Corvallis’ Most Impactful for 2020

Annually, our staff culls its collective memory of the year that’s been, and offers a shout out for Corvallisites that have had an outsized impact on our community and beyond. This year’s top 10 includes some names you’ll know, and a few that you won’t.   

We also include a list of five shouts on a statewide basis.  

No. 1 Charlie Fautin  

Born and raised in Wyoming, Charlie Fautin became a registered nurse then spent several years working in refugee camps in Asia and Africa before landing in the far reaches of Alaska as the public health director for an Alaskan Native health corporation. He came to Corvallis as deputy health director for Benton County in 2001.   

“Benton County Health Department attracted me because it was – and remains – on the cutting edge of modern public health practice, was – and remains – very well supported by the local residents and county commissioners, and had – and still has – an amazing and dedicated staff,” Fautin writes in an email interview.   

In 2016, he received the Jane Moore Place Matters Award ”for his long-term commitment and leadership for policy, systems and environment change to ensure all people in Oregon live, work, play and learn in communities that support health and optimal quality of life.”  

By January of 2020, Fautin was preparing for retirement when Dawn Emerick, the Health Department director, left for a new position. He was asked to step up as co-director with Dannielle Brown until a new director could be found. Little did he know that 2020 was going to be the year it was.   

Through it all, he still sees the positives.   

“Our entire population is responsible for the fact that our hospital has not had to cope with an overflow of COVID-19 cases, that our front-line healthcare workers have not had to face the trauma that many have in other parts of the country,” writes Fautin, “That our seniors and chronically ill friends and family members have been so well-protected, and that our losses – tragic as each one has been – have not been even worse.”  

For The Advocate, Fautin has consistently and quickly answered reporters’ questions as we have tried to keep people informed about COVID-19, creating a pipeline between where the data comes from to the eyes of the community. His quick replies can be counted on when deadlines approach.  

When asked what we could be doing to be healthier, Fautin writes: “My best advice is to adopt and implement policies and systems that reduce the disparities in our communities. Public health science has demonstrated that even the richest and most prosperous people in a community are less healthy and live shorter lives when there is greater disparity between themselves and the poorest, most destitute and needy in their communities. Whether or not it is apparent to us in our everyday lives, we all live together and are dependent upon one-another.”  

Charlie Fautin, the No. 1 most impactful person in Benton County for 2020, concluded with this – “We are doing well, but we can still do so much better and in my opinion absolutely MUST do so much better even just to hold our own in the face of climate and social changes that are increasing all the time.”    

No. 2 Mike Lavella and Matthew MacClary 

Corvallis Sewing Brigade was started by Mike Lavella and Matthew MacClary in response to the COVID-19 Outbreak at the Lebanon Veterans Home. The founding team also included Vicki Guenther, and Deanna and Jeannette Hardison. During the peak of the pandemic, several hundred of the 1600 people in the group were making masks at one time.   

Through their website they provide free Personal Protective Equipment, including Fabric Masks, Tyvek Gowns, and PETg Face Shields. They also provide patterns for making masks, and instructions for the types of materials to use.   

They have distributed over 65,000 masks to date, to people of all walks of life. This is why they are No. 2 on our list of Most Impactful list.   

If you would like to volunteer, or request masks or other equipment, visit theirwebsite to learn more as well as see all the organizations and agencies that are receiving assistance from the Corvallis Sewing Brigade. You can also become part of the community by joining one of the two Facebook groups.   

No. 3 Angel Harris  

This is Angel Harris’ second time on the Advocate’s Most Impactful list, and it probably won’t be the last. Harris, a mother, Registered Nurse, and President of the Corvallis/Albany NAACP, is consistently advancing change in our community. For the year of 2020, she says her proudest accomplishment has been her personal growth and realizing the importance of caring for herself.   

“When I say Black Lives Matter, I cannot forget about my Black life,” she says.   

As for the NAACP, she is the proudest of their resilience this year as they faced racism, COVID-19, the murders of unarmed Black men and women, wildfires, and more.  

“With the many obstacles we have faced this year,” she says, “we have seen what can happen when we come together and don’t give up.”  

Harris says she has also seen growth in the Corvallis community, but we need to continue working to make change, “We have to come together, get creative, and work for a more equitable community across our city and region.”  

Harris’ outstanding leadership, willingness to educate, and persistence are admirable and are only a few reasons as to why she appears on this list.   

No. 4 Jon Sassaman 

 Law enforcement has been under a microscope the past few years, with increasing public and press scrutiny on how policing is applied in different communities. Prior to his retirement this year, Corvallis benefited from the leadership of Police Chief Jon Sassaman, whose decades of experience helped shape the Corvallis Police Department.   

Sassaman was a major proponent of accreditation, leading Corvallis PD to be one of just three agencies in the state that is certified to the high standards of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies since 1995. In its most recent assessment, CPD was awarded the Meritorious Gold Standard in accreditation. The former chief also advocated for strong hiring policies and thorough, frequent training on issues of bias and diversity.   

At a time when protests were spilling over into riots in cities across the nation because of police brutality and systemic racism, Sassaman’s department oversaw peaceful demonstrations in Corvallis, dispatching units only to aid in crowd safety rather than to disperse any assemblies.  

“Retirement has been a pleasant journey,” Sassaman said. “I’m enjoying the time with my family, some travel, and the great outdoors.”  

