Philomath Frolic & Rodeo President Darrell Hinchberger accepts a donation from Philomath Lions Club President Debbie Thorpe. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Meeting Lions Club President Debbie Thorpe at the rodeo grounds last week, Philomath Frolic & Rodeo President Darrell Hinchberger couldn’t immediately find the words when he was presented with a couple of checks that added up to $5,600.

Hinchberger reacted with a “wow” before collecting his thoughts and saying, “It’s really inspiring for the community to have people like the Lions Club … From the $25 donations to the higher donations, they have really been appreciated.”

The Philomath Lions Club contribution will go directly into a fund to help pay for new grandstands.

“We’re in the process of trying to find a two- to three-year program to where we can start putting it all back together again,” Hinchberger said. “We’re pretty excited about it. … It’s looking really sweet.”

The arena lost a section of its grandstands to a late-night fire in late June just two weeks before the annual rodeo. The community responded immediately with equipment, labor and donations. Temporary grandstands were brought in to create some seating in place of the section that had been lost.

Thorpe said the Lions Club’s objectives begin with its efforts related to sight and hearing “and then community support is where we want to fill in gaps where it’s needed.”

The Lions definitely saw a gap in the aftermath of the rodeo grandstands fire. The club, which she said has around 15 members, donated all of its proceeds from its Frolic & Rodeo breakfast and returned money that had been received from a calendar ad. The Lions also said it did not want to be reimbursed for $107 it had spent on work done to the table that sits under the rodeo grounds shelter — bringing the contribution in all to just over $5,700.

Thorpe said it’s the largest Lions Club community donation since $9,000 (and many volunteer hours) went to the construction of the Randy Kugler Community Shelter at Philomath City Park. Coincidentally, that project also came about after a fire had burned the previous structure.

Chris Workman, who also sits on the all-volunteer Frolic & Rodeo board of directors, said the arena’s grandstands will be replaced entirely with an estimated project completion date in 2025.

The Philomath Frolic & Rodeo arena’s burned grandstand section is removed in late June. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“The board approved some preliminary design work … to get some drawings done to really show the community, including the board, what those stands could look like,” he said. “Once you can see what those new stands are going to look like, our hope is people will be more willing to contribute and help make that happen by donating the funds.”

The organization acknowledges that it has already seen incredible support during its time of need.

“The fact that we’ve had so many nonprofits and groups and partners and community organizations that have stepped up — even not knowing what it’s going to look like — it’s knowing that the Frolic needs the help right now and we know we can do something.”

Workman said donations such as the Lions Club contribution serves as an inspiration for the board members.

“It makes us want to work harder to get it done, get it done quicker, because we want people to come and have a place to sit and watch the rodeo and that’s the whole point,” Workman said. “Let’s have a place that’s worthy of the Philomath community coming and having a good time and celebrating everything that is good about Philomath.”

Workman shared his sense that organizations, businesses and individuals would provide support just to make sure a place remains where they can all gather as a community.

“I’m still convinced that we don’t fill our stands full of a bunch of rodeo fans, we fill our stands with a bunch of Philomath fans,” he said. “They’d come and watch us do about anything just so they can all sit together and hang out and just have a good time together.”

When at full capacity, the rodeo stands could set 2,250 people. Those seats sell out on Friday and Saturday nights and then another 500 to 600 tickets are sold as standing room only to watch from the Yew Wood Corral vicinity. It’s an indication that the demand is there to enhance and expand on what the Frolic & Rodeo can provide fans.

Workman said temporary grandstands will likely be brought in again in 2023 and 2024 with hopes that the new grandstands would be constructed in time for the 2025 rodeo.

Thorpe knows that the Frolic & Rodeo needs to build up its bank account to be able to secure grants, so the Lions Club donation helps a lot in that way.

“A lot of these grants, you’ve got to have 10%, some of them 20%, matching funds and so we’ll be limited to the amount of money we can get in a grant based on how much money we have in our accounts right now,” Workman said.

The Philomath Lions Club has long been contributing to the community in various ways over the years — from serving up food with no profit at the Music in the Park events to weeding a median that resulted from the highway couplet project in town.

“The Lions Club has been terrific helping the city and taking things on,” said Workman, who is also the city manager. “The Lions Club has always done a great job of committing to helping out with projects and seeing them through.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.