Getting to know you… Despite pandemic, ice storm, fires, community makes a good impression on newcomers

December 2021 Posted in Community

By Melissa Wagoner

When Skye de los Reyes moved to Silverton with her husband, Liam, and their four children this past summer, she didn’t really know what to expect. 

“I grew up in Alabama, which is known for hospitality and friendliness,” de los Reyes said. Admitting that when she found out her family would be moving across the entire country because of her husband’s work – he teaches Ethics at the Mt. Angel Abbey – she was more than a little concerned. 

“The Pacific Northwest has a reputation for being really beautiful and crazy politically,” she said of the many rumors that caused her to fear that she and Liam would not find a like-minded community in which to raise their kids.

Jonathan and Yessenia Uribe.

“But on the first day I got invited to a mom’s group and my kids got invited to a birthday party by the first family they met,” she said. “Everyone’s been so friendly.”

Jonathan Uribe, who moved to Silverton with his wife, Yessenia, in August 2020, has been surprised by the friendliness of his neighbors as well. 

“I’m consistently delighted by how kind residents are,” he said. “Everyone I’ve encountered in Silverton has been very welcoming and easy to talk to. I’ve found it easy meeting new people through the many events hosted in the area, in grocery stores, and in restaurants.”

Originally from the California Bay Area, Uribe and Yessenia fell in love with the small-town charm of Silverton, which they were introduced to by a good friend, and purchased a house after only a single scouting trip.

“We just so happened to be in town the day after our future house was listed, so we were able to tour it in person,” Uribe recalled. “Living in another state we were prepared to make offers sight unseen, but thankfully the timing worked out.”

But purchasing a house in the current market isn’t always that easy, something Elissa Hammond and her husband, Merrill, discovered when they were searching for a place to move with their four children.

Merrill and Elissa Hammond and their children.

“We looked at homes and land in the area and ended up buying land, which was definitely a longer and more expensive endeavor than we had anticipated,” Hammond recounted. Describing, “Affordable land looked nice in listings, but was usually located on the side of a cliff.”

They kept looking in Silverton, however, because it was close to Merrill’s family in Aurora and was the place they most wanted to be. Finally, they found it. The perfect piece of land. All they needed was to build the house. Unfortunately, that came with an entirely new set of issues. 

“The process of getting everything in place for the county and bank to sign off on our purchase took a year,” Hammond recalled, “which was about 50 weeks longer than I had emotionally planned for.” 

Their dream home complete, the Hammonds moved in during Labor Day weekend 2020. 

“Characteristic of that year, we had both wonderful support and quasi-apocalyptic events to greet us,” Hammond said. “Members from the church congregation we attend here in town helped us move all our stuff in on Saturday. On Monday evening, we spent time with them at an outdoor gathering that became increasingly smoky and eerie. The next morning, we wondered if we had stepped out onto Mars. Everything looked so orange!”

Upon learning of the fires racing through the nearby Santiam Canyon, Hammond and her husband gathered their four children and fled to Merrill’s parents’ home. 

“Bouncing back to his parents’ so quickly resulted in some emotional whiplash for us,” Hammond admitted, “but we were otherwise unscathed…”

Ken and Jenny Alger.

Jenny Alger, who was also in the process of moving to Silverton with her husband, Ken, and their two daughters, during the Labor Day fires, had a similarly stressful experience. 

“We made an offer on the house and during the midst of closing…the fires in Oregon broke out,” she recalled. “Our new house was in a level three evacuation zone. The previous owners had already moved out so we would drive out every few days through the smoke to make sure the house had not burned down. Thankfully, the fires never got close enough to damage the house or property.”

Surprising, even to those who had lived in Oregon for many years, the extreme weather events of 2020 were especially shocking for those who had just moved to the state. In fact, Uribe, when asked what surprised him most about his new home, replied emphatically, “The weather. Not the rain or clouds, but the extreme fires in 2020 and the ice storm in early 2021. Definitely was not prepared for that, but I will be now.”

Even de los Reyes, who arrived after the fires and ice had dissipated, has found Oregon’s weather a surprise. 

“I didn’t realize there’s a dry season here,” she admitted. “No one talks about it. I got here and I was like, where is the rain? But not only is it not raining, it hasn’t rained for months.”

That good weather, though unexpected, provided de los Reyes with the chance to spend the summer exploring the terrain of her new home, marveling at the beauty, so unlike that of South Bend, Indiana – her family’s most recent home.

“We were excited to move toward nature again,” King said of the switch from living in a city of 100,000 people to a more rural setting. 

“I’m a country girl,” she explained. “I enjoy every time I go up a hill and there’s a nice view.”

Transitioning to a smaller place is what brought Michelle Roell and her husband, Ryan, to Silverton from nearby Salem as well – and so far, they have not been disappointed by the move.

“Our neighborhood is a dream,” Roell enthused. “The neighbors get together for block parties or fire pit gatherings. They make treats at holiday times and deliver to your doorstep, and put on Easter egg hunts for the kids. They’ve sent goodies over while I was recovering from surgery. Our kids have made friends with the other neighbor kids, which has been a huge blessing, considering they were moved away from their old school and friends. We love our neighborhood so much; it feels like a Hallmark movie.”

The only drawback, she said, is the level of political discourse, which both she and Hammond have found surprising. 

“Last summer when the world was in the midst of a very difficult time, it broke my heart to read divisive, derisive, and even dangerous posts on one of the community Facebook pages,” Hammond described. “I began to fear I’d chosen the wrong place to settle with my family.”

Thankfully, her negative online experiences have been offset by positive, in-person ones.

“I have…been delighted at the heroic efforts of our civil servants, school board and educators, essential workers, utility workers, first responders, and firefighters in the face of so much upheaval this past year,” she said.

Because the year has been a difficult one, especially for those who only recently moved to Silverton and lacked the support of established friend and family relationships.

“Moving in the midst of a pandemic was challenging because restaurants were shut down and stores and shops had closed due to COVID,” Alger confirmed. “It was also difficult getting to know your neighbors because you were not supposed to have people over or get close to people.”

But now, with public spaces largely open to visitors once again, the situation is looking up.

“It’s been so nice…getting to explore Silverton more,” Alger enthused. “We’ve enjoyed shopping at the Saturday Farmers Market, hiking the trails at Silver Falls, kayaking the reservoir, walking our dogs through The Oregon Garden and discovering all the wineries on this side of the Willamette Valley. The Silverton community is kind and generous and we have really enjoyed being a part of it.”

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