I was recently discussing Hermiston with an acquaintance who’s worked around the country. He said, “Hermiston people have a reputation for being rude and selfish.” (Before ZIP Code 97801 gets too smug, he actually said “Hermiston *and* Pendleton.”)

That got me started looking for evidence to the contrary, and I figured service organization numbers would be a good place to look, but what I found was not encouraging.

Athena, Ore. — population approximately 1,100 souls — in other words, less than a tenth of Hermiston. Population of the Athena Lions Club: 27. Population of the Hermiston Lions Club: 18. If Hermiston had the same ratio, there would be more than 400 members in the Lions here!

I’m not sure all the service clubs in Hermiston together have a total of 400 members.

“But that’s just a social thing in places like Athena” is offered as an excuse for the glaring disparity.

To the extent that excuse is meant to suggest there’s nothing else to do in Athena but join Lions (or any other club), while possibly true in a pre-industrial era, I am sure the residents of Athena aren’t joining Lions because it’s boring sitting at home by candlelight reading stories off parchments handed down from their ancestors.

It is an indication of closer, stronger social solidarity, however.

More than 2 percent of the residents there are interested in helping others in their community through a form of community service.

Can Hermiston say the same?

Which brings up a second conversation, in regard to “If I want to get involved in helping my community, what’s a good service group to work with?”

Well, obviously I’m going to say “Lions.”

Other service clubs will have their own pitches, and I’m sure the Herald would like to hear them, but, for the moment, the floor is mine, and I’d like to offer three easy reasons on why Lions is the right service organization for folks.

First, the motto: “We Serve.” Can’t get more service-oriented than that! Whether it’s local projects like rebuilding Funland, running an Easter Egg hunt (and visiting seniors), staffing a sight and hearing van at health fairs or even the ongoing help to people who have sight and hearing issues, when it comes to community service, Lions are there.

Second, the fun. Lions have a good time at their bimonthly meeting (beginning at noon the first and third Wednesdays at Desert Lanes Bowling Alley), working the fair booth to raise money to help others or just meeting and greeting people while riding the parade float; Lions make community service fun for members and for those we serve.

Finally, the Big Warm Fuzzy. Not just from the fun, but also from the knowledge that you’re making the community a better, safer, healthier and more interesting place for people to live, work and play.

Tightly knit communities have a lot of ties that bind, and service organizations are a large thread in that fabric of community, and being part of that thread can make it a lot nicer for you — and for everyone around you.

Now, you don’t have to join Lions to get a Big Warm Fuzzy.

There are other groups that are service oriented and are an important part of the community. And, in fairness, they’re probably ALMOST as fun as Lions.

Is Hermiston an uncaring place? I don’t think so, but the numbers are worrying. How about Off The Bench readers get together and show me my opinion is wrong — and that Hermiston (maybe even Pendleton) is a nicer place than some people think.

But that’s just the opinion of an opinionated guy.

Let’s hear your opinions on the topic in Letters to the Editor or by email to hermistonheraldoffthebench@gmail.com. Names of the terminally shy will be withheld on request.

— Thomas Creasing is a Hermiston resident, a member of the Lions Club and twice-monthly Herald columnist

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