▶️ ‘Absolutely no one looking for work:’ Madras DQ closes due to lack of staff

The demand is there, but the workers are not.

Summer is usually the busiest time of year for the Madras Dairy Queen. But they shut down for the foreseeable future in late June because they don’t have enough staff to stay open.

“Never in my life have I ever seen it like this where you have absolutely no one looking for work,” Owner Francis Millard said.

What’s usually a popular pit stop for travelers and a regular haunt for locals is now a ghost town closed seven days a week.

“It’s extremely hard,” Millard said.

Over the past several months, employees have dropped off and applications for open positions have become rare. Around five employees remain.

“Everybody has to work 12 to 9 and that’s just too many hours, it’s too hot, it’s too stressful, so rather than taxing our employees so much we just decided to make this tough decision,” Millard said.

The Madras Dairy Queen was build in 1953. It’s been owned by Frances Millard’s husband’s family since 1956.

When asked if Millard has ever struggled to get staff to this extent before, she replied, “never.”

“Madras has always had a problem with the number of workers, but we have always been able to get people,” Millard said.

It will be especially hard to reopen now because they don’t have enough workers to train new staff, Millard said.

They’re still hoping to reopen soon — they just need people to apply.

“I don’t know why nobody wants to work,” Manager Karla Brasel said.

On Wednesday, Brasel and Millard cleared melted ice cream cakes from the freezer.

When the DQ can open up again, Millard knows the community will be ready to visit.

“We just got a really nice card from the fire department saying how much they love this Dairy Queen, and all we’ve done for the community, and how much they miss it and how they hope we can get back open again,” Millard said.

Millard and Brasel agree: the hiring shortage sweeping Central Oregon feels like just one more difficulty facing restaurants this year.

▶️ Many businesses unaffected by minimum wage hike Thursday

On Thursday, minimum wage in Deschutes County jumps from $12 to $12.75.

In Crook and Jefferson counties, minimum wage will rise from $11.50 to $12.

But those increases may barely matter this year, because not many people in Central Oregon are making minimum wage right now.

“We honestly wouldn’t even get people to walk through the door if we were hiring at minimum wage,” Food4Less Store Director Aaron Price said.

Food4Less in Bend — like so many other businesses in Central Oregon — is trying to hire for several open positions.

Price has offered several dollars more than the current minimum wage to new hires for some time.

“There’s such a crunch for the labor market that to get quality employees to come talk to you, you need to offer something that’s going to draw them in,” Price.

Oregon’s minimum wage has gone up each year since 2016.

Regional Economist Damon Runburg said the bump doesn’t really affect businesses this year, because a recent high demand for workers has forced businesses to raise wages anyway.

“The market rate — what businesses actually have to pay to get these sort of what we would consider minimum wage occupations filled — is far above that $12.75,” Runburg said. “This is an interesting raise where it’s probably going to have little meaningful impact.”

But at least the annual wage increase on July 1 is something businesses can prepare for.

“The rapid increase in labor costs that we’ve seen in this year, in the last 12 months, is one that I think is far more difficult for businesses, because they have to on the fly adapt to the changing labor market,” Runburg said. “It means that ultimately they have to eat that cost themselves or pass that off to consumers.”

But on the upside, Runburg said the high local wages might attract more workers into the labor market.


▶️ Places of worship see lasting effects from pandemic as services begin again

Out of all the negatives due to COVID emerges a positive.

St. Francis Church in Bend began virtually streaming mass at the beginning of the pandemic.

“It has proved to be a great benefit and a blessing for those who are sick, homebound,” Father Jose Thomas, pastor at St. Francis, said.

Fr. Jose said he’s received multiple emails asking the virtual services continue post-pandemic.

Sill, in-person services, does have benefits for those who practice Catholicism. Catholics can receive Eucharist at mass, and they can’t receive it at home.

“Those who are now returning to church, they always tell me at the end of the service, ‘it’s so good to be back and so good to receive the holy Eucharist again,'” Fr. Jose said.

Fr. Jose said around 60% of the church’s pre-pandemic churchgoers are back in the pews.

It’s a similar story across town at Westside Church, where only a portion have returned to in-person services.

“There’s just so many different things affecting how different people feel about it,” Ben Fleming, senior pastor at Westside Church, said. “Because of that I think that’s why we’re haven’t seen an immediate response that looks like snapping back to how things were before.”

Another change from the pandemic: Westside isn’t really measuring it’s reach and congregation numbers on how many people are sitting in a pew on Sunday, Fleming said.

Instead, they’re also looking at how many people are watching online, participating in a home church, engaging in service or listening to its podcast.

“Those statistics and levels of engagement have become a lot more valuable to us than they were before,” Fleming said.

With fewer people walking through the church doors on Sunday morning, there’s a question of, will some people ever return to in-person services, now they’re used to watching church from the comfort of their couch?

“I personally find the physical gathering to be really really helpful and conducive for more really important relationships,” Fleming said.

Fleming said he believes religious people need to find that balance between personal rest at home and community formed in religious spaces.

