University of Oregon

Resource Assistance for Rural Environments

Our New Neighbors: Downtown Association manager wowed by Pendleton history, hospitality

Molly Turner moved to Pendleton in September, and is the program manager for the Pendleton Downtown Association

From the colorful hills to the friendly faces, Molly Turner said she hit the jackpot when she moved to Pendleton earlier this year.

“Pendleton is so nice,” said Turner, 22, who arrived in September. “The people here are so great. I can’t get over it.”

As program manager for the Pendleton Downtown Association, it is Turner’s job to engage with residents and find ways to promote the city’s downtown area. That includes new community events, such as the Old Fashioned Holiday Stroll, which Turner envisioned and launched Dec. 10.

The stroll was successful in its first year — Turner said 939 people responded on Facebook alone, and downtown business reported increases in sales and traffic. For example, MaySon’s Old Fashioned General Store saw a 70 percent increase in customers compared to the same day a year ago, according to Turner.

Looking ahead, Turner said the Downtown Association may also consider an art walk to showcase local artists, and is working with several other organizations to redevelop the Webb’s Cold Storage Property on South Main.

The goal, Turner said, is to get people excited about visiting downtown. What she needs now is input and ideas about what the community really wants to see.

“I’m trying very hard to be cognizant of getting feedback from people who have been here a lot longer than I have,” Turner said.

Turner is a native Oregonian but hails from the Willamette Valley, having grown up in Corvallis. She graduated from the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon last spring, with a double major in anthropology and Spanish, and a minor in planning, public policy and management.

During her senior year, Turner wrote her thesis on rural food systems, which is how she came into contact with Titus Tomlinson. Tomlinson is the coordinator for Resource Assistance for Rural Environments, or RARE, an AmeriCorps program administered through the university’s Community Service Center.

Turner was won over by the program, which places graduate-level participants in communities across the state to help with things like food security, natural hazard planning, land use planning and economic development. Pendleton was Turner’s top choice from the beginning.

“I heard great things about Pendleton and Eastern Oregon,” she said. “The more I learned about Pendleton, the more fun it seemed.”

The nonprofit Downtown Association hired Turner to manage the organization, and she arrived in town Sept. 1. Her first week of work coincided with the annual Pendleton Round-Up, giving her an immediate crash course in the city’s Old West culture and lifestyle.

“It was really exciting,” she said. “It was a really great introduction to the history of Pendleton.”

Turner already has her sights on staying. Though RARE placements run for just 11 months, Turner said she is working with the Downtown Association’s board of directors to draft a new contract that would keep her on board after her AmeriCorps term ends next July.

“I think I have the best job in the world,” she said. “I really love Pendleton. I would like to stay here for a while.”

Turner said she has been amazed by Pendleton’s vibrant art and music scene, and warm hospitality. Strangers smile and say hello to her on the street, which she said has made her feel welcome in her new home.

“I’m really excited to be here,” she said. “I feel very fortunate for having ended up where I am, doing what I am.”

Originally Published in East Oregonian
333 East Main St.
Hermiston, OR 97838
Phone: 1-800-522-0255