No. 5 Dr. Nancy Squires  

As a senior instructor of mechanical engineering at Oregon State University, Dr. Nancy Squires often had a line of students out her door during office hours. She was a devoted instructor, advisor, and mentor, and pioneered OSU’s aerospace engineering program.  

Dr. Squires passed away this June. During her 15 years at OSU, she impacted the lives and careers of hundreds of engineering students, particularly with her involvement in a variety of student clubs, including OSU’s branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.   

After Dr. Squires’ passing in June, David So, an OSU student in mechanical engineering, told The Daily Barometer that Dr. Squires was extremely supportive, and always went above and beyond to teach and advise her students.   

“People always spoke very glowingly about her, and it’s because she did such a great job combining her passion for what she loves–both with engineering and aerospace,” So told The Barometer. “I think, honestly, it’s her heart. I think that’s what students really remember most.,”   

You can ask a bunch of the faculty and the advisors how she took up her own time to advise students when there weren’t enough advisors to go around. She single-handedly managed a bunch of aero teams behind the scenes to allow each student to be a part of the projects, be able to compete for these projects, and just do all that,” Harjot Saran, a recent OSU graduate in mechanical engineering, told The Barometer. “It’s crazy to think how much she cares for her students, because I honestly believe that there’s no professor in existence that cares as much as she does.”  

No. 6 Elizabeth Jones 

It’s On Us Corvallis was created by Elizabeth Jones, who founded the organization along with Ashley Relf and Aliza Tuttle. They have provided 11,438 meals to those in need through bi-weekly community meal programs, and over 8,000 meals provided by partnering with local businesses during the wildfires to feed evacuees. Funds come from donations by the community, allowing IOU Corvallis to pay full price to restaurants for meals and to provide community meals to be enjoyed by anyone, no questions asked. You can support It’s On Us by making a donation, eating local, or paying for an IOU meal at a local restaurant. Visit theirwebsite for more information.   

No. 7 Carolyn Ashton and the Benton County 4-H    

When fires raged throughout Oregon in early September, those who evacuated their homes needed a place to house their animals while they found shelter. The Benton County 4-H jumped up to help under the leadership of Carolyn Ashton, Oregon State University associate professor and 4-H coordinator.    

A group of nearly 80 4-H members and adult volunteers answered Ashton’s call for assistance. In partnership with the Benton County Fairgrounds, the 4-H volunteers were able to host approximately 180 animals and take care of them 24 hours a day. Due to their tireless efforts, Benton County was able to welcome evacuated animals long after other counties in the Willamette Valley reached capacity, according to Benton County Public Information Officer Alyssa Rash.    

“The 4-H community, when there is a need, they step up,” Ashton said.   

No. 8 Lena Spencer  

Local citizens Lena Spencer and her daughter started The Period Project “to help underprivileged or financially challenged menstruating girls overcome period poverty so that it’s not a barrier to their education.”   

Spencer and her daughter, after witnessing local community members struggle with period shame and poverty, brought together a group of women to provide menstrual hygiene products to West Albany High School, which led to the Albany Public Schools Foundation working on plans to cover period products for Albany schools next year and resulted in the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation beginning to take donations for students experiencing period poverty.   

Recently, the Greater Albany Public Schools district decided to begin providing funds for menstrual products for middle and high school students; The Period Project and GAPS will be working together to come up with a COVID-safe product distribution plan.  

As previously reported in the Advocate, The Period Project “is a testimony of what can happen when you see something wrong within your community, make a decision to change it, and take action.”  

No. 9 Jax Richards & Christopher Stout (Tied) 

Oregon State University undergraduate student Jax Richards amazed us all this year with the child welfare nonprofit he founded, Safeguard Youth. Only a sophomore, Richards is already paving the way for a stronger, safer Oregon for children by providing “a platform for youth, students, and abuse survivors to advocate higher quality child welfare” through his organization. A child abuse survivor himself, Richards has been led by his past traumas to create an improved world for Oregon’s youth. His dedication, advocacy efforts, and commitment to bettering our community are what have landed him on this list, and we can’t wait to see what he does next.   

Dr. Christopher Stout is an associate professor at Oregon State University. This year, he has lent his expertise on the subject of the Black Lives Matter movement and president elect Joe Biden’s choice of a running mate to The Washington Post, as well as holding discussions at the University about the intersection of race and politics. Stout is the author of three books, is the current co-president of the Racial/ Ethnic politics section for the American Political Science Association, an associate editor for Politics, Groups, and Identities, a regular political commentator on KEZI news, and has had his research discussed on platforms such as Washington Post, PBS Newshour, VOX, and   

No. 10 Jacob Oliver  

Jacob Oliver owns and operates the Kalamata Bistro – appropriately enough, since “kalamata” is a variety of olive. He also owns the family-friendly brew pub Common Fields, but there is no punning in that name.   

Kalamata is a “food truck” that is actually an attractive tiny house, mounted on a trailer. It’s made to be portable, but its intended function is the opposite – to sit in the paved lot in front of the former gas station at 3rd and Western. The lot houses Common Fields which serves as the first of a food court of food trucks, what’s known as a “food pod.” Oliver opened it to serve a healthier form of Middle Eastern food than was available in Corvallis.   

Between them, Kalamata and Common Fields are an impressive accomplishment. By opening in the middle of a pandemic, Oliver is making a statement much like the owners of the Empire State Building, who put up a tower higher than any that had ever existed in the middle of the Great Depression.  

Oliver made another big impact on Corvallis and the surrounding area during the wildfires this year by making meals for evacuees.  

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