By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back and Forth: Recalling two unique nights with voice of Bill Schonely

I think all of Oregon and Southwest Washington celebrated bittersweetly Sunday night with a momentous occasion at the Moda Center — Bill Schonely’s last official “Rip City!”

The Blazers put on a star-studded sendoff for Bill and his wife, Dottie. I made a point of tuning in to Root TV for the final Blazer game of 2021-22, featuring halftime honors for the long-time broadcaster known as the Voice of the Blazers.

It got me thinking of another night when the words of Bill Schonely rang like gold.

While Bill and I have not talked in 14 years, it was my honor to get to know him in 2008, when I was living in Hood River. That April, Bill gave a gift to a literacy group I was and still am associated with by appearing at a special event.

That night, Bill lent his voice and stature to the Start Making A Reader Today program, known as SMART. The occasion was the inaugural Tongue Twister Tournament, a fundraiser for the local SMART program.

As president of the local SMART council, the idea came to me to create a tournament pitting local leaders against each other in a competition modeled after a spelling bee, but featuring phrases such as “around the ragged rooster the ruddy rabbits ran.”

Actually, I just made that one up, and that was always part of the fun.

Judges would rank competitors’ ability to smoothly recite tongue twisters — some familiar and some they had never heard — getting down two finalists doing their best with a notably rigorous “TT.” Nothing like it had ever been done before and supporters and participants immediately got behind the idea.

So did Bill Schonely.

He was the first person I thought of to headline the event, and I reached out to him several months before the TTT date. He immediately and enthusiastically accepted, and we met in Portland to hash out the details, with my son Delaney along for the ride.

I felt immediately at ease with this warm and friendly man, while also thinking, “I’m sharing a booth at Stanford’s with Bill ‘Rip City’ Schonely!” I was humbled that he took the time to meet with me, and that he was so eager to lend his reputation and talent to something that had never been tried before.

We recruited Bill in light of his role as Blazer ambassador. Can anyone ever again meet that job description?

Bill got behind it because it meant raising funds to help children become readers for life.

The tournament was a big success, in large part thanks to our honored guest.

Bill drove over from his Charbonneau home, and a friend drove him to the auditorium.

He regaled the audience with tales of his Blazer experiences and his career in broadcasting. He also effortlessly and flawlessly reeled off several complex tongue twisters from his early days in radio, including an extended one that I did not have the presence of mind to record.

Bill’s Sunday sendoff was clearly an emotional moment, so it is of little surprise that this man with the silky and stentorian tones would get a bit choked up and admit at one point, “I’m at a loss for words. I’m gonna miss it.”

It was moving to hear Bill say of the Blazers, “I was there in 1970 with the birth of this child.” He added thanks not only to his fellow broadcast and production associates, but to Blazer players of yore and, in a typical class Schonely act, “the ushers and all the people who worked in this building and that building next door” — Memorial Coliseum, where the Blazers first played.

“This is a touching situation for me, on a personal basis,” Bill said. He made it a point to also thank his wife, Dottie, who received applause equal to Bill’s.

The highlight of the night, to me, was at the end of his speech, when he offered “words to live by.”

“I want you to do this for me,” Bill told the Moda Center crowd. “It belongs to you, and to me.

“In life, in the game of basketball, it means the same, and if you do the right thing, it normally turns out to be right:

“You’ve got, to make, your FREE THROWS!”

With laughter and applause ringing, Bill concluded:

“Here it is. Do this for me one more time.

“On the count of three, I want you to say, ‘Rip City, all right!’” And the four-word chant brought 12,000 people together, and loudly.

As the Mayor of Rip City, Bill’s voice is perhaps the last one to truly tie us all together as a community. No one else quite fills that Bill, pun intended.

At SMART in Hood River 14 years ago, the warm-up speakers and tongue-twister demonstrations went on too long, as did the competition itself. Bill was a complete good sport, even though we kept him about an hour longer than was appropriate, and he faced a long drive home at night.

He waved off the offer of money for gas. We talked later on the phone, but I regret that I sort of forced Bill into a hasty exit.

I remember Bill was gracious, inspiring and funny, and the committee and community were highly grateful for that. One of the things we did right was to sell eight premium tickets to enjoy a pre-TTT meal with Bill at a local restaurant, where Bill held court in true Schonz style.

The whole evening was evidence that Bill Schonely was there to serve not just Blazer nation and its listeners, but Oregon as a whole — and its budding readers.

I’m now involved with the Northwest Area SMART, which includes Yamhill County, and happy to say we will be staging a “Writing the Next Chapter” fundraiser June 11 in McMinnville as a restart. It will give the community a chance to reaffirm its commitment to this 30th-anniversary literacy program, which connects volunteers and youths and instills a love of reading.

Every time a first-grader sits down with a caring adult, that is itself a special event.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.


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