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1980s Story Time

Deschutes by the Decades: 1980s

Deschutes County residents numbered 62,142 in 1980, a number more than double the county’s population just a decade before. The 1980s were pivotal for many reasons, from a new library in the county to regional events that garnered national attention.

The La Pine Library was the fourth to join the county’s three other libraries in Bend, Redmond, and Sisters. It opened in 1982 in a modular classroom provided by the school district. In 1984, the old elementary school annex was the La Pine Library’s new home, complete with running water. In Sisters, a fundraising campaign that garnered nearly $90,000 in direct funds and grants was combined with a $25,000 one-year levy and a $115,000 grant from the Oregon State Library to build a new 2,500-square-foot facility, which was under construction in 1989.

Though the libraries were well-loved and used by the community, funding woes throughout the 1980s continued to plague the county and the growing library system that relied on its funding. As in the previous decade, budgetary problems forced libraries to close again for a week in April 1981, along with other county departments. When the libraries reopened, operating hours plummeted to just 20 per week. Serial levies again funded library operations through the first half of the decade.

By the end of the 1980s, the library system had more than 50,000 registered cardholders and saw more than 325,000 visitors a year. Check-outs approached the 600,000 mark, keeping pace with a roughly 8% increase year-over-year. As they do today, people visited their libraries for more than books: librarians answered roughly 24,000 requests for information in 1989. It was in this last year of the decade that the growth had libraries nearly bursting at their seams. A Bulletin article from January 1989 noted, “Deschutes County’s libraries in Bend and Redmond are so jam packed that they’ll have to more than triple in size in the next 20 years to meet the county’s needs.” In May of that year, Deschutes County commissioners agreed to place a tax measure before voters in May 1990 to fund expansion and improvements.

County residents could be forgiven if their attentions wandered from county business to other happenings around the state and the Pacific Northwest in the ‘80s. The explosion of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, spread ash across the western United States, and the blast could be heard in Deschutes County and as far away as Redding, California. The library’s summer reading program even incorporated the geologic event, with the theme of “Book Explosion.” Participants received a volcano poster, and “Mount Bookmore” gauged the number of books read by area youth over the summer months.

Not long after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh brought hundreds of worshipful followers to a 100-square-mile ranch east of Madras, incorporating a city—Rajneeshpuram—to get around Oregon’s land-use laws. The growing commune drew the attention of U.S. immigration authorities in 1983, and in 1984 members of the cult sprinkled lab-cultured salmonella on salad bars in four restaurants in The Dalles. About 750 were sickened in the largest biological attack ever known to occur on U.S. soil. Rajneeshpuram imploded in 1985 in a power struggle that sent several leaders to prison.

Deschutes County ended the decade with a population of 71,415 in 1989, reflecting a dramatic slow-down in growth as compared to the previous decade.

Page Last Modified Friday, July 10, 2020


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