The 2010s began with Hermiston officially taking the mantle as largest city in Eastern Oregon. It’s a point of pride for this small town that came into its own as an agricultural powerhouse at the crossroads of the Northwest over the last several generations.

But as much as Hermiston still maintains a small-town feel, much also has changed. Below are five developments, in no particular order, that have defined Hermiston in the past decade.

What’s happening Hermiston?

Love it or hate it (and sometimes both in the same breath), the private Facebook group has nearly as many members as the city population. It’s a loosely moderated community bulletin board that seeks to answer a simple question — what, indeed, is happening, Hermiston?

Aside from the shared community events, the posts that fill the page each day range from innocuous to highly suspect to downright divisive, with occasional moments of inspiration. It has also turbo-charged the local rumor mill by immediately inserting personal opinion into every event, regardless of fact or relevance.

We are beginning to understand how social media is shaping our daily lives, relationships and ideologies. It seems community groups and pages have the best chance of being a positive force in places like Hermiston on the wider web, but they’re only as good as the people who post want them to be.

I love my city

It’s the real-world antidote to the divisiveness of social media. This faith-based movement has aimed to put good intentions into practice and create a more engaged and compassionate community.

The projects themselves are simple — litter cleanup, landscaping, free car washes — but seeing an army of red T-shirts giving their time to unified service is inspiring. Adults, teenagers and children all pitch in, spending time with friends and neighbors doing good deeds.

There are many social issues this community faces, and this volunteer goodwill campaign has room to grow. Hermiston has been a giving community for far longer than a decade, and seeing that generosity and service come together for the greater good is worth celebrating and sharing with the next generation.

Hispanic involvement

About 44% of Hermiston’s residents are Hispanic, up from 35% at the turn of the decade, and that population has seen increased representation in a number of ways.

The Hispanic Advisory Committee has established a voice on city policy, distributed information on city programs, and offered bilingual access for residents uncomfortable speaking directly to the city council. The Latino Business Network, a subsidiary of the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce, has created a place for business owners who have felt disconnected from the greater community.

These groups and others that got their start in the past decade have helped make Hermiston a more inclusive community. While not an end solution, they create connections and establish an important mechanism for growing and empowering Hispanic leaders in Hermiston.

Sports capital

When Kennison Field at Hermiston High School got a remodel in 2013 to go along with three new schools (and gymnasiums) funded by the school bond, Hermiston officially became a high school sports destination. Not only was the field eligible to host OSAA playoff games, but the network of gyms gave the city the capacity to host large-scale AAU tournaments.

This coincided with the Hermiston Bulldogs’ rise to the upper echelon of Oregon football, winning two 5A titles to add to its trophy case already heavily populated with wrestling honors. The cumulative effect was putting Hermiston on the map for a new statewide audience.

The decade also saw Hermiston High School join the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, opening the venues to the city’s nearest metropolitan center and offering the chance to play host to visitors from across the river on a regular basis.

Steady economy

Two events in Hermiston’s decade would have crippled many other small towns — the closure of the Umatilla Chemical Depot and the massive layoffs at the Hinkle Railyard. While both certainly impacted many lives, and the Hinkle layoffs are still fresh, Hermiston has proven resilient in the face of change.

Jobs have come in to replace those lost, in Hermiston and the surrounding area. Housing has grown in leaps and bounds, with no signs of slowing. The tax base in Hermiston has increased substantially because of new development.

Hermiston is a city of opportunity, and we saw through the 2010s how the small town is growing into the 21st century.

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Daniel Wattenburger is the former managing editor of the East Oregonian. He lives in Hermiston with his wife and children and is an account manager for Pac/West Communications. Contact him at danielwattenburger@gmail.com.

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