We lost a veteran patroller and true gentleman when Bob Poppen passed away Tuesday Morning, June 21, 2011. His wife Mary Jean was also a WPSP former member. A service for him was Thursday, June 30.
Bob was a man who extended his services to others across many fields. A significant fund raiser and supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, Rotarian, Eugene Fly Fishers, and NSP member serving both as a Patrol Director of the Santiam Pass Ski Patrol in the 70s and a member of the Willamette Pass Ski Patrol from the 80s until only a few years ago. He held National Appointment #6402. Bob was truly a gentle man who always seemed to have an ear–to–ear smile in front of a warm voice asking, “How are you doing” and an eagerness to help in any way that he could. As an avid jazz fan he loved to play tapes of jazz musicians and instrumental pieces while driving on his duty days. Most likely, he played them along the frequent trips that he made driving large custom motor coaches across the country for a large company. Bob and Mary Jean spent many hours in college learning to sail together, which was a skill and interest that he brought across the years in working with the Boy Scouts and Sea Scout Explorer Post and joining the Eugene Yacht Club at Fern Ridge where he was a long standing member.
Those of us who had the memorable experiences of patrolling with Bob and Mary Jean miss their presence and services to the patrol and recreationalists. If you have particular memories of Bob, please bring them to Ian to be added to a growing memorial on our website. A Last Sweep is being planned for Bob when we have the snow that Bob loved and can undertake that event in his memory.
The following was submitted by Rich Maris from his History of the Willamette Pass Ski Patrol project.
December 5, 1976
“Conversation” with Bob Poppen
‘We figure we’re helping skiers’
Bob Poppen is patrol director at the Santiam Pass Ski Patrol. He heads up a 50–member organization that makes skiing safer at Hoodoo Bowl all winter. Poppen, 48, is a co–owner of Quality Realty in Eugene. He and his wife, Mary Jean, live at on Carmel Street in Eugene, One daughter is at home; the other two are attending Oregon State University. He talks here with Dan Sellard about skiing and the ski patrol.
Q. How did you get into skiing in the first place?
Poppen: I bought a pair of old hickory skis from my roommate in college and went out and skied on the college golf course.
Q. Immediate fun?
Poppen: Yes. Liked it a lot. It was more like cross–country skiing but there was some downhill on the course. Really liked it.
Q. How good a skier are you now? Don’t be modest.
Poppen: Oh, about low expert. You have to be good to be a ski patrol member because the demands are tough. Our people are excellent skiers because there’s a lot of skiing in patrol and rescue work.
Q. Do the ski areas help you with money? Financial support?
Poppen: Not exactly the ski area or resort, but we do get help from the ski managers’ association. They divide funds on a skier–day basis and we get money that way to keep our first–aid supplies up and to help with our radios. We get one–sixth of our budget that way. But we figure we’re helping the skiers, not just the owners.
Q. Okay. Let’s talk about the patrol. How many members do you have? Do you need more?
Poppen: We need a strength of 50 members. Right now, we have 40 but we’re training others, and we have some transfers in from other patrols. We’re in pretty god shape. But we need more applicants for the training that starts next March.
Q. Fifty members. Now, how does that translate into hours of duty and so on for each member?
Poppen: Each of us is expected to spend three weekend days a week. (sic) That would be three Saturdays, or three Sundays and so forth. But there are training sessions, meetings, on top of that.
Q. I know a little about the rigorous training. Do many people flunk?
Poppen: When Ted Paulson asked me to join, I was in a group of eight. And only two of us passed the examination. The others tried again and made it, I remember.
Q. What are the hours when you’re on duty?
Poppen: We get there around 8:30 and get things ready. We are on duty at 9 a.m. when the skiers start coming in, and we quit at dark. But when there’s somebody missing, those days can get longer. We sweep the slopes.
Q. What do you mean, sweep?
Poppen: That means we use a system to sweep over all the area to make sure all the skiers are down the hill, Like a broom.
Q. Bob, what kind of injuries do you attend to? Are there a lot of fractures?
Poppen: No, not many. We see sprains, pulled muscles, twisted members. A lot of shoulder and neck injuries. But not many fractures, not at all like we used to.
Q. Can you account for that?
Poppen: I think it’s the result of better equipment, better skiers, better conditions, safer skiers. And maybe our educational efforts pay off. We’re having three downhill skier clinics in January — Jan. 13 at Shasta Junior High School, Jan. 17 at Willagillespie Elementary School, and Jan. 19 at Edison Elementary School. And we have a film put out by the National Ski Patrol Assn. that’s available by contacting my wife or by calling Shelley Briggs at Bethel Community Schools. And we supply speakers to schools and organizations, too.
I think skiing is a lot safer than it used to be. The schools put on by organizations like the Register–Guard are a big help.
Q. How many people will you have on duty at one time at Hoodoo?
Poppen: Twelve. Ten on the slopes and two in the first–aid hut. That gives us pretty good coverage.
Q. Why do people become members of the ski patrol?
Poppen: There are a lot of reasons. Some do it because of a “mission” feeling, helping others. Some for the fun and excitement. And I suppose the free lift tickets influence some, too.
We’re all interested in first aid. In fact, a ski patroller is really a first–aider who skis. One of our transfers this year is an M.D. and the other is a registered nurse. And we’re constantly learning about first aid, new methods of treating injuries.
Q. I’m more cross–country than downhill. And my friends rap downhill for being too expensive, for the long waits at the lifts and so on. Reply. What does it cost?
Poppen: Oh, let’s see. I suppose to equip yourself completely it will cost around $250. And it’ll cost from $7.50 to $10. per day for lift tickets. That compares to playing golf, I think. Once your initial investment is made, it’s not so costly.
And, we preach rent, rent, to beginners. Rent your equipment when you are learning, then you’ll be sure if you want to go ahead. And with the new teaching method called Graduated Length Method, that’s even more important. With GLM, you start with shorter skis and progress to longer ones. You certainly don’t want to buy one set of skis and then another and then another.
Q. But how about the crowds and the long lines?
Poppen: That’s not true of Hoodoo. The waits are not much more than 10 minutes when the lines are longest. And there’s less emphasis on pretty clothing now, too. You see a lot of jeans and older clothes. Not much of the magazine cover things.
Q. One final question, Bob. Why do you ski? What’s so great about it?
Poppen: There’s the beauty of the mountain, first. The being outside in the weather. And there’s the speed. Skiing is a speed sport. You go down that slope fast.
There’s the challenge to see how well you can do. And then, skiing is an individual sport. You can’t think of anything else when you’re going. It takes all of your other thoughts away.
Finally, I think there is the rhythm. The coordination of you, the skis and poles. That’s beauty too.
Submitted by Larry Dunlap
Bob was a man who must have been involved in many humorous episodes during his long career in WPSP but the great thing about him is that recollections are invariably clothed in such gentleness, sincerity and genuine concern that it is impossible to isolate the embarrassing or intellectually lacking event. Bob was one of those rare human beings who make you feel good. He was positive, upbeat, and caring with friends and customers alike. Bob was a guy who, if he didn’t have something good to say, would choose to say nothing at all. He and Mary exemplified the kind of loving, long–term relationships that we all hoped to have. His kind are rare and leave a larger void in passing. We will miss you, Bob.
Submitted by Joe and Sharon Mosley
A family tradition has come to an end with the Willamette Pass Ski Patrol. Bob Poppen has hung up his fanny pack after 36 years as an active patroller, the last 22 at Willamette. His retirement from the patrol family comes about 10 years after his wife, Mary, yielded to her knees and ended her 25 years as a patroller. Two of their three daughters also put in a few years each, during and after college, on the Santiam Ski Patrol at Hoodoo.
The Poppen family had moved to Eugene in 1964 from Ohio, where they skied a total of once. The family gave it another try at Hoodoo in 1965, and the rest is mountain lore. “We all liked it and decided this is something our family could all do together,” Bob says.
Bob – at the time, in commercial real estate – had friends from one service club or another who were on the Santiam patrol, and they had talked him into joining by 1969–70, his candidate year. Mary – a middle school home economics teacher — followed suit a couple years later.
Bob remembers one morning when Mary was dragging two toboggans to the base of the lift. Bob Freund called out to her, suggesting she try a three–fer. “When I look back, I know I was just hyper,” says Mary – who with two bionic knees, insists she is now good to go again. “(Hoodoