Reflections on 'Jackass Joe,' Habitat's response to disaster, comments from a St. Helens arts commissioner

Reflections on 'Jackass Joe' and hope for his hill

I don't expect many of you remember a man named Joe Watson. He lived on the bluffs overlooking what now is North 11th Street connecting Columbia Boulevard and West Street in St. Helens. Back then, in the early 1960s, North 11th was not vehicle-passable, but it made a nice walking path between the bluffs.

Mr. Watson raised donkeys. He housed them in a dilapidated barn next to a dilapidated home and he never bothered anybody. Once in a while, neighborhood kids would be allowed to help him with his companions and be rewarded with a donkey ride. Occasionally he could be seen walking through St. Helens, donkey laden with groceries.

North 11th Street became known as Jackass Canyon and Mr. Watson as Jackass Joe. Neither salutation was meant to be derogatory.

At some point in the 1960s it was decided (by what powers I have been unable to determine at this time) that Mr. Watson was extremely poor and unable to take care of himself, so he was removed from his property and put into a "home" to protect him. He left that "home" and went back to his property just above Jackass Canyon. The "powers that be" then moved him to a state home in Salem and he was unable to return from there — ever.

The property was sold many times and — lo and behold — it was discovered just a few years past that Mr. Watson's property was sitting on a basalt rock goldmine.

Basalt is used for a wide variety of purposes. It is most commonly crushed for use as an aggregate in construction projects. Basalt underlies more of Earth's surface than any other rock type. Most areas within Earth's ocean basins are underlain by basalt. Basalt is a very important rock and sells at a premium.

A fellow who once owned this hill and living in Beverly Hills, California, wanted to blast this rock down to 18 feet below grade and fill it with trash and slag from a rock

mining operation on Hankey Road.

After a few years of arguing with attorneys for an out-of-state owner, the city of St. Helens stood up and said "enough." Apparently they realized they not only had a legal obligation but a moral obligation as well to put a stop to this blasting project. Good for them.

In 1978 a home was built on top of Joe's hill. The home is lovely, the view is magnificent. Phil Derby, former Columbia County sheriff, owned property on the hill and eventually donated four lots to the senior center in St. Helens. Center director, Cheryl Young, assures me the four lots are still owned by the senior center.

Rick Scholl, Mayor of St. Helens, recently purchased a lot on top of Joe Watson's hill and has offered to purchase the four lots owned by the St. Helens Senior Center. Thus far, those offers have been rejected.

According to information I received, Mayor Scholl wants to build his dream home on that property and needs the additional four lots for ingress and egress.

Fortunately, the city of St. Helens settled the problem of blasting for basalt rock in that area and it is my understanding (and hope) this settlement cannot be revisited. I also cannot imagine anyone wanting to build condos on the hill — although a city park would be great.

If the mayor wants to build a home on Joe Watson Hill, more power to him. His view would be one of the best in the county. It would be nice if he decided to keep a donkey or two.

Nancy Whitney

St. Helens

Habitat for Humanity's response to disaster

During a crisis there is a natural interest in local response from organizations such as Columbia County Habitat for Humanity to media inquiries. We are asked what role does Columbia County Habitat for Humanity play in the recovery efforts resulting from the recent hurricane devastation. Our response has been tempered with fact-gathering and activity planning.

While Columbia County Habitat for Humanity does not play a direct role, as an affiliate we contribute a portion of our annual budget to Habitat for Humanity International for use in the event of such disasters in areas Habitat serves around the world. It is called "Habitat Hammers Back." By donating to your local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, you are also giving to something even bigger. Working together with other keystone partners such as Dow Chemical Co., General Motors, Thrivent Financial, each contributing over $1 million supporting our on-the-ground efforts to help those in need, HFHI is able to coordinate with others in assessing the capacity for recovery and construction, rehabilitation and repair of damaged houses by disbursing funds to local Habitat organizations directly affected by the emergency.

This time it is was the hurricane-stricken area of the U.S., but next time it may be the Pacific Northwest - a major tsunami, a flood, a fire - we are not immune. The Habitat Hammers Back action plan looks at immediate response, community stabilization and long-term recovery.

While the impact of these recent hurricanes and other natural disasters may have hit communities hundreds of miles away from us, we do care and will support anyway we can the efforts to bring relief and recovery back to Texas, Florida and other states in the southeastern U.S., as well as the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. As an international organization we also reach out to other areas we serve.

