Local thespian group takes on challenge of breathing new life into Maupin Legion Hall
Story and photo by Andrew Cutler
Nestled in the shadows of Mount Hood, Maupin is undergoing a bit of a renaissance.
Once a bustling timber town, closures of Mountain Fir Lumber Co. mills in neighboring Tygh Valley and in Maupin itself left the city struggling with how to overcome those losses. After about a decade without direction, the bulk of the community’s economy is linked to the nearby Deschutes River and the tourism it brings with it.
“The city has had a reinvention,” says resident Dennis Beechler.
Now, as the community continues to move away from its timber roots, new projects are helping to renovate the community.
A new civic center sits on the main street through town. The center will soon be the home of Maupin City Hall and Southern Wasco County Library.
The school district is exploring building a new track and athletic facility and doing some considerable upgrades on existing facilities.
The community’s lone medical provider—White River Health District, which operates the Deschutes Rim Clinic—is considering the possibility of a new building.
With the recent installation of a fiber-optic line that provides the fastest internet speeds commercially available in the Pacific Northwest, it’s easy to see why residents in this small community are excited about the future of their community.
“There’s a lot of things happening in south Wasco County,” Dennis says.
Another project on main street is moving the community forward, while also tying the city to its rich past.
Maupin Legion Hall, built in 1925, fell into disrepair. Throughout the years, membership in American Legion Post No. 73 aged. With no younger members lining up to take their place and hold fundraisers or pay membership dues, there were limited funds to pay utilities and do necessary maintenance. Post 73 asked the city of Maupin to help. In January 2008, the city signed a 30-year lease with Post 73.
In 2010, Town & Country Players—a local thespian group—sold its hall in Wapinitia, about 12 miles outside of Maupin, and relocated into Legion Hall. One thing was obvious from the start.
“It needed a lot of work,” says Karletta Carrithers, a member of the hall’s restoration committee and a member of the theater group.
After Town & Country Players signed a memorandum of understanding with the city for use of the hall, a list of needed improvements was started. When South Wasco County High School student Zoe Morelli made replacing the hall windows a senior year project in 2012, the restoration project picked up momentum.
“I think she was also trying to do dance lessons and whatnot in the hall, and it just seemed like it needed to happen,” says Sara Morelli, Zoe’s mother and a member of the hall’s restoration committee. “It was a worthy project.”
In 2017, the Legion Hall Restoration Committee was formed with members from the city council, residents and Town & Country Players.
Sara, Karletta, Dennis, Jerri Parman, Rich Sutliff, Marge Gustafson, Jon Helquist, and Dennis Ross head the committee.
“We started with projects requiring immediate attention,” Karletta says.
Topping the list was repairing the undercarriage of the hall to shore up the floor due to water damage, and to find and repair the water source.
“We started having fundraisers,” Karletta says. “We obtained donations and small local grants. We finally had enough money to prioritize our list and start on our first big project: replacing four of five exterior doors.”
The focus then shifted to insulating the hall’s attic, floor and walls.
An early inspection of the building showed its bones were sound. It just needed some TLC.
“What we were worried about wasn’t so much the walls,” Dennis says. “We were worried about the floor and the ceiling. We didn’t want to put a lot of stuff into the building if the roof and the ceiling or the roof was trashed. We had an engineer crawl up in there, and it’s all straight grain Douglas fir two-by-sixes all the way down. And it’s complete, totally solid.”
Through the years, the building has primarily been used as a meeting place for Post 73. But it’s had colorful periods in its history.
“Probably the most colorful stories would be from the smokers—boxing matches—which started in the 1920s and went on for many, many years,” Karletta says. “Young local men were star attractions in boxing matches, fighting against each other or against visiting opponents.”
Throughout the years, the Legion Hall also hosted dances, movies—a projectionist room, complete with a metal floor, remains—and plays.
“Eventually, Americanism programs, concerts, weddings, funerals and memorials, bingo, hunter safety classes—even a skating rink—and fundraisers of all kinds were added into the mix,” Karletta says.
Preserving the building’s history is a focus of the restoration committee.
“You think back to when they built it,” Jerri says. “It was volunteer labor. I’m sure that they maybe got a little bit of funds from the American Legion, but maybe not. They probably had fundraisers. They had dances. They had dinners. They made money and put it into this hall and did the labor themselves. And that is part of what this hall is, is carrying on that tradition of volunteerism.”
The committee has spent more than $30,100 on improvements to the Legion Hall, raising the bulk of the money through donations, fundraisers, local small grants and Wasco Electric Cooperative.
The funds through the cooperative have come in the form of energy savings rebates from the installation of doors, windows, and building insulation. The cooperative has issued $5,957 in rebates and awarded the project a $2,500 economic grant.
“Wasco Electric has been really good with us as far as rebates go,” Dennis says. “We couldn’t have done what we’ve done up to now without their help.”
Renovations aren’t complete. Major projects remain, such as moving the bathroom off the stage, installing a ductless heating and cooling system, and moving the kitchen. All of this to make the building a place people want to be.
“It’d be nice to get it prettied up or to a place where it is a pleasure to be here,” Sara says. “Whether it’s a wedding reception or a memorial, it would just be nice to get it finished up to where it’s a pleasure.”
To donate to the restoration of Maupin Legion Hall, send a check made out to Town & Country Players, P.O. Box 62, Maupin, OR, 97037. Include “Legion Hall Restoration” in the check memo. Donations are tax-deductible.