A1 A1
Roseburg School District discusses school bus driver wage increase, teacher planning day

The Roseburg School Board voted to encourage a bus driver salary increase and to add a teacher’s planning day this December during Wednesday night’s school board meeting.

Since the start of the school year, a nationwide school bus driver shortage has impacted how students get to and from school. Superintendent Jared Cordon said he continues to receive emails from parents expressing frustration over route inconsistencies and the length of time students spend on buses.

“It goes without saying that transportation shortages are impacting and have impacted our kids,” Cordon said. “We have students on the bus for an extended period of time. An amount of time that I would consider unacceptable.”

In a move to lessen the driver shortage, Cordon proposed making an agreed-upon 2.5% contract increase with First Student, a transportation service that is in contract with the district to supply drivers for yellow school buses, with hopes it will lead to a salary increase for drivers. This would come from an existing contract with First Student and will move a salary raise intended for the 2022-2023 school year to this year — with no additional increase for 2022.

This could cause contracted drivers to see their hourly rate jump from $17 an hour to $20. The increase is expected to cost the district close to $104,500 extra this year, with 70% reimbursement expected through the state of Oregon.

Denny Austin, the district’s purchasing manager, said the shortage is “both physically and mentally” taxing for drivers with half of them now working two or more routes.

“They feel very strongly that they can’t get the job done to their satisfaction, let alone, to the satisfaction of our parents and our students and what we deserve,” Austin said.

The shortage of drivers has even impacted charter services contracted by the district to transport student athletes.

Board Chair Becky Larson said she experienced this first-hand after no buses were available to transport a middle school cross country team to Medford. Instead, parents rallied together using vans to get students to their meet on time and back home, she said.

“What happens is we end up with access issues because not every kid has a parent that can get them there,” Larson said. “And that’s really hard to have to tell kids that if you can’t find a ride you can’t go.”

The board voted to approve the raise increase. It will take effect Sunday.

In an additional move, board officials voted for changes to the calendar year, making the day before winter break, Dec. 17, a teacher’s planning day. This comes after staff reported heightened levels of stress and anxiety, according to Human Resources Director Robert Freeman. This extra day can provide faculty time to finish tasks so they won’t have to worry over break and can “de-escalate a bit,” he said.

The meeting adjourned with a festive nod to Thanksgiving around the corner as several board members expressed gratitude for each other and hardworking faculty.

The next board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Dec. 15 and will be held over Zoom.

'Sweet and Sour Uncle': Author Jim Little writes a true story of love, betrayal and Alzheimer's disease

Ralph Little built his wife a log cabin in Days Creek.

But Freda Little betrayed her husband, running off with a childhood sweetheart, and he pined over her for nearly 30 years before finally winning her back.

Then, six months after their remarriage, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

These are among the stories of Ralph Little’s life told in a biography written by his nephew, Jim Little, a Navy veteran who lives in Roseburg and is the former president of the Douglas County Veterans Forum.

“Sweet and Sour Uncle” was recently published in both paperback and hardcover by Book Locker.

“I call it ‘Sweet and Sour Uncle’ because we did have sweet and sour times with him,” said Jim Little, who along with his wife Carmen Little, cared for Ralph Little as he disappeared into dementia after his wife’s death.

Ralph Little was born in 1908 and grew up on a cattle ranch in Kansas. He was the oldest boy in the family and became the man of the house after his own father left the family.

After the family lost the ranch, he moved to California and then to Douglas County, where he fell in love with a Days Creek schoolteacher named Freda White.

Freda White had traveled to Oregon at the turn of the century in a covered wagon.

As a condition of their marriage, Ralph promised he would build a house on her father Fred White’s homestead on Days Creek Cutoff Road.

In 1941, Freda and Ralph were married. At the time, World War II had started. Ralph Little wasn’t drafted due to a hernia, but the couple moved to Vancouver, Washington, where he worked in the shipyards throughout the war.

After the war, they returned to Days Creek. Ralph built that house he’d promised, a log cabin with beautiful knotty pine interiors, without a single power tool. The logs were pulled out of the wood by horses, and Fred White and Ralph Little built the house by hand.

It still stands on the property today, and pictures of it are in “Sweet and Sour Uncle.”

Ralph was one of the founders of Umpqua Bank. Along with fellow members of the Masons, he put $50 into a hat to start a bank above the Masons building in Canyonville. They were tired of going all the way to Myrtle Creek to bank, Jim Little said. Today it’s a multi-state bank.