I hope this will be helpful in gathering information as you look at the aftermath of a natural disaster and how Habitat is responding with prayers and more.

Bill Blank

Community Outreach and Development Director Columbia County Habitat for Humanity

NFL needs to play football and shut up

The other day, President Donald Trump suggested it would be nice if NFL owners were to fire players who didn't stand for the National Anthem. Big surprise here, but he was immediately attacked by leftist media outlets, NFL owners, and pro athletes in the NFL and the NBA. I say "big surprise" because Trump could release the cure for cancer and he would be painted as a bigot and homophobe for not finding the cure for AIDS by the commie media and their low information, indoctrinated Marxist Ameriphobes.

I do not hate our president, nor am I his apologist, but I agree with him on this issue.

When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started his disrespectful movement by taking a knee during the National Anthem, he spit on our country, and vomited on every veteran that has ever served or died so that we may be free. The Seattle Seagulls now say that none of them will participate in the National Anthem. Some owners have joined the Trump bashing media, calling him disrespectful and claiming "we will not let him divide us." What do they think taking a knee does? Where were these people when the last undocumented president spent eight years dividing this country and pushing us into the present day cultural war?

These players should be held to the highest standards as they make many millions of dollars and make impressions on our children. If these folks don't like our country, there is a European league; good luck making millions of dollars though. I have loved football since I was six years old, but because of their recent involvement in politics, I began boycotting the NFL last year. When I want to watch football, or a movie, I don't want to hear about politics, nor do I care what a bunch of overpaid 20-year-olds or entitled celebrities think. The NFL has lost around a third of their viewership in the past two years for the first time in history, but doesn't get it.

Jerry Jones has informed his team that anyone taking a knee or disrespecting our country will be fired, so how about them Cowboys! Someone has common sense. As for the NFL, they need to shut up and play football ... we don't care what you think.

Chris Brumbles

Deer Island

Arts commission hears concerns, offers solutions

The St. Helens Arts and Cultural Commission (ACC) is aware of concerns about the Gateway Project sculptures recently installed on McNulty Creek Bridge, Highway 30, St. Helens.

We hear you — The ACC will be discussing new guidelines for projects moving forward. Some of these ideas include extended Request-For-Proposal periods, and more opportunities for public feedback.

Money — Incredibly generous donations and grants comprise the majority of funds for this project. The city of Saint Helens gave a $20,000 match from the transient room fee as defined in the city's municipal code. Visitors pay this money to the city. Rooms get taxed at 7 percent; 6 percent goes into a separate city account, also governed by code. The code states, "Moneys in this account can only be used to promote tourism in the city of St. Helens." Dispersal of these funds at the discretion of the City Council.

The public has access to city fiscal reports online. I encourage you to become familiar with these documents. They can be found at

A detailed budget is posted on the ACC website: The ACC disclosed $41,508 of in-kind donations in the total project value. This is a good way to communicate the volume of volunteer hours contributed over the 2.5-year lifespan of this project. Volunteers are not given the spotlight they deserve. It is our way of recognizing and appreciating the overwhelming generosity of our community.

Participate — I understand that some may take issue with current laws and codes that govern our community. If you would like to see these rules changed, I encourage you to get involved so that your voice and vision help shape our community: volunteer, attend meetings, call, write to your City Council, make a proposal, throw a fundraiser, spearhead a project, start a nonprofit, run for office, or apply for a spot on a commission. I encourage you to become active in your city government in whatever way inspires you.

You can watch streamed meetings here: .

The ACC is comprised of unpaid volunteers who bridge a variety of relationships with art. We donate our time to do this work because we want to inspire our community. If this sounds like the kind of commitment you're excited to make, please join us.

Art can't please everyone; we welcome all dialog inspired by creativity. Risky art is provocative, which triggers conversation and adds to its impact. Abstract art is especially notorious for sparking a colorful range of discussions. The healthy debate these sculptures generate has driven many of us to think about art in new ways; perhaps to re-examine what it means to display public art, and to consider how time affects the way we consider art around us. The most valuable outcome would be for these sculptures to inspire you to work with us on future projects; let's mold these intersections of art and community together.

Thank you — I am overwhelmed by the generosity of our donors and supporters. Your vision of our home is exciting, inspiring and daring. Thank you for your leadership.

Jenn Farrington

Arts and Cultural Commissioner

St. Helens

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