An old argument among historians centered on what used to be known as the great man theory of history versus what we might call the right-place-at-the-right-time theory.
Proponents of the first viewpoint, including the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle, pointed to "heroes" such as Napoleon as examples of individuals with the power to effect sweeping change.
Nonsense, said the English philosopher Herbert Spencer, the times have to be right for the game changer to do his or her thing, and besides, such men and women are products of their cultures. As Carlyle memorably put it, "Before he can remake his society, his society must make him."
The great man theory has long since fallen from favor as a way of looking at the macrocosm of history. But at the microcosmic level, the achievements of individuals often loom large. We can see this by looking around our community.
A good example is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Yes, it took the talents of many people to create one of the nation's largest and most prestigious regional theaters. But it's fairly safe to say that without a Depression-era English teacher named Angus Bowmer, there would be no OSF, and Ashland and Southern Oregon would be different.
The Rogue Valley is full of things that wouldn't be here without that lone person who took an idea and ran with it — sometimes in the face of widespread apathy, opposition or obstacles.
It's pretty safe to say that without Willie Illingworth, there would be no Willie Boats plying the Rogue River in search of its wily salmon and steelhead. Nor would Medford be the hub of an important boat-building industry.
There might be a Lithia Motors without Sid DeBoer and Dick Heimann (OK, sometimes it takes a great partnership), but without the men who talked venture capitalists into buying a half-million shares of a new stock issue, Lithia wouldn't be a sprawling corporation, and there would be no Lithia Building helping to revitalize downtown Medford, and no Commons.
Another duo, partners John Everett Tourtellotte and Frederick C. Hummel, built the Lithia Springs Hotel in 1925, then the tallest building between Portland and San Francisco.
And does anybody think Brammo, the electric motorcycle company that will occupy the old Walmart building in Talent, would be there if Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher hadn't had the epiphany that led him to scrap everything else and focus on making electric motorcycles?
At the other pole are things that probably would have come about even if those credited with their creation had not done their thing. Either the times were about to mother the invention, or people were feeling the need, or something was in the air.
William Hodson was an enterprising fellow who came to Medford from Roseburg in 1906 and promptly opened the city's first car dealership. Within about five years, there were an amazing 400 cars in town. Hodson later went broke, but no ramrod was needed to ensure the town's love with the automobile.
When Frank C. Reimer took over the fledgling agricultural experiment station in Talent in 1911, he rolled up his sleeves to take on the diseases and insects that were afflicting area orchards.
It in no way denigrates the invaluable work that Reimer did on pests and other problems for many years to observe that if the station hadn't been in his capable hands, somebody else would have to have been hired to do the job.
Often what we see in this year's Our Valley is a combination of the local version of the great man/great woman theory and good timing. In this pattern, one person pushes an idea, others come on board, and at some point a critical mass is reached.
Before she became Medford's mayor, Lindsay Berryman pushed for the renovation of the historic Craterian Theater, the creation of the annual Art in Bloom Festival and the rehabilitation of Bear Creek. Hey, two out of three ain't bad, and many people are still working on the third.
Eagle Point lawyer Bob Hunter labored for years to make the Rogue a dam-free river. And it took the efforts of many to finally make it happen.
Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University's presence in downtown Medford may not have come about without former RCC President Harvey Bennett, but it took many years of work behind the scenes and a lot of people changing their minds about things.
Some — Bowmer, Peter Britt, Harry and David Rosenberg, among them — need little introduction because their stories have been told countless times. We note their accomplishments in fairly short order in this Our Valley because their praises have been well sung.
The names of those featured may in some cases be less familiar, but we know their works. They may be activists such as Julie Norman, entrepreneurs such as Craig Hudson, young rebels such as Ian Hensel.
This is not an encyclopedic listing of those who have left their marks on the Rogue Valley, as much as a visit with a few of them.
For those who are not included, we mean no disrespect, nor does it diminish their accomplishments.
So does it take the lone voice crying in the wilderness to bring about those things that give a community its unique character? Or does it take consensus-building? Vision? Timing? Organizing? Teamwork? An engaged public?
Maybe the best answer is, yes. All of the above.