▶️ Players pumped as Little League All-Star tourney returns to Redmond

They’re not professional athletes–yet–but they do have a serious love for the game of baseball.

“You can’t keep the kids from playing,” Brian Cooley, board member for Redmond Little League, said. “They’re so cooped from last year not being able to do anything. I think they’re just happy to be out here playing.”

After a cancelled All-Star tournament last year, not even 90 degree weather can stop Central Oregon little league players from participating in the 2021 District Five Little League Tournament in Redmond this week

“It feels back to normal and the kids definitely missed a lot last year, so the opportunity to be out here this year and playing and competing is great,” Steele Bailey, an All Star team coach, said.

A team who wins here will go on to the state tournament, then on to regionals in Southern California, and then possibly on to the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.

“Got some strong teams,” Cooley said. “Lot of good players. The Bend North teams look phenomenal. High hopes. We could send a Central Oregon team all the way.”

It happened before. The Bend North All Stars made it to Williamsport back in 2016.

But at this stage, some might say winning is secondary. Many coaches and parents are there to pass on a love of the game.

“It is competitive at this stage, but at the same time, you know, we’re all here for the kids,” Bailey said. “It’s all for the kids. Helping them learn and grow.”


▶️ KC and Ron’s Morning Show celebrates 25 years on-air

Not everything lasts forever.

The average first marriage in the U.S. spans seven years.

The average job lasts around four years.

But KC and Ron’s morning radio show on 98.3 The Twins has no end in sight.

“Where has the time gone I guess?” co-host Ron Alvarez said. “It went by so fast.”

This month, KC and Ron’s morning show is celebrating 25 years on air.

“A miracle comes to mind,” co-host KC Caldwell said, laughing.

Caldwell and Alvarez aren’t married or siblings or twins. But they do have a connection that’s kept them showing up each day for a quarter century.

“I think we just hit it off from the very beginning,” Alvarez said. “There was a dynamic even before we were on the air together. There was just a spark.”

Their show began in 1996 and has lasted through changing technology, an evolving industry, Bend’s growth boom and first kids, houses and dogs.

“I had come from a larger market and a larger market is just not all that,” Caldwell said. “If you can be in a community, grow with a community, make a difference in a community–that’s priceless.”

There are too many memorable moments from 25 years on air to name all of them, but one day in particular still stands out.

“I think one of the biggest memories we have is we were on the air for 9/11,” Alvarez said. “We just threw the format out the window that morning, didn’t play any music, and just took phone calls all morning.”

After 25 years, are either Ron or KC ready to move on?

“We’re not qualified to do anything else,” Alvarez said, laughing.

Ron and KC say it’s their listeners, called their “Twinster” family, that keeps them coming back every morning.

“I would love to say, I love working with you,” Caldwell told Alvarez.

“What’s not to love?” Alvarez said. “I love working with you too.”

To celebrate the anniversary, KC and Ron are hosting a concert at General Duffy’s Watering Hole in Redmond on June 26.

Tickets can be found here.

▶️ Drug decriminalization law forces DCSO to retire drug-sniffing dogs

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office will no longer be using drug-sniffing dogs in drug investigations.

With the passage of Measure 110 in November, which drastically reduces the penalty for possessing hard drugs, drug-sniffing dogs are no longer needed, according to Sgt. Jayson Janes said.

“Due to the decriminalization of small amounts of controlled substances, which they were trained to sniff out, based on our discussions that’s why we decided to discontinue certifying them,” Janes said.

Janes wouldn’t comment on what new tactics the agency will be using in place of the dogs in drug investigations, but he said the agency will adapt.

“We’re not saying we’re not interested in finding drugs anymore,” Janes said. “It’s just a new way we have to do business now.”

One Sheriff’s Office dog trained only for drug-sniffing, Molly, is now retired. Other K-9 units will remain in service, but will primarily be used for tracking suspects.

“We just have to adapt with the way things change in the world,” Janes said. “It’s something we’re constantly having to do when laws change.”

The agency has trained and utilized drug-sniffing dogs for more than 20 years, Janes said.

▶️ Reverence & Respect: Central Oregon celebrates Flag Day

For Tracy Miller of Bend, Flag Day is a day to honor her father, World War II veteran Elmer Miller.

“Next month marks the 25th anniversary of my dad’s death,” Miller said. “It’s been a long time, but it’s still…you know. Because it’s your dad.”

More than ten years ago, Central Oregon Band of Brothers gave Miller an American flag in honor of her father’s time in the service.

His time in service was something he never talked about much, Miller said.

“My parents had a permanent flag pole with a light on it so they flew the American flag every day 24/7,” Miller said.

On Monday, community members, students, officers and members of the Band of Brothers came together to line the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Bend with flags in honor of Flag Day. Each flag represented a service member.

“For me, it’s important to continue to be supportive of these events,” Greg Crumrine, Cadet Crops instructor at Mountain View High School, said. “It seems like there’s so much controversy around the flag and to be a part of showing my reverence and respect for it is important.”

The group worked together to display the Stars and Stripes so many have fought for.

