Leadership Hermiston worthwhile endeavor

Leadership Hermiston program graduates and Hermiston Chamber of Commerce members socialize over dinner and enjoy the evening at the 2010-11 Leadership Hermiston graduation at Hermiston Conference Center Tuesday night.

One of my favorite sayings when people ask — usually sarcastically — if I know everything, is this: I know a little bit about everything and everything about nothing.

No matter how much you know about an area, there is always something else to learn. For example, do you know:

• Why Hermiston watermelons are so sweet?

• Speaking of watermelons, how much of Bellinger Farms’ 500-600 acres of farmland is dedicated to watermelon?

• How Agape House began?

• What are the two most common crimes in Umatilla County courts?

• How many trains go through Union Pacific’s Hinkle Locomotive Service and Repair Facility?

• Just how difficult it can be to get through the metal detectors at TRCI?

I might not know all those answers off the top of my head, but I know who to ask and where to find out, thanks to the time I spent with Leadership Hermiston this year.

Here’s how it works: Class members apply at the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce and are accepted for the program, paying a fee or applying for program scholarships. In September, the class meets for a full-day of teambuilding exercises to introduce them to the program and each other. Over the next nine months, the group meets once a week to experience a specific aspect of the community, such as agriculture, economic development, wellness or the justice system.

When former editor Timm Collins told me I’d be joining Leadership Hermiston last year, I was a little nervous about the time commitment. Because I’ve only lived in Umatilla County for a year and a half, however, Leadership Hermiston was an introduction to how much there is in this community. More importantly, it was an introduction to the other members of the class as well as past Leadership Hermiston classes.

I took photos of the class activities throughout the year. When I began going through them last month for our slideshow, it was amazing to see the transformation. On the first day of class, I knew only a couple of my classmates, but now, I could list off who was in each photo, where they work and something interesting about them with no trouble.

For example, I now know that Jacelyn Keys, Hermiston’s representative for Eastern Oregon University, makes some amazing desserts; Debbie Radie of Boardman Foods has a question to ask on every topic; and newly elected school board member and business owner Dave Smith can don and maneuver in full firefighter turnout gear without a problem.

Everyone has a story, which makes introducing classmates during the Leadership Hermiston graduation ceremony interesting, even though I had to scramble to come up with an introduction for a new classmate at the last minute (thanks to Wade Smith, my original assignment, who dropped out of the class once he was named the interim superintendent for the Hermiston School District, citing some excuse about being too busy).

Leadership Hermiston may be over for this year, but if you want to meet the graduates of Class 14 and support a good cause, you’ll have the opportunity Saturday when the program hosts a fundraiser for Martha’s House, a family homeless shelter coming to Hermiston.

 From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., members of Leadership Hermiston and their families will bus tables — for tips — inside Fuddruckers, and throughout the day, all proceeds from miniature golf will go toward the fundraiser. We’ll also be selling raffle tickets for prizes donated by class members, including scenic plane rides, hunting trips and financial counseling.

And by the way, the chamber is now accepting applications for 2011-12 Leadership Hermiston class. The classes are held on the second Tuesday of each month, September through June. For more information, call the chamber at 541-567-6151.

As for those questions I asked earlier:

• The combination of warm days and cool nights allow for greater sugar storage in produce, making for sweeter fruits, such as watermelons, and starchier vegetables.

• Bellinger Farms harvests 180 acres of watermelon a year.

• Agape House began as a food bank serving 15 families. Now it serves thousands, giving out $7 worth of food and services for every $1 of income.

• According to Circuit Court Judge Daniel Hill, the No. 1 problem is drugs, and the No. 2 problem is alcohol.

• More than 270,000 rail cars travel through the Hinkle facility annually, keeping 900 employees busy 365 days a year.

• That depends on if you remembered to leave your change, keys, hairclips, belt buckles, shoe zippers and jewelry in the car. And if you feel like trying your luck on the machine, leave the blue jeans at home unless you want to become a long-term resident: the 1,700-plus inmates at TRCI wear denim uniforms.

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