Bit by bit, throughout Bucoda little improvements are popping up throughout the town. These improvements are with the blessing of the town government; however, they are neither conceived of nor implemented by the Town of Bucoda. Rather, they are the endeavors of the longstanding grassroots group known as the Bucoda Improvement Club.
The Bucoda Improvement Club has been around on and off since 1920, when on August 12, nearly the entire business district went up in flames. Bucoda, completely undaunted by the disaster, seized the opportunity to make improvements to the city’s infrastructure setting the town up for growth and industry in the coming years.
The Club again played a key role in town during and following the construction of Volunteer Park, which was dedicated in August of 1959. As the name implies, the park’s facilities were built by volunteers as was the subsequent upkeep. During this era, most townspeople belonged to the organization.
Throughout the years the Improvement Club has served many functions in the community, from material improvements, like the time they donated $6,000 to replace the floor in the historic Bucoda Gym, to promoting the town’s history, like when they published Neil Corcoran’s book Bucoda: A Heritage of Sawdust and Leg Irons. The Improvement Club was instrumental in the town’s Bicentennial Celebration where they carried out the historical theme during the annual picnic and dance in July of 1976.
Another history making event spearheaded by the organization was the 1988 All-School Reunion that brought together students who had attended the Bucoda School. For nearly a century there was a school in town until it was closed by the Centralia School District in 1971 after a levy failure. For two years Bucoda students attended school in Centralia, until Bucoda citizens opted by vote to join the Tenino School District. In 1988, nearly 300 people gathered in the Bucoda Gym for dinner and reminiscences of the old school, thanks to the Bucoda Improvement Club.
There are two main events the Bucoda Improvement Club sponsors today that have been happening for at least 30 years. “We have always done the Easter event and the Christmas event,” says Debra Hughes, club president.
On Easter Sunday every year the Club hosts an egg hunt at Volunteer Park at 1:00 p.m. after church. Plastic eggs are filled with money or candy and some have a ticket inside to win an Easter basket.
The Christmas celebration with Santa is another long-standing tradition and is the same day as the tree lighting. The Bucoda Improvement Club makes goodie bags for Santa to distribute. With the help of the Bucoda Firefighters Association, a firetruck and aid car escort Santa to the home of every child in town. Santa’s progression through town is often chronicled on Facebook.
The fresh paint at Volunteer Park and the clean-up around the Bucoda sign are the work of the Improvement Club. The new jungle gym installed at the entrance to town, the swing set at Volunteer Park, and the community garden are also thanks to the Club.
The community garden is largely the work of Club Secretary Linda and her husband Alan Vanell. It’s not always about just building something, but also keeping it going, and, in the case of the garden, the Vanells are essential to it’s continuity.
The Improvement Club is always generating new ideas and projects. One idea that is gaining traction is to add a two-person swing to the park for babies and parents to enjoy together.
The space between Joe’s Place and Liberty Market is being eyed for a potential pocket garden. The idea is a greenspace with benches. The lot is owned by the city and would be developed as a park with the understanding that if Bucoda ever wanted to sell or build there the park would have to go, but the city has no plans to develop it for the foreseeable future.
The members of the Bucoda Improvement Club are a dedicated group. And I tried to get to the bottom of what led them to join and keep going.
“It’s how I get involved in most things,” laughs Hughes. “Linda asked me to come help. She realized there needed to be a president and she knew that I am not a pushover. But mostly I joined because of the fact that I like the people.”
Hughes is referring to Linda Studeman who is the longtime treasurer of the Improvement Club. In fact, Studeman has been in the club since 1974. She reminisces that those were the days when everyone joined, and so many of the improvement projects were family activities.
“We took our kids to work on the Park,” says Studeman. “We had such a good time.”
For members Dan and Cyndy Hahn, it makes them feel good to do something to make their community a better place to live.
“For us it’s about community involvement and the betterment of the town,” explains Dan Hahn, vice president. “But honestly, we always hope that our little town gets a better reputation.”
When push comes to shove and a work party is needed for a major installation like the swing set, the community heeds the call and extra hands usually show up to make it happen. But the Club members would love to see more consistent involvement.
“We are trying to do something good,” says Hughes, “but it’s hard. We could probably do more if we had more hands and more ideas.”
If you are interested in joining the Bucoda Improvement Club or adding your ideas to the mix, they meet the third Tuesday of every month at 7:00 p.m. at the Bucoda Community Center.