News-Register file photo##Brooke Hausmann, left, and Chelsey Nichol carry the cape of newly crowned Biggest Turkey during the 1985 Biggest Turkey Competition.
News-Register file photo##Brooke Hausmann, left, and Chelsey Nichol carry the cape of newly crowned Biggest Turkey during the 1985 Biggest Turkey Competition.

Chelsey Nichol: A festival worth saving

You hear it all of the time. People love McMinnville. People who visit here feel they have discovered a hidden gem. People who have moved here know they just made the best decision of their lives. And people who have been here their whole lives have known it all along: McMinnville is special.

But it’s not just the tree-lined streets, or the businesses, or the wineries, or the schools, or the civic engagement. It’s all of these things together that make up our community. Community is a place to belong. It’s a sense of place created by our combined history that has fostered a special kind of support system.
McMinnville has excelled at creating community. Our parents and grandparents made thoughtful, strategic decisions generations ago, to build the foundation of a strong, livable community. It’s this sense of community that connects us, makes us want to show up for each other, and what people see when they visit.

I have lived my entire life in this town. I was born at the old McMinnville hospital, went to school here, attended college here, created a family and business here. My family’s roots are deep in this town’s history. I see the pictures and read the stories in our family newspaper’s archives of so many families with multi-generational ties to this area. And for me, that means something. We’ve created a place where we want to be. And we did that through creating traditions and connections to our past.

Guest Writer

Chelsey Nichol is owner of Type A Press and a board member of Oregon Lithoprint, Inc. Her passion for community and event planning has led her to help organize several local fundraisers. She is a Linfield graduate and married her high school sweetheart, Brent Nichol. They have two kids, Nora, 13, and Oliver, 10.

We all have those things that make us nostalgic for a childhood. For me, it’s riding on top of the firetruck with Santa during the Santa parade, or walking through our neighborhoods from school to home. It’s the high school homecoming parade, with the king and queen riding onto the field in a sports car. It’s knowing what 472 means, and remembering the whistle from the creamery that would go off every day at 5:00. Until one day it didn’t, because the man who blew the whistle retired.

We have a lot of hometown pride here in McMinnville, and it comes from knowing who we are. A major part of our identity for years has been our annual Turkey Rama festival. For 57 years, it’s taken place in July in downtown McMinnville. It began as a combination of hometown fun and industry promotion. The chamber lined up many events to highlight the region’s booming turkey industry. The vast turkey ranges on the edge of town are gone, but that doesn’t mean it should stop being celebrated. It remains a part of the city’s DNA, just like the walnut industry that no longer exists in large scale, but remains as the city’s nickname.

Each year, at the annual festival, I’m reminded of the special times of my childhood. I remember being given a pocketful of dollars and having the freedom to hang out all day downtown with my friends, enjoying rides, playing games, buying trinkets from downtown businesses and going to the Rooftop Dance while my parents and their friends went to the Fireman’s Dance. It’s scenes like the one pictured here that I hold onto so dearly. That’s me, 7 years old, with Brooke Hausmann, carrying her dad Roger Heller’s cape as newly crowned Biggest Turkey. Everyone was involved, everyone showed up and kids danced alongside their parents as they raised money for local charity.

These experiences and memories shaped who I am as a person, community member and civic leader. These things we create and value have a direct impact on our future and our children’s future in this town. Our parents and grandparents knew this, and it’s our turn to ensure our children have a community to belong to and identify with.

People talk about the “old Turkey Rama,” as I’m doing now. In recent years, some have said the event has gone downhill, or it isn’t the same, or it’s not worth continuing. I’ve never understood these sentiments. Have things changed over the years? Of course. And some changes perhaps, have not made sense for a community festival, at the demise somewhat of our connection with the tradition. But the spirit of the “old Turkey Rama” can be regained. The answer is not to just scrap the event, or drastically change its framework.

The McMinnville Chamber of Commerce ran the event for decades with great success. The event management eventually broke into two parts. The Chamber maintained control of the Turkey BBQ, the carnival, and other events like the recently canceled Turkey Trot. The McMinnville Downtown Association operated the downtown vendor booths and activities. That process happened after members voiced their opinion about the event, and a joint town hall meeting was held to let members talk about their concerns. Since that point, the event has seen ups and downs. It seems like the event never regained solid ground.

In the last months, discussions have occurred by both the Chamber and the MDA to alter the core of this event. Leadership of both organizations has been in flux in recent years, which obviously causes some inconsistencies. As new leaders take the helm who are without those childhood connections to the event, the connection to what members want has grown thinner and thinner. In the last 10 years, the chamber has had four executive directors, and the MDA has had four managers, and is awaiting the hiring of a fifth. A byproduct of that lack of continuity has created, I believe, associations that aren’t executing the will of their members. There is a lack of depth of knowledge of community events, specifically Turkey Rama, and agency bickering has led to both organizations wanting to throw in the towel.

When I heard of this, I immediately reached out to the Chamber and the MDA. I strongly believe that if you are going to complain about something, or want to see changes, you have to show up and give your time to help.

Turkey Rama needs our help. If we care about this event, we need to use our voices as community members, as business owners, and association members.
A meeting has been planned with these groups, along with community members and business owners. A Facebook group, “All in favor of Turkey Rama — A discussion,” has been very active the last week. The goal is to make sure the essence of this event, which at its core is a community festival, isn’t lost because of a limited view of its value. When I talk to many downtown businesses and members of the community, I hear a chorus of sentiment for Turkey Rama. This event means something to the people who live in McMinnville, and we would like a chance to offer ideas and help ensure the longevity of it.

If you remember what you love about this event, and care about whether it continues, I would encourage you to speak up. Write a letter, send an email or make a phone call to the MDA and the Chamber. If we don’t make an effort now, we will regret it once it’s gone. Let’s make sure we hold fast to the events that are for us, the ones who live here. Our community.


Don Dix

Nice article Chelsey and good luck with the campaign to save TR.

By the way, the man who blew the whistle at Farmer's Co-op did not retire -- although Farmer's wouldn't admit the truth of the matter, his position supposedly was no longer necessary (no real business needs a bookkeeper with 27 years on the job, does it?). He is still employed as a number cruncher in the area for another employer.

Mac Native 66

Mr. Dix, If the man who pulled the cord, turned a switch or pushed a button for the whistle is no longer their, so is the whistle. I could careless if he's still working or not.

Don Dix

Excuse me, 66, the article 'stated' he retired -- he did not. It's 'careless' not to make that distinction, wouldn't you say?

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