A woman who worked tenaciously to gain recognition for the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe was presented with the Douglas County Museum’s first Legacy Award Sunday afternoon.
Sue Shaffer, former longtime tribal chairwoman, accepted the award in front of about 60 longtime friends, neighbors, supporters and all three Douglas County commissioners at the invitation-only event at the museum.
Museum Director Gardner Chappell introduced the award winner and told her she was going to be put on display in the museum — a comment that gave the 90-year-old pause until Roseburg artist Kyall McGee unveiled an oil portrait of her. McGee’s likeness of the diminutive but feisty Shaffer brought a collective “aah” from the audience and a round of applause.
Shaffer thanked the crowd for the award, which recognized the Douglas County native “for her actions in service to our community.”
“I’m truly grateful for all your presence here today,” said Shaffer, who reminisced with her guests about the grand Fourth of July picnics held by her parents and grandparents at their ranch in Milo when she was growing up. She suspected many in attendance had been to that ranch. She remembered those as the old days, when life was simple and people looked within their communities of family and friends for entertainment.
“I see people around here that I have had to put up with for many years and they’ve had to put up with me,” joked Shaffer who continues to make her home in Canyonville.
She spied former Oregon state Rep. Bill Markham, who represented South County for 30 years, and remarked: “If he doesn’t get a chance to tell you first, I’m older than him.”
Markham conceded that to be true “by about 30 days.”
While Shaffer told stories of her mother being a taskmaster with a wicked willow switch, others came forward to recognize what Shaffer accomplished in her adult years.
Shaffer gained recognition for the Cow Creek band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians in 1982 and garnered a $1.5 million settlement from the federal government.
Led by Shaffer, who was tribal chairwoman from 1983 to 2010, the tribe drew on the interest to buy land and built a bingo hall in 1992.
Today, the tribe operates the Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville and many other businesses.
It has extensive land holdings, tribal offices and offers low-cost health insurance and college scholarships to its members.
Many local nonprofit organizations benefit from grants distributed by the tribe as part of its agreement with the state to donate 6 percent of its gaming profits to charity.
Douglas C.A.R.E.S. Executive Director Evelyn Badger-Nores of Roseburg said she’s known Shaffer for all of her 60-plus years: “She’s a tiny lady who built a dynasty.”
Badger-Nores said when she was lobbying for the timber industry in Washington, D.C., she would run across Shaffer, who was making frequent trips to the nation’s capital to get the Cow Creek tribe recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Shaffer had joined the tribe’s board in 1974, but her first post with the tribe was as tribal secretary in 1939.
Badger-Nores said what Shaffer did was one of the most remarkable things to happen in Douglas County.
Douglas County Commissioner Susan Morgan told her, “You’re one of the people who has been a role model and inspiration.”
“I have learned so much through your work ethic, integrity and honor. You set a high standard for so many of us who have worked with you,” Morgan said.
Fellow Commissioner Joe Laurance said he was honored to know Shaffer.
“We’ve never known such a big heart in such a small chassis,” Laurance told Shaffer. “We’re very grateful for all you’ve done for this county.”
Retired real estate broker Georgia Stiles of Roseburg recalled that she and Shaffer were both getting a lot of ink in the newspaper about what they were doing. Both wanted to meet each other, but they knew they were political opposites.
They met and decided neither would change the other’s mind about political affiliation. Still, Stiles recalls saying, “I like you and you like me. Can we just agree to work together?”
And they did.
Karen Quigley, executive director of the Oregon Legislative Commission on Indian Services, wanted to make sure those in attendance knew that Shaffer had been influential in encouraging cooperation among Indian tribes and the state of Oregon.
“She emphasized to start small. When you can get along with your community, you can get along with the state of Oregon,” Quigley said.
Markham announced he was proud that Shaffer, an ardent Democrat, told him he was the only Republican ever to get her vote.
One of Shaffer’s nieces, Kelly Crispen Coates, became tearful as she said Shaffer had been a great aunt and an incredible role model.
In response to all of the comments, Shaffer said, “With all these kind words I’ll be so inflated I can’t get out the door.“
Paul Zegers, president of the Douglas County Museum Foundation, a group that merged in the past year with the Friends of the Museum, said members of the groups have wanted for some time to honor people who have left a legacy in Douglas County.
Zegers said they started planning to give their first award about two years ago. He added that Sue Shaffer immediately came to everyone’s mind as the first recipient.
• News-Review Editor Vicki Menard can be reached at 541-957-4203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
She emphasized to start small. When you can get along with your community, you can get along with the state of Oregon.
Oregon Legislative Commission on Sue Shaffer