back.

Ultimately, it was not enough and the Wheeler Co. Rattlers beat the Sherman Co. Huskies 59-51.

Spray exchange student Eddie Wu provided a spark for the Rattlers. (Times-Journal)

The game opened with a 3-pointer by Carter Boise, who also had a rebound and put-back to give the Rattlers a 12-4 lead early.

But Sherman County’s Gabe Fritts answered, as he did all night, with a 3-pointer to make it 14-9 at the end of the first quarter.

Levan Whitbeck opened the second quarter with a three-point bucket and hit another minutes later. But Fritts again answered both of those buckets with threes of his own.

Spray superfan Ed Greinegar at the district tournament game on Thursday. (Times-Journal)

Fritts would finish with a game-high 24 points, including five from behind the arc.

But in the third quarter, Wheeler Co. showed their grit. Nate Clark grabbed rebound after rebound on the offensive and defensive end.

In a 1-3-1 press, the Rattlers stole the ball and Clark dunked it. Clark then beat the buzzer with an acrobatic shot to put Wheeler Co up 48-29 going into the 4th.

Rattlers v. Huskies – Big Sky District Tournament – 02/16/2023

Clark finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds while being double-teamed for much of the game.

But the Huskies would not go down without a fight.

Eduardo Rubio slipped through the Rattler defense time and again in the fourth. Rubio finished with 14 points.

The Huskies clawed back, scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter and getting a late three-pointer from Fritts to cut the lead to 56-51.

But clutch free throws from Carter Boise, who finished with 19 points, sealed it for the Rattlers.

“We’ve been working and improving for 100 days. That’s the resilience of this group – they started believing in themselves at the right time.” – Sherman Co. Coach Gary Lewis

Huskies coach Gary Lewis said that going into the fourth, he told the team to go all out. “We told our kids, we got eight minutes. We’ve been working and improving for 100 days. That’s the resilience of this group – they started believing in themselves at the right time. Unfortunately, you can’t dig a hole as deep as we did against a quality opponent.”

Sherman Co. will face Ione/Arlington in the 3rd/4th place game in The Dalles on Saturday at noon.

With the win, the Rattlers will go to the Big Sky District Championship game in The Dalles on Saturday. The Rattlers will face the S. Wasco Co. Redsides, who are undefeated in league play.

“They’re tough, they have good players and they play their roles well. It’ll be a battle.” – Wheeler Co. coach Garey Fischer

Wheeler Co. Coach Garey Fischer said his team is looking forward to the rematch against S. Wasco.

“They’re tough, they have good players and they play their roles well. It’ll be a battle,” Coach Fischer said.

Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM on Saturday.

Free Fishing President’s Day Weekend, Feb. 18-19  

SALEM, Ore.—Make fishing part of your three-day weekend plans. Everyone can fish, clam and crab for free in Oregon on Saturday and Sunday of President’s Day Weekend, Feb. 18-19, 2023.  

No fishing/shellfish licenses or tags (including a Combined Angling Tag or Columbia River Basin Endorsement or Two-Rod Validation) are required those two days. Both Oregon residents and nonresidents can fish for free.  

All other fishing regulations apply including closures, bag limits and size restrictions. See the Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations for rules and remember to check for any in season regulation changes at the Recreation Report especially for salmon and steelhead fishing. Click on the zone where you want to fish and then click the “Regulation Updates” tab to see the in-season changes.   

The Recreation Report is updated weekly and features the best bests for fishing for the upcoming week. For beginners, Easy Angling Oregon is a great guide to getting started fishing in Oregon, and if you live near Portland, Bend, Medford, Roseburg or in Lane County, there are lots of nearby options.  

Prefer to crab or clam instead? MyODFW has all the information you need to get started clamming or crabbing. Remember to check ocean conditions and take safety precautions—always clam with a friend and never turn your back on the ocean.   

As of Feb. 14, crabbing is open coastside but razor clamming is closed along the entire Oregon coast due to biotoxin levels.   

Remember to call the ODA Shellfish safety hotline at 1-800-448-2474 or check their Shellfish page before you go clamming or crabbing. The Oregon Department of Agriculture regularly tests shellfish and closes areas when naturally occurring biotoxins get to levels that make crabs and clams unsafe to eat.  

District basketball tournament jumps off today

Sherman, Wheeler Co. girls teams open tournament on Monday

District tournament play for Big Sky Basketball teams will get underway tonight and continue through the week.

Six teams from the Big Sky League are facing off and will vie for a place in the OSAA State 1A Basketball Tournament.

Girls Teams

On Monday, the Wheeler Rattlers girls team (combined team of Wheeler High, Spray High, and Mitchell High School) will travel to Trout Lake to open the tournament.

