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'One spark of enthusiasm' has ignited town's can-do attitude

WIMER — When the Wimer Covered Bridge collapsed in 2003, Jackson County promised to rebuild it if the community could raise more than a third of the estimated $887,000 total cost — $334,000.

Wimer did it.

When the Rogue River School District closed Evans Valley Elementary School in Wimer in 2011, the "Little Engine that Could" did it again, regrouping as the Evans Valley Community Association to take over the school and bring it back to life as the Evans Valley Education and Community Center at 8205 East Evans Creek Road.

"One spark of enthusiasm ignites Wimer," said Julie Niles-Fry, president of the nonprofit association's board. "Wimer comes out."

The biggest damper on the school project was the estimated $80,000 cost of reroofing the leaky, 91-year-old main building. The association has held fundraisers, including the first Elk Mountain Highland Games & May Day Festival. Last fall, the Four Way and Carpenter foundations awarded grants totaling $9,000.

"That really motivated us," Niles-Fry said. "We said, hey, we've got some money in the bank and we can really start growing forward with a great fundraising opportunity for everyone, so we can get this gym up and running. We want gym nights. We want to use that theater and that stage. Just about two weeks later, we received the call from Tim at Duro-Last and answered our prayers."

That's Tim Hart, vice president of Western operations for Duro-Last, which has a plant in Josephine County's North Valley. The company donated all the materials and a lot of hands-on help to reroof the gym.

Hart said he learned the Community Center didn't have the money. The company threw a formidable team of district managers and others into the project, and hired Grants Pass roofer James Wright as the contractor. Wright also donated most of his services.

The new roof over the gym is dedicated to Kevin Kelley, a longtime Duro-Last employee and Wimer resident who died unexpectedly in September.

"He had an effect on our contractors throughout the country," Hart said. "His legacy will be not only what he has done for our roofing industry, but also for our customer base.

"Knowing that he coached (basketball) here, we wanted to do something in remembrance of Kevin."

"I'm so torn, because I'm just so excited about the roof, but I'm just missing Kevin so much," said Cheryl Martin Sund, who knew Kelley well. She is the association treasurer, a local historian and author — and an alumnus of Evans Valley Elementary.

Martin Sund said the school itself illustrated Wimer's can-do attitude by bringing together several smaller schools back in the day.

"I don't know what is special about Wimer, but it just is," she said. "We've always felt like we kind of needed to take care of our own out here."

"It seems like we can always pull together and do what is seemingly impossible," added Mysti Jacob, association vice president and secretary.

"He put a lot of years into Duro-Last, and it's great that they're giving back," said Kelley's wife, Ruth Schmidt.

The association thanked Duro-Last and others Tuesday with a big lunch of pasta, chili, soup and more.

Reach Daily Courier reporter Howard Huntington at 541-474-3726 or hhuntington@thedailycourier.com