History of the GRRAA


Not long after becoming a ham operator, I started to wonder about the history of our club, Grande Ronde Radio Amateurs Association. But looking around, there wasn’t much out there other than past club meeting minutes. So I emailed the membership asking for historical info. Several people replied and they all pointed to Graham Hicks (W4PJS) as the man to talk to.  Graham was one of the founding members of the GRRAA and the club’s first President. Graham sent me a great email with lots of info on how the GRRAA club started, but also a short paragraph on the predecessor club, Grande Ronde Radio Amateurs.

Good morning, Tyson —

I moved to La Grande in June of 1980.  At that time there was a small ham radio club in existence, called the “Grande Ronde Radio Amateurs.”  Note that the word “Association” was not part of their name.  They consisted of about half a dozen more or less active hams in Union County.  It was led, more or less, by Larry Campbell, who lived out on Gekeler Lane, near 21st St.  Other members were Morrie and Lois Rodgers, Ray Anderson, Jim Simmons and Don Eggebrecht.  Larry, Don, Ray and Lois have all passed away.  Lois was the treasurer, and when the club disbanded about 1988 or so, their treasury consisted of about $158 or thereabouts.  It was in a U.S. Bank account, and Lois was treasurer.

That original club disbanded following the death of Larry Campbell, and the treasury stayed tucked away in the bank.

I can’t remember the exact year, but around 2006, Joe Nolan (WB7WDI), approached me and asked if I would help him organize a new club.  I agreed, and after contacting all the local active hams, we had our first meeting at the Union County Senior Center.  We discussed the purpose of a club, and elected principal officers.  I can’t remember exactly who was present, but I know Ted Ivester was there, and Larry Wilson (and maybe Nancy), Jim Simmons, and my wife, Barbara (KB7DRI).  There may have been a few others; can’t remember.  We learned that the Senior Center would want to charge us for meeting there, so Ted, who was a tech at the hospital, suggested we ask if we might meet there for the time being.  The Grande Ronde Hospital was very accommodating, and allowed us to use one of their meeting rooms on the third floor.    I wrote  proposed constitution and by-laws, and we began canvassing for more members.  Morrie and Lois came in, and John Britschgi , and I think Joel came in about that time.  The hospital very generously let us use the meeting room and even served us coffee, punch and cookies for our meetings.

We decided to meet on the fourth Thursday of each month, since members had commitments on other days of the week.  Club officers consisted of President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer.  We set annual dues at $20 per family, which included all members of a family.  I can’t remember who  the first officers were, though I may have been president and I think Larry Wilson was VP and Chuck Rich was secretary.  Our constitution may also have called for an Operations Officer, but I can’t remember.    (Note: someone may have a record of who served in those early days.  I will search my computer for such records and forward them to you if I can find any.)

Larry and I were about the only ones who had any personal experience of the customs and traditions of ham radio, and in our first year we led the group in its first ARRL Field Day.  It was held up at Morgan Lake, where we set up a couple of tents and shelters and threw some antennas over a few tree branches.  I pulled my 4.4K generator up there and we set it up about 200 feet from the main operation position.  Dick Mason, from the Observer, came up and took photos and wrote a nice story about the event.  I think I have a copy of that which you are welcome to if I can find it.  Field Day caused an increase of interest among the members and much of our following discussion centered around how to do it better next year.  The following year we held it again at Morgan Lake, with more participation and interest.

About the third year our membership was growing and we had some 20 names on the roll.  We were still meeting at the hospital, but we had an invitation from a local attorney, Dale Mammen, to change our meeting location to the Rendezvous RV park, out on the Island City strip.  Dale’s motivation for issuing us the invitation to meet there was that he wanted to provide  an opportunity for hams who were guests at his RV park to participate in the club.  The park had a very nice house with all conveniences and a fairly large meeting room.  We accepted his invitation and began meeting at the RV park.  We tacked an invitation notice to the bulletin board at his check-in area, inviting any traveling hams to attend our meetings on the fourth Thursday.  To my knowledge, no one ever did.

Shortly after we began meeting at the park, a ham in Union donated a truckload of equipment to us.  The principal item was a Kenwood TS130 (I think), which was in good working condition.  The RV park house had two small rooms, one of which we were authorized to use as a club station.  We set up the Kenwood in it and strung up a 40 meter dipole between two trees in the yard.  The little station worked well and several members made contacts before and after club meetings.

About 2009 the club decided to hold a series of classes for local folks interested in getting their Technician license.  We advertised the classes in the paper and on KLBM radio.  Larry Wilson and I were on their local community program, “Your Voice.”  Our host on the program was Cliff Turner, who became interested in the class, took it, and got his Tech license.  I may still have a CD copy of that program; I’ll look and see.

We held the classes weekly.  Since the classes spanned a time over Thanksgiving and Christmas, we broke for those holidays, which made the classes span about 14 weeks.  At the end we held the Technician test.  Fourteen people took the test and all fourteen passed it. One class member, Dick Mason, was detailed to work for the Observer the night the test was given, but he took a make-up test later and passed it.

Our third Field Day was held at Riverside Park.  It was a failure because, unknown to us, a large power transformer was located about a quarter mile from the site, and there was so much electrical noise we could hardly hear any stations.   The next year and ever since, we have set up at Bird Track Springs State Park, about sixteen miles out of La Grande.  It is ideal from the standpoint of trees to hang antennas in and its quiet location, but it does not offer much opportunity for the public to attend and learn about our club and its mission.  For us, Field Day has evolved primarily into a social event, and we have had several visitors join us in the last few years.

Also, about 2010, we learned about foxhunts and the fun they offered.  One member would volunteer to be the “fox” and the others would hunt him down, using homemade DF antennas.  We have usually held two to three foxhunts each summer.

Around 2012 our meeting attendance had grown to the point that we were crowding the meeting room at the RV park.  Since our organization was essentially an integral part of the Union County Emergency organization, we asked the La Grande Fire Department if we might meet in one of their training rooms.  This was granted and that has been our meeting place ever since.  Also about that time we began holding an annual club picnic, usually at a State park or at a member’s QTH.    We have, as well, held an annual Christmas party, usually at a member’s home, sometimes at a local restaurant.

W4PJS (12/19/2017)

After the email, I was able to meet up with Graham and we found some other historical info, like the first club meeting minutes. You can find them under the Meeting Roundup 2008.

If you have any historical info on this club, or anything ham radio happenings revolving around Eastern Oregon, please email webmaster@w7gra.org. I have also contacted the ARRL to see if there is any historical info that they may have on the GRRAA or its predecessor club GRRA.