The Lady Rattlers (8-6 League, 9-11 Overall) are the #3 seed from the Big Sky East and the Trout Lake Mustangs (13-2 League, 17-5 Overall) are the #2 seed from the Big Sky West.

The winner will face the #1 seed from the Big Sky East – Ione/Arlington Cardinals (14-8 Overall, 11-3 League).

On the other side of the bracket, the #2 seed from the east – Sherman Co. Lady Huskies (10-4 League, 15-8 Overall) – will host #3 seed from the west, Klickitat / Glenwood (7-7 League, 10-7 Overall).

The winner will face top seed South Wasco (15-0 League, 23-2 Overall) on Wednesday in Maupin.

The Big Sky District Championship Games will be played in The Dalles on Saturday, February 18.

Boys teams

On Tuesday, the #2 seed east seed Ione/Arlington (10-11 Overall, 7-5 League) will host #3 west seed Dufur (11-9 Overall, 9-5 League). The winner will face South Wasco (22-2 Overall, 14-0 League in Maupin on Thursday.

Also on Tuesday, the #3 east seed Sherman Co. (13-10 Overall, 5-7 League) will travel to Hood River to play Horizon Christian (16-6 Overall, 11-3 League).

On Thursday, the Wheeler Rattlers will host the winner of the Sherman / Horizon Christian game in Spray at 6 PM.

Wheeler Co. will then play in The Dalles for the Big Sky Championship games on Saturday, Feb. 18. The top four teams playing in The Dalles will go on to the state tournament.

Body recovered from house fire in Condon


CONDON – A fire that spread quickly and destroyed a house in Condon also appears to have claimed a life.

The Gilliam County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that a body was found in the aftermath of the fire, which started during the noon-hour on Thursday, Feb. 9.

Gilliam County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Tory Flory told The Times-Journal that a body had been recovered from the scene but would not identify the victim.

A fire at home on Dangerous Building List was engulfed in flames on Thursday, Feb. 9. After the fire was extinguished, a body was recovered from the debris. (The Times-Journal)

The Sheriff’s Office is working with the county’s medical examiner and the State Fire Marshal to conduct a thorough investigation. The identity of the victim will be released at a later time.

The fire started at approximately 12:30 PM on Thursday and spread quickly. The S. Gilliam Fire Department was on the scene within minutes.

Flames from the fire grew as the wind blew to the south and an electric pole was ignited. The building across the street was also in danger – with fire crews dousing it in water as flames stretched more than thirty feet.

Many locals know the house as the Frankie Cason boarding house – located at the north end of Condon’s Main Street, at the intersection of Frazier Street.

The house was listed on the Dangerous Building List since 2004, meaning it was not up to code and not fit for occupancy or habitation.

The Times-Journal will continue to provide updates.

BLM to host virtual meeting about John Day River

Prineville, Ore. — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Prineville District is holding a virtual public meeting to provide updates and answer questions about recreation on the John Day River. The meeting will be held Wednesday, February 8 from 6 to 7 p.m. PDT.

During the meeting, the BLM will present trends and accomplishments from the 2022 boating season and highlight upcoming projects and improvements that are planned for the river corridor in 2023 and beyond. Attendees will be able to ask questions and provide feedback during the last 30 minutes of the meeting.

The meeting will be hosted virtually on Zoom. Register here to participate in the meeting. After registering a Zoom meeting link and other event details will be sent via email.

The John Day River is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the continental United States and the longest undammed tributary of the Columbia River. The BLM Prineville District manages 147 Wild and Scenic miles of the John Day River located in central Oregon.

The John Day provides a variety of recreation opportunities throughout the year, from white-water rafting in late spring through mid-summer, to fishing in the fall. Other recreation opportunities include hunting, sightseeing, horseback riding, hiking, and camping.

An online permit is required to boat between Service Creek and Tumwater Falls, permits are available on Recreation.gov. For more information about the virtual public meeting or event registration, please contact the Prineville District at (541) 416-6700.

Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf may call the Federal Relay Service (FRS) at 1-800-877-8339 to leave a message or question for the above individual. The FRS is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Replies are provided during normal business hours.

Musician Zac Grooms is Running Down a Dream

Arlington native makes music full-time job

Zac Grooms grew up along Rock Creek in Gilliam County, near Olex and for a period of time, bounced between schools in Arlington and Condon. In those early years of life, Grooms developed an appreciation for country music from his parents and friends.

He played extensively with his father, who played guitar, and his mom, Susie Crosby – a talented singer who also played piano and bass guitar.

“We started writing music together when I was a little kid – all my sisters could sing, there was just lots of music ability in the family,” he says.