And as Elmer Miller’s flag was place on the bridge along with dozens of others, memories came flooding back for Tracy Miller.

“Later in life I found out after his passing some of the things they had to do as soldiers that were really, really difficult,” Miller said. “Sometimes this triggers that. For me, it really reminds me he had to really endure some really incredible, amazingly difficult things.”



Police officer’s son dies in Crook Co. crash; Prineville PD asks for donations

The 19-year-old who died and the 16-year-old who was badly injured in a car crash south of Prineville Wednesday were both the sons of a Prineville police officer, according to Police Chief Dale Cummins.

A post on the Prineville Police Department’s Facebook page said Sergeant Rob Gray responded to the single-vehicle accident Wednesday night and learned his sons were involved in the crash.

The 19-year-old, Clayton Gray, died at the scene. The 16-year-old was flown to St. Charles with serious injuries and is now in recovery.

“Tragedy has struck our small family,” Cummins wrote in the post.

Prineville Police are asking for donations to the family via GoFundMe, which will go toward the costs of Life Flight, hospital bills and the funeral, Cummins said.

“So often we are asked how you can show support for your officers,” Cummins said. “This is a chance to do just that. Anything you’re comfortable with giving, whether it’s a nice comment to this post, a card, or a prayer, all would be appreciated by the family.”

As of Friday afternoon, the GoFundMe had already raised more than $15,000 with more than 170 donors.

Police said Clayton Gray was driving north when his car crossed the southbound lane, left the road and rolled.

The Crook County School District released a statement Thursday saying the 16-year-old is a student of Crook County High School.

▶️ Bend food truck finds ways to give back to community after robbery

El Taquero, a food truck in Northeast Bend, usually has just one tip jar in its window.

But starting Wednesday, there’s two.

One jar is for tips and the other jar is for giving back.

“We’ve had people who just walk by and are like ‘hey, can you spare a taco?'” said Hannah Cain, co-owner of El Taquero. “Something like that where we try to help out as much as we can.”

Customers can drop in a dollar or more and the El Taquero owners will donate it to someone in need.

“We know that if we put this information out there, other people are gonna love and wanna help out too,” Cain said.

Implementing a “Giving Jar” might not be what you’d expect from the food truck that was robbed just five days ago.

“We’re thankful it wasn’t somebody who was trying to hurt us or trying to hurt our property or our business,” Cain said. “It was someone who… desperate times call for desperate measures unfortunately.”

Cain’s parter was inside the food truck last Friday when an unarmed man stole the truck’s money and ran.

“His first instinct was like, I can tell that this person needs help and that’s why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Cain said.

Two nearby schools were put on lockout while police searched the area. The suspect still hasn’t been found, but El Taquero’s money was eventually recovered.

After the incident, a customer messaged Cain and offered to donate money to the truck.

That donation inspired Cain to consider ways El Taquero could give back to anyone who needs a helping hand.

“When you do get to do those small little things, even if it’s a small thing, it makes you feel like you’re giving back, you’re paying it forward,” Cain said. “Giving people the opportunity. If they want to help somebody, they can do it.”

You can find El Taquero on NE Greenwood and 2nd St. in Bend.

▶️ Jefferson Co. farms face ‘worst year on record’ as water supply runs low

Vern Bare, owner of Opal Springs Farms in Culver, usually grows crops on 1,200 acres of land.

But this year, Opal Springs is only irrigating 400 acres.

“Typically our operation brings in a little over $2 million annually,” Bare said. “This year, we’ll be lucky to get to $8 or $900,000.”

It’s a similar story just down the road at Macy Farms, where out of 1,800 acres, 800 acres are left idle.

“This is my 46th year farming in Central Oregon,” Richard Macy, owner of Macy Farms, said. “We’ve had some dry years and some hard years to get through, but this is by far one of the driest years I’ve seen.”

The reason: a lower than normal amount of water flowing from the Deschutes Basin into the North Unit Irrigation District, which provides water to nearly 59,000 acres of farmland in Jefferson County.

“This year is particularly bad and probably one of the worst years on record,” Mike Britton, general manager for the North Unit Irrigation District, said.

On Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order declaring a state of drought emergency in Deschutes and Jefferson Counties, directing the Department of Agriculture to assist the agricultural industry in both counties.

The executive order comes just as years of below-average rainfall and snowpack seem to be coming to a head this summer.

“North Unit and our farmers were starting out in a deficit before the season even started,” Britton said.

Farmers still face the same overhead costs while taking home just a portion of their usual profits. It could lead to financial ruin for some.

“We pay the same amount for our water whether we get a full allotment or not,” Bare said. “My water bill was over $100,000 and I got less than half of my allotment.”

Britton said farms in Jefferson County need several years of heavy rain and snowfall in the next few years, or many family farms could be permanently affected.

“My son asked me one day, ‘dad when will this change?'” Bare said. “I said, it will probably change when the public goes to the grocery store and can’t find food.”

Other ideas proposed to help improve the situation include more conservation efforts throughout the Deschutes Basin, and possibly redirecting more water from other districts to these farms.