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Cassie Sollars: 'Little' town steals her heart

Move to McMinnville changed life significantly for Downtown Association manager

My love affair with McMinnville began in 1977 when I was 28 years old. It was tentative at first, as those things often are. In fact, early on, I even thought I might have made a mistake moving here from Lake Oswego. There, my home was across the street from the lake, surrounded by tall fir trees and the quiet peace of nature. Yes, I had to commute to Portland every day where I worked at a downtown bank, but returning home each evening was such a joy.

However, after much thought, we relocated here so my then-husband could accept a teaching job at Linfield College. We both felt it was a great career move for him, and the beautiful campus captivated us both from the beginning. The faculty was welcoming and kind, the students were motivated, and the little downtown — though its current magic hadn’t materialized — had so much potential.

Guest Writer

Cassie Sollars is the manager of the McMinnville Downtown Association and the former editor of the Viewpoints section of the News-Register.

Still, there were unknowns. We hadn’t found a house, our daughter hadn’t enrolled in school and I hadn’t transferred my own job. What if the move didn’t work?

Though our marriage didn’t last despite many years of trying, the move more than worked. It changed my life.


Let’s travel back to 1977 and I will share why, little by little, my heart found its true home in Mac.

The photo above was taken in the mid-1970s at Third and Evans looking west — see the dense outline of the giant sequoia in City Park? In those days, volunteer firefighters festooned that massive tree’s branches with lights each Christmas. Now, it’s too tall for such decorations, although a separate tree offers holiday cheer nearby.

JC Penney and other clothing stores flourished as shopping destinations: 1893 Shops, Hamblin Wheeler and Lynn’s for Men and Young World for children, all on Third Street.

Nick’s Italian Cafe opened in 1977, when you could count the number of area wineries on just two hands.

Michelbook Country Club featured just the front nine holes, and Michelbook Lane stopped at Crestwood Court; Wallace Road ended at Northwest Fenton Street.

Southwest Fellows Street terminated at Fleishauer Lane, and you could see vacant land all the way to Hill Road. McMinnville’s population was just under 13,000.

Some downtown enhancements were made in the mid- to late-1970s. The city planted trees, created the bulb-outs at the corners and built the kiosks.


Then, the recession of the early 1980s hit. The timber and construction industries tanked, and interest rates climbed to as high as 24 percent in some Oregon communities.

Businesses left downtown McMinnville in droves and, in the mid-1980s, the storefront vacancy rate was nearly 20 percent. But while I was busy raising kids, downtown property owners went into action setting the stage for the improvements we see today. These volunteers included, among others, Jeb Bladine, Marilyn Dell Worrix, Steve Macy, Walt Gowell, Rocky Wade, Carol Granger, Candy Gormley and the late Roger Heller.

They worked tirelessly with the city to create a downtown improvement district and assessed themselves a small fee — pennies per square foot — to support it. The McMinnville Downtown Association was born in 1986 after two years of weekly planning sessions and countless volunteer hours.

The city contracted with the association to promote “economic improvements by planning or management of development or improvement activities; by landscaping or other maintenance of public areas; by promotion of commercial activity or public events; by activities in support of business recruitment or development; and by improvements in parking systems or parking enforcement.”


I followed all this in newspaper stories and vowed to become part of the association’s cadre of volunteers as soon as all the kids were in school. That was more than 25 years ago, before the renovation of the Cozine House had even begun.

I started in the background at the MDA, working on paperwork and state grant drawdown requests for construction costs for the Cozine House. As I prepared to write this piece, I looked through old records and smiled as I saw my name and handwriting on some of the documents. My goodness, that was a long time ago!

In 1995, I started doing the bookkeeping for the association, something I continue today. In 2001, I joined the board as secretary and volunteered at many events. Today, I manage the MDA and will until I retire, probably in late 2016 or early 2017.


But it was through my association with and employment by Marilyn Worrix that I was lucky enough to have the mentor of a lifetime. She was and is the epitome of public service and she — and later Jeb Bladine — both taught me what it means to be invested in the community.

Working shoulder-to-shoulder with people who dedicate personal time and energy for causes we strongly believe in helps a community thrive and grow. We want to maintain and protect this safe place for our children and grandchildren.

When challenges arise — and they always will — it is our duty to find solutions or at least work toward them. By giving of ourselves, we help create the future. That’s a legacy we could all strive for.

Nearly seven days a week, I walk through the streets of our beautiful downtown. I raised my children here. I work here and I live here.

The picture below, although not taken from the middle of the street, shows the same intersection as the one on Page C1. This is the beautiful, vital heart of our community created by hundreds of its citizens, and I promise to dedicate the rest of my life helping it to remain so.

I love McMinnville now more than ever.



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