By middle school, Grooms was exclusively attending school in Arlington. “That’s my hometown,” Grooms says. Although the school had a solid music program, it was primarily centered around wind instruments and band.

“I didn’t have much to do with the music program in Arlington,” Grooms says. “My specialty was guitar and drums – the school didn’t have a choir program at that time. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great program but there isn’t much room for an acoustic guitar in a brass band.”

Zac Grooms folded his home repair business and is pursuing music full-time. (Zac Grooms)

But it was in those years that Zac’s musical ability began to flourish and locals took notice. Grooms assembled bands in 7th and 8th grade and began performing at events. That continued into high school and with his undeniable talent, the Arlington community came together to help him get a break.

“When I started writing music and performing publicly, the community in Arlington came together and helped me to go to Nashville,” Grooms says. “We had a group of good friends around that helped financially and made it all happen.”

The following year, Grooms had a couple of songs promoted to the independent charts, with one of them charting at #1 on independent charts of country music. Grooms felt that he was close to taking off and with his recording success, was able to book more shows throughout the northwest.

“It was the community around Arlington that made that happen,” he says.

“When I started writing music and performing publicly, the community in Arlington came together and helped me to go to Nashville.”

Then, Zac Grooms graduated from Arlington High School in 2002 with dreams of becoming a full-time musician – a dream that he has harbored for more than twenty years.

Grooms first professional band was Zac Grooms and the Unwanted. That band changed members and became Unwound, which got traction in the Columbia Gorge. The band was meeting with music executives and felt there was opportunity to make it big. But a death metal band from Seattle was also called Unwound and threatened to sue – so Zac’s band had to change its name. Grooms was living and performing extensively in The Dalles along with his bandmates and wanted to find a landmark of the town to honor. So, the band decided to call itself The Brewer’s Grade Band after the road in The Dalles that once housed several breweries.

A local favorite for many years, The Brewer’s Grade Band has gone through several iterations, Grooms says, with different band members leaving and joining. The band felt it had the right recipe and was peaking in 2019. Grooms says that it was one of the best country bands in the Pacific Northwest. But when the COVID pandemic struck, the band lost its gigs and momentum. The band stopped touring and members had to do solo performances and find ways to reach an audience online.

In 2020 and 2021, Grooms started performing every Tuesday night on Facebook Live and also did Wayback Wednesdays at the Bridge Bistro and Brews in Umatilla. Grooms began to grow an audience at smaller venues, such as the Buckhorn Saloon in Condon. Even with the COVID restrictions in place, Grooms found a way to perform and continued to hone his skills as a songwriter and storyteller.

Zac Grooms is coming to a town near you.

The first time that I saw Zac Grooms was at the Buckhorn Saloon in 2021. Taking a request from the audience, he played a Garth Brooks song and had the dozen people in the bar on their feet. But as the song ended, he quickly changed themes completely, and started playing Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” a pop song that is at the polar opposite end of Garth. The people in the Buckhorn went nuts. Singing, dancing and totally engrossed in Zac’s every move. The New Year’s Eve show at Hotel Condon in 2021/2022 was another show that I’ll likely never forget. Performing “Country Girl, Shake it For Me,” with James Andrews and Josh Lane, the trio had a booty shaking contest with all the ladies in the audience, from ages 21 to 81. Bottom line, if you go to a Zac Grooms show, you’ll be entertained.

Although the COVID years were not easy for Grooms, they can’t be considered a total loss as he continued to find new ways of performing. He was also busy planning during those years.

Earlier this month, Zac announced that he would be folding his home improvement business. “I’m going to pursue music full-time” he told several thousand followers on social media.

For the last eight years, Zac Grooms has had his own general home repair business. Living in Hermiston, Zac has been a go-to for several property management companies. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for another company doing similar work. Throughout the years, music was the priority and when the work week was done, Grooms switched into his preferred mode as a musician.

Having played professionally since he was 14, the decision to do music full-time isn’t one that Grooms made off the cuff. From multiple trips to Nashville, having experience in music studios, to being close to breaking big with Brewer’s Grade and gigging across the northwest as a solo singer/songwriter – Grooms has a solid understanding of the music industry and its pitfalls. He also realizes that his old job is in high demand and that there is a massive shortage of contractors and skilled workers in the area.

Working 40-plus hours a week, rushing home to shower and change clothes and pack music gear, driving fast to make a gig – that was Zac’s life for twenty years.

“I realize that I’m getting out of an industry that is so in demand that’s easy to make money at,” Grooms says. “I just don’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy playing music.”

“I’ve always worked during the week and done music on the weekends,” Grooms explains. “Most of the time people would perceive me as a fulltime musician,” he says and recounts how hard he would push himself to keep music as a priority. Working 40-plus hours a week, rushing home to shower and change clothes and pack music gear, driving fast to make a gig – that was Zac’s life for twenty years.

“Most of the time people would perceive me as a fulltime musician.” – Zac Grooms

But now, Grooms believes he is ready for music to be his primary income. The years that he has spent on the road, developing relationships with managers and owners of bars and event spaces has paid off. Grooms believes he can still devote to Brewer’s Grade and that will continue to be a key to his success. However, he is also continuing to gig at the smaller venues where he developed relationships during the COVID years.

One of Grooms favorites is The Bridge in Umatilla. Grooms says the venue used to be an adult strip club but a few years ago, a nice couple purchased it and transformed it into a bar and restaurant. The couple see Grooms as a draw for the customers that they want to attract. Other bars and venues throughout the central Gorge are key to Zac’s success. Coming home to Big River Pizza and going on to play at the Midway Tavern in Hermiston, the Honky Tonk Bar in Goldendale and various wineries and breweries along the way helps to fill the calendar between gigs with Brewer’s Grade.

“The thing about the small towns, those are the funnest shows.” – Zac Grooms

“The thing about the small towns, those are the funnest shows,” Grooms says. “They don’t happen all the time but small communities really come together and when there is a show, people really come out.”

Grooms looks to his bandmate Al Hare of Brewer’s Grade as someone who has sacrificed a lot to do music full time.

“As soon as you take the focus off of everything else – when you take that safety net away, you have to book those shows in order to survive.” – Zac Grooms

“I talked a lot with Al Hare, who did 326 shows last year,” Grooms says. Performing extensively in The Dalles and Hood River, Hare also does music lessons and finds gigs wherever he can.

“We talk a lot about what it takes to be a full-time musician,” Zac says. “As soon as you take the focus off of everything else – when you take that safety net away, you have to book those shows in order to survive.”

If you haven’t seen Zac Grooms play yet, do yourself a favor and find the next show in your neck of the woods. Also keep an eye out for Brewer’s Grade to return this year in a big way.

“I want people to know the band is still playing,” Grooms says. “We are still playing – this is just the first time that I’ve promoted myself as an artist and not just in the band. The bottom line is that a rising tide raises all boats – and we’re trying to do that for local music.”

Senator Merkley to hold townhalls in Gilliam, Sherman county

Merkley Announces First In-Person Town Halls of 2023

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley announced today his first round of in-person town halls in 2023. Merkley will hold a town hall for each of Oregon’s 36 counties.

“I hold a town hall for every Oregon county, every year because there is simply no substitute to hearing directly from folks about the ideas and priorities that matter most to them and their communities. Oregonians’ thoughts help shape my work in Congress, including positions on policies, ideas for bills, and strategies for securing resources for every corner of our state,” Merkley said.

“Over the course of the more than 500 town halls I’ve held since Oregonians sent me to the Senate, I’ve seen how these events provide respectful, safe spaces for people to express their unique points of view during these often-divisive times. We all benefit significantly when we leave our comfort zone and open ourselves up to new ways of looking at issues—myself included.

“I can’t wait to hit the road again to meet Oregonians from all walks of life.”

Since taking office in 2009, Senator Merkley has kept his promise to hold an open town hall for every Oregon county each year. In recent years, many of the events have been virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senator Merkley’s first town halls of 2023 are as follows, with additional details to be sent to local media ahead of each town hall:

Friday, January 13

Sherman County Town Hall

Time: 10:30 a.m. PT

Location: Rufus City Hall

304 2nd Street, Rufus, OR 97050

Wasco County Town Hall

Time: 1:00 p.m. PT

Location: Dalles Readiness Center

402 E. Scenic Drive, The Dalles, OR 97058

Hood River County Town Hall

Time: 4:00 p.m. PT

Location: Hood River Middle School

1602 May Street Hood River, OR 97031

Saturday, January 14

Lincoln County Town Hall

Time: 10 a.m. PT

Location: Taft High School

3780 SE Spy Glass Ridge Drive, Lincoln City, OR 97367

Tillamook County Town Hall—with Representative Suzanne Bonamici!

Time: 1 p.m. PT

Location: Tillamook High School

2605 12th Street, Tillamook, OR 97141

Clatsop County Town Hall—with Representative Suzanne Bonamici!

Time: 4:30 p.m. PT

Location: Clatsop Community College—Patriot Hall

1650 Lexington Avenue, Astoria, OR 97103

Sunday, January 15

Morrow County Town Hall

Time: 1 p.m. PT

Location: Oregon Trail Library District, Irrigon Branch

490 NE Main Avenue, Irrigon, OR 97844

Gilliam County Town Hall

Time: 3:30 p.m. PT

Location: Gronquist Building

1150 Railroad Avenue, Arlington, OR 97812