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Rebuilding Blue River Begins With You

November 6th, 2020 by dk

Everybody who loves Blue River has their own moment when they realized it. For some, it was buying night crawlers and Cheetos in the same store. Or Christmas lights anonymously strung across the downtown bridge. Or the public basketball hoop, complete with a basketball, waiting for a user. Or the tavern that kept the misspelling on its branded T-shirts because the owner thought it was funny.

Neighbors swap these stories — so many stories! They keep its quirky culture alive and constantly growing. My moment was walking into the Frances O’Brien Memorial Library on a Saturday afternoon and meeting Sybil Fillman. At 94 years old, she was still living on her own and volunteering every weekend at the library.

She and others told me stories how the library came to be. For most of its history, the library was open 24 hours. The door was never locked, because what would be the point? To keep people from taking books? That was the point.

Rebuilding the McKenzie River Valley can and will occur in myriad ways, but rebuilding that library is where I would begin. I’m happy to report those efforts are already underway.

The building itself and all its contents were incinerated two months ago. Its leaders have already determined that its replacement will be relocated. A new building will require a larger lot for current and future needs. The books will be replaced, of course, in due time. Support from across the state has been encouraging.

Lane Library League jumped to the rescue immediately, setting up and promoting an online fundraiser. (See link below.) Library supporters have already given $2,410 to begin the rebuilding campaign, including $1,000 from the Lane Library League directly. Their board of directors, led by president and local author Bill Sullivan, didn’t hesitate.

Friends of the Eugene Public Library has tentatively offered to restock the library’s shelves, as soon as there are shelves to be restocked. In many ways, Friends appears grateful for the opportunity to help. COVID-19 has prevented its annual book sale, but book donations haven’t slowed. No friend of libraries wants to see books stored instead of read.

It doesn’t end there. Willa Bauman, Anya Dobrowolski, Eugene Toolbox Project, and others have expressed interest in adding tools to what residents can borrow from their Blue River library. Rebuilding Blue River will be a hands-on affair for many do-it-yourselfers. Access to tools will be as important as access to books.

Matt Sayre and other volunteers from Oregon Internet Response have already begun work to bring more robust Internet access to the area. The future library may become a community hub for those who need to stay connected — with their neighbors, but also with the outside world.

The Lane County Board of Commissioners is busy looking for ways to streamline the rebuilding process across the devastated region. The effort has to start somewhere. Libraries are many things to many people, but they are most often a starting point.

To donate to the Blue River Library rebuilding campaign, go to


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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