In the early 1950s, Freda fell in love with an old childhood sweetheart. The Littles divorced and she married the other man.

Ralph pined for her for the next three decades.

“He could think of nothing but getting her back,” Jim Little said.

Ralph started a hamburger joint called Ralph’s Cafe in Days Creek. Jim Little thinks he mainly did that so he could see his ex-wife walking to work each day at the one-room Days Creek school.

Once, Ralph got into a fistfight with Freda’s husband, who is not named in the book.

The police were called.

When they went before the judge, he told Ralph he was going to fine him $25. Ralph said if he’d known that was all, he’d “have got more of my money’s worth,” Jim Little said.

Freda’s second marriage ended badly.

“What goes around comes around and Aunt Freda’s husband cheated on her,” Jim Little said. “So then they were divorced and immediately Uncle Ralph began courting her.”

Finally, after 30 years apart, the pair remarried. Ralph was 73 years old and Freda was 76.

“No more than about six months after they were married, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” Jim Little said.

“Very rapidly she went from using a cane to a walker to a wheelchair to completely bedridden,” he said.

So in that log house he’d built for her, Ralph Little cared for his bride for 13 more years before she died.

During that time, Jim Little, who had retired from a long Navy career, moved to Coos Bay.

After Freda died, Jim and Carmen Little began taking care of Ralph, who was sliding into dementia and had never had children.

The book describes that long, dark journey, too.

Before he developed Alzheimer’s disease, Ralph Little had been an exceptional member of the family and one who Jim Little admired.

That’s why he wrote the book, he said.

“I admired him for his honesty, his hard-working ethic. When he said something, you could count on it being true,” Little said.

As Ralph’s condition deteriorated, he began becoming a different person, Jim Little said.

One of the biggest challenges involved his insistence on driving. He had lost his license due to macular degeneration but continued to drive despite the visual impairment.

He began carrying a rifle in his car and became hostile about it.

“He said, ‘If a police officer stops me, I know how to shoot.’ That horrified me,” Jim Little said.

He would accuse family members of robbing him one day and seem normal the next.

“We dreaded hearing the phone ring because we didn’t know if it would be our happy, cheerful uncle or the rantings and ravings of a madman,” Little said.

“It’s a sad, sad, long goodbye,” he said.

Festival of Lights opens Sunday at River Forks

Tickets are now on sale for the 29th season of the Roseburg Rotary Umpqua Valley Festival of Lights, which opens Sunday at River Forks Park, west of Roseburg.

Founded in 1993, the festival features more than 500,000 lights and over 90 displays. For the first time ever, the event will happen without the guidance of Kerwin Doughton, the founder of the Festival of Lights, who passed away last January.

Yet, through a special lighted display, Doughton will still have a place in the traditional attraction he loved so much.

“With an incredible team from Con-Vey dedicating their time and talent, we are unveiling a lighted tribute to Kerwin this year,” said current festival chair Brian Prawitz in a news release. “Even though he is no longer with us, Kerwin will remain a larger-than-life presence at the Festival of Lights with this display.”

A caricature of Doughton and the World’s Largest Nutcracker will welcome visitors as they enter the park. Doughton’s smiling face is 6 feet tall with his treasured Nutcracker display standing nearby, towering 12 feet above the ground. Between them is a sign reminding every passer-by that Doughton is the “Father of the Festival of Lights.”

While the drive-thru portion of the festival remains open, a few elements have been postponed again this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, including Holiday Village, wagon rides and the Nutcracker Ballet.

Visitors will be able to once again purchase tickets online at www.uvfestivaloflights.com. Scanners at the entrance to the drive-through will confirm the purchase and allow entry. Tickets are $10 per car, either through the website or at the gate.

Several special nights are on the schedule for 2021, allowing free admission for the customers of several sponsoring businesses. The entire list is available at uvfestivaloflights.com.

Proceeds from the Festival of Lights go to Rotary Scholarships and other Rotary supported programs.

The 2021 Festival of Lights is presented by Roseburg Rotary, Dutch Bros, The Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe, First Interstate Bank, and Con-Vey. Many other local businesses support the festival. The entire list is available at uvfestivaloflights.com.

For more information email uvfestivaloflights@gmail.com or call 541-643-7953.