Eugene Weekly 25th Anniversary Issue
What are We Doing Here?
An introspective look at our unique publication
Starting the Paper
Silver linings in cloudy times
Getting Readers Excited
Your editor reflects on nearly a decade of reader response
And time goes on, and on, and…
Eugene Weekly Timeline
Starting the Paper
Silver linings in cloudy times
By Lois Wadsworth
Months before we published the first issue of What’s Happening the last week in September 1982, Bill Snyder, Sonja Ungemach Snyder, Lucia McKelvey, Elisabeth Lyman and I, along with others close to us, talked many times about missing The Willamette Valley Observer, Ken Doctor’s weekly paper that went belly-up in the early summer of 1982 after seven years.
Truth is, we don’t remember where we were or when we actually said: “Let’s do this thing.” I’m generally credited with saying, “We should revive the Living Well calendar and call it What’s Happening” because we needed to know what political meetings were scheduled, where James Thornberry’s band was playing, which movies were coming to Cinema 7 and when the city’s performing and visual artists planned their next outrageous event.
|Our first office, 1984|
|Sonja makes the Keystone delivery, 1982|
|Liz Lyman and Lucia McKelvey, 1987|
|Sonja Snyder, 1987|
|Bill Snyder, 1985|
|Lois Wadsworth, 1985|
Lucia remembers writing the business plan “on the back of a napkin” in Bill and Sonja’s living room, but Sonja thinks we hatched the idea while camping at the Illinois River. Liz looks back and sees all of us sitting on the beach near a friend’s cabin, looking for a sheltered place from the wind — the perfect metaphor for what we were doing.
For different reasons, Bill and I didn’t stay long at the paper that time, and by early 1983, Sonja, Lucia and Liz were doing all the tasks of the day-to-day running of the paper. All served as editor and publisher and did whatever jobs needed doing. They never missed an issue. By the spring of 1991, when Bill and I both came back to work full-time for What’s Happening, the paper had morphed from a family affair to a rapidly growing business with an ad sales staff, editorial and calendar writers, a bookkeeper and distributors.
Computerizing the paper’s sales and accounting systems created terrible growing pains, much like those suffered by many businesses of the time. Editorial and production operations wouldn’t be computerized for another year or so, and by that time we would have brought in investors who stabilized the paper financially and today publish Eugene Weekly.
But back to the beginning: As a close-knit group who had forged lasting relationships through the political and social revolutions of the 1960s and ’70s, we brought what Liz called “incredible optimism and naïveté” to the task before us. “We had no idea of the hard work and struggles to come,” she said, “but we maintained a vision for the paper that helped us through the hard times and brought it to its continued success. Being part of the paper was who I was at the time. The entrepreneurial spirit was alive.”
Bill trained and mentored many sales teams over the years. “We all had the vision,” Lucia recalls, “but Bill was the one who taught us how to go out and sell it to others and get their support. There would be absolutely no paper without his early efforts and abilities.”
Sonja noted, “We had no experience, no business plan, no working capital, and, apparently no sense of what we were getting ourselves into. But we were single parents, and we knew how to live on a tight budget and juggle a thousand things at once. It worked. We caught the wave at the right time and made it happen.”
And we brought with us skills honed in the fires of activism. After the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, I had become active in local and statewide anti-nuclear work, producing a weekly, half-hour, public access television program called Nuclear Questions from November 1979 to early 1983. Sonja often operated the camera, while I interviewed alternative energy experts. I actively engaged in public access advocacy with the Cable Commission, and Lucia served on the Board of Directors for the Cable Access Corporation.
We also worked on concerts. I was the local volunteer coordinator for the No Nukes Benefit Concert at Mac Court on Feb. 23, 1981, where Jackson Brown, Bonnie Raitt, Cris Williamson and John Trudell performed, while the extended family provided hospitality. In the summer of 1982 Bill, Sonja, Lucia and I worked for the entrepreneur who put on the Hui Concert in Saginaw.
In 1981, we all five formed Energy Futures Inc., a registered nonprofit organization designed to promote renewable energy alternatives and conservation. We published and distributed the free Lane County Energy Consumers Guide with the help and encouragement of friends such as former EWEB Commissioners John Bartels and Jack Craig, public power advocate Ed Wemple and multi-term Lane County Commissioner Jerry Rust.
“We cared about our community and wanted to make a difference,” Sonja said, “but we also wanted to make a living. We were all either unemployed or under-employed, and the state was in deep recession. There were no jobs. With the wood products industry in decline, the new motto for business was: Diversify or Die. At the same time, the community began to redefine itself as a hub of arts and culture, and the paper was an early voice in promoting the change.”
Lucia recalls the effect of the recession in Eugene and the Reagan budget cuts nationally. “We needed to create jobs to stay in Eugene,” she said. “I wanted to work with all my close friends and revive our communal spirit from the 1960s. I never lost the dream of doing a meaningful community project together.”
We four women had lived together as part of the early 1970s back-to-the-land movement before moving to Eugene later that decade. We’d dropped out of mainstream culture to follow a more natural daily rhythm, growing much of our own food, living outside in good weather, learning to communicate with the men in our lives, improving the housing on our property and raising my three children with love and strong values. We developed a lifelong interest in self-discovery through psychological exploration and dreamwork.
Today, the five of us are still family, celebrating birthdays, trips to the beach and holidays together, as often as possible with our grown children and young grandchildren. We know the deep, forgiving happiness of lifelong friendship, and our children know, too.
Sonja now works for BRING Recycling, another community institution born of the counter-culture and environmental movement. She’s development director for BRING’s capital campaign to build new headquarters in Glenwood, the Planet Improvement Center. Bill, her husband of many years, is the general manager of Coquille Cranberries, run by CEDCO, the Coquille Economic Development Corporation, for the Coquille Indians in North Bend. He also serves on CEDCO’S executive management team for energy and the environment.
Lucia is a licensed massage therapist, and Liz is a Jungian-based therapist. They’ve just created a new business with family friend, astrologer Susan Jackson. Confluence Therapies offers counseling, bodywork and astrological consulting to support the health and growth of the whole person through challenging life transitions. (Email Lucia at: email@example.com)
I retired from EW in 2006 after 15 years as arts editor and movie critic, but I also still write reviews and stories for EW. Right now I’m coordinating the Eugene Weekly Film Fest, a film series playing Oct. 5-7 at the Bijou. “The Politics of Dissent: Human Stories for Our Time” is sponsored by the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the UO. This is my way of staying close to EW readers and sharing my love for the movies.