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Pat Bushey

The five of us — two 20-somethings who thought they knew all the answers, a tiger-striped cat, and two little girls — were in a red-and-white Rambler station wagon tooling down Highway 97 from Pasco, Wash., to a new life in Klamath Falls.

It was January 1971 — cold and snowy, as most winters were then.

Publisher Joe Caraher — a great guy to work for — had hired me as managing editor at the Herald and News, and now, after 46 years and eight months in various positions here, I’ll work my last day Aug. 22, and wrap up 54-plus years of continual newspaper work.

Before coming to Klamath Falls, I spent six years at the Tri-City Herald and three months as sports editor of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin with a few months sandwiched in between at Washington State University to finish my degree.

We pulled into town on a Saturday, and headed for Herald and News building at the corner of Pine and Esplanade, across from the Balsiger Ford Building — an active auto dealership then and a vacant lot now.

Joe wasn’t in the office, so we walked down the street to get some food. Afterwards, we toured the town.

Not a great start

By 1971, businesses had begun their exodus to the Sixth Street area. Downtown still had a Sears store, a Payless, numerous clothing stores and restaurants but the offerings looked sparse. During our first car trip down Main Street, Lynn (my wife and mother of the girls) shed some tears as she surveyed her new home and asked herself, as she tells people now, “where has he brought us?”

As the “he” in the reference I should have noticed, but didn’t. Too preoccupied with the one-way streets perhaps.

In addition, during out several-day stay in a motel on the edge of town, we had a fire in our motel room — fortunately, nobody got hurt — and the cat disappeared resulting in a prolonged and sometimes emotional search.

The fire happened after I had gone to work that day. When it was out, Lynn called the office and asked for me, but the Pat Bushey name didn’t register. After she repeated it there was a hushed discussion on the Herald and News end of the phone line. Then the receptionist told her: “I don’t think she works here anymore.”

Well...welcome to Klamath Falls.

Things got better

There was no place for us to go but up from there and we did, though Lynn still tells people she thinks that, out of kindness, there ought to be a law against letting people move here in the winter.

Lynn spent 40 years working for the city school district, leaving a trail of her artwork on the walls of Conger and Pelican elementary schools along with the frequent greetings from both old and new students she helped. She still sees some of her “boys” sporting mustaches and beards as they wait on customers at local stores.

Things changed for others just as they did for us in the years since.

Klamath County saw much of the timber and lumber industry disappear along with the jobs they supported. Conflict over water got worse.

Oregon Tech grew from what some might consider a glorified community college to a nationally known technical institute and managed to do it in an era of shrinking state support for Oregon’s public higher education system.

The Klamath Tribes became a much stronger and organized presence in Klamath County, including being recognized again by the federal government after that recognition had been terminated in 1954, and tribal rights were affirmed to water and other resources.

Sky Lakes Medical Center changed its name twice from its original name of Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital to Merle West Medical center before moving to its present name. Kingsley Field continued to be a major part of the local economy and Jeld-Wen no longer had local owners.

Ties with Rotorua

As for the Bushey family, the two little girls who shared the back seat of that station wagon in 1971 attended the good schools that were part of the reason we decided to come here, moved on through Conger, Ponderosa and Klamath Union, then one went to the University of Oregon and the other to Gonzaga, and both settled in the Portland area with their families. Each now has two of our four grandchildren, and all are in college.

One of them is on a summer-long Oregon State University forestry internship at Rotorua, New Zealand, Klamath Falls’ sister city. She tells us that the Klamath Falls rose garden at Rotorua is a very popular wedding site.

We also discovered that Klamath Falls is a great place to live and raise kids.

Those who made it better

It’s about the point in a “so long it’s been good to know you” column to mention community members who have been particularly good friends.

That’s done at the risk of leaving out someone out who deserves credit and I’ll plead guilty to that in advance and mention two special to me who always did their best for the Klamath Falls: Jim Stilwell, local real estate developer, who was one of the reasons enough money got raised to build the hospital system that eventually became Sky Lakes Medical Center; and Nell Kuonen, business woman, former county commissioner, strong supporter of Oregon Tech and anything else good for Klamath County.

It’s also good to see some of the people I hired in my hiring days still active with the newspaper such as Lee Juillerat, Holly Owens and Steve Matthies. I wish I could also claim Doug Higgs but he was here when I got here and he’ll be here when I leave and is much appreciated.

Todd Kepple, now the manager of the Klamath County Museum manager, originally came here from John Day as a reporter during my tenure and moved up through the ranks before moving on to the museum job. I also hired Marcia Schlottman as a reporter, and she is now the public information person for the Klamath County School System. Tom Hottman spent several years working with me, before moving on to public relations for Sky Lakes Medical Center.

What’s ahead

As for what’s next for Lynn and I, we have no plans to leave Klamath Falls and are continuing efforts to get to all of the national parks we can drive to. We’re up to 25 and I suspect we’ll top out at seven or eight more of the 58 national parks.

Looking back, I’d have to say we got off to a tough start here, but things got much better. Klamath Falls gave us a lot and we’re thankful.

But we never did find the cat.

Reception Wednesday

An “end of the line” reception for Pat will be 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday at the Herald and News and is open to the public.