WINCHESTER — An audience filled the Centerstage Theatre at Umpqua Community College Saturday night to hear community members speak about the acts of kindness that followed the Oct. 1, 2015, shooting at the school.
The live storytelling became part of The Umpqua Story Project, a compilation of written stories, images and audio recordings that are on display at UCC’s art gallery.
Dustin Cosby, assistant professor of communication at Umpqua Community College, was one of the many volunteers who interviewed and photographed people for the project.
“There was a weight, that heaviness, on campus. People were struggling, hurting, coping day to day and for some of us in Snyder, minute by minute,” Cosby said. “I got to hear those stories... and I was just in the sense of awe that our community would do so much for us. I was able to take those stories and I’d bring them back to campus and share them with my colleagues and my students, and you could see that weight begin to lift.”
Speakers included Susan Rochester, the project curator, associate professor and chair of UCC’s Fine Arts Department and Casey O’Toole, owner of O’Toole’s Pub, who hosted a fundraiser to donate more than $10,000 to Greater Douglas United Way.
Andrea Zielinski, the community outreach coordinator for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said she received an inundation of calls after the shooting, most expressing support for the public safety officers who responded to the scene. A few, however, were mean spirited.
“I want to thank you all so much for the kindness you’ve shown our first responders. It means the world to them,” Zielinski said. “I’m so grateful for everything you’ve done for us and I still make sure they see all the good letters we get and all the kind words that you have given us. I’m so grateful that in the days and weeks that followed that I was the one who got to answer the phone.”
Amelia Davis and Kim Blossom played live music in between the speeches.
During an intermission, the audience took in the Umpqua Story Project exhibit in The Art Gallery of UCC, which will be on display until Oct. 28. Under paper strung across the ceiling, they perused the photos and information about the community members who had helped after the shooting.
Notebooks were filled with a collection of written stories, one of which said of Oct. 1, “...this is the day my family had to say goodbye without actually saying it.”
Visitors added their own written stories to the walls.
Brittany Eggers came to the event to hear her professor, Cosby, speak.
“I go to UCC and I was there that day, so I wanted to come hear the stories,” Eggers said, noting that she started tearing up during some of the stories. “I’ve gotten pretty emotional listening to all the speakers talk so far.”
One of the many writers, Vic Falgout of Roseburg, came to the event with his wife, who helped the school and the Ford Family Foundation to organize the stories. Falgout had interviewed students for Ford Family Foundation scholarships, and one of the students killed in the shooting was a scholarship recipient.
“Because of my career, I know the sheriff and a lot of the first responders, and it’s important to me that they get recognized,” Falgout, the retired county juvenile department director, said.
Kristi Roe of Grants Pass came up to UCC to show her support and hear the stories, and noted how the Umpqua Valley community has the sense of family and togetherness that she feels in Grants Pass.
Following the break, three more speakers shared their stories. They included Justin Troxel, a welder in Roseburg who created the Heart of Oregon signs to raise more than $134,000 for the victims and their families, and Kelly Wright, the victims services director for the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office that provides support to the victims’ families.
Cosby spoke about how he found himself organizing and leading the vigil in Stewart Park the night of Oct. 1.
“There began to emerge this theme that I saw that night of ‘this is who I am, this is what I have to offer, can you use it?’” Cosby said.
People had pitched in with whatever they could do to help, from setting up sound equipment and lights to playing bagpipes and providing coffee.
“I remember at one point raising my candle and asking everybody else to do the same, and it was at that moment I really realized how many people were there, all of that light sort of popping up out of the darkness,” Cosby said. “I said something along the lines of, ‘We’re going to make it through because we are Umpqua Strong. And then the audience began to chant ‘Umpqua Strong, Umpqua Strong.’”
Saturday’s program closed with a rendition of Adele’s version of “To Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan.
What happened last year was an injustice that left behind a darkness that will always be present, but the deepest reality is the kindness community members showed each other and the things they all did to help, said Mark Yaconelli of The Hearth, the organization behind the story project.
“Every one of us has the capacity to show kindness. The etymology of that word means to treat others as kin, as family. That’s what showed up here,” Yaconelli said. “That reality and that truth is much stronger than the darkness that happened on Oct. 1. For that one act, 100,000 acts of kindness happened again, and again and again, and need to be remembered.”
For more information, call Mark Yaconelli at 541-261-4398 or visit umpquastoryproject.com, where visitors can find the collection of stories, photos and audio recordings.