The 1960s were a thriving time for small-town Bend. Lumber production was on the rise, the population remained steady and downtown was bustling. Although the once booming Pilot Butte Inn fell into disrepair and was demolished just months after being added to the historic registry of buildings in 1973, the 1960s marked the addition of Bend's first stop light—not a roundabout—at Franklin and 3rd Street. Former city council member, mayor and native Steve Stenkamp grew up in Bend and Central Oregon during the 1960s and graduated from Bend High in 1975. He recalled what his childhood in Bend was like.
Source Weekly: What were some of the big cultural events that you remember?
Steve Stenkamp: Opening day of fishing season. One of the service organizations always had a big tournament, biggest fish, ugliest fish, smallest fish...it was a big deal to get up early in the morning and ride your bike to Drake Park and fish on opening day.
The Water Pageant was on the Forth of July weekend. They started the Water Pageant in the 1930s and it went into the '60s and '70s. The reason they quit it is there were so many people in the park. There would be 10,000 people in Drake Park. Having a Friday night football game with 4,000 people wasn't uncommon...and there was only 9,000 people living in the area.
SW: What was downtown like?
SS: Downtown is much different. You could go to downtown and buy lumber; Copeland was there. There were two hardware stores, there were sporting goods, electronics, a toy store, a variety of drug stores. Downtown is still nice and vibrant, but the selection has changed quite a bit.
I also remember the number of bars. There were probably just as many in the '60s and '70s as there are now. My mom would talk about how, when she first started teaching for the school district, she was not allowed to be seen downtown on a Friday night in the late '50s. You didn't do that. That wasn't something that was totally Bend, it was just the standard at that time.
SW: What did your family do for a living?
SS: My dad was with KBND. Back then you only had the two radio stations, both AM. KGRL went off the air at sunset because of licensing and signal strengths and KBND would down power from 10,000 watts to 1,000 watts at sunset. If you got 10 miles out of town you couldn't get a radio station at night. There were three sources of media in town, the two radio stations and the Bulletin. My mom was a teacher at Cascade and Mountain View.
SW: What was the major economy? Where were people working?
SS: Brooks-Scanlon mill. The timber industry was doing well. Seeing log trucks coming through town was pretty common. The mills were a big influence. It was not uncommon to have sawdust on your car in the morning. Everyone knew what the mill whistle schedule was.
SW: Where did you go grocery shopping, what were the restaurants you went to?
SS: The big deal, the treat, was going to the Pine Tavern or the Tumalo Emporium. There was a great little place called the Snack Shack at the corner of 8th and Greenwood that was by far the best hamburger/cheeseburger in Central Oregon.
SW: Other memories?
SS: There was always a feeling that there was no recognition of Bend. If Bend High had a sports team that was very competitive, the Oregonian would never cover it. You felt kind of like you were left out, and now it's kind of over publicized. It was quieter, simpler. The one thing that hasn't changed a lot is that there are a lot of friendly people in town.
The fire department had a general alarm on the station on Minnesota, so anytime there was a big fire that thing would crank up and everyone within a block had their fingers in their ears. It was LOUD and you could hear it all over town. That was their way of calling the volunteers to come to the station.
I remember the wood stove smoke. In the winter when we would get an inversion layer you couldn't see the top of Pilot Butte; it would be this blue haze all the way down to the ground.
St. Charles was up on the hill right in the center of town. The police department operated the ambulance in Bend, kind of by where City Hall is now. If there was a medical call, whoever the police officer in charge was would come back and grab the ambulance. It was throw 'em in the back and take them to the hospital. The level of medical care and emergency care is so much greater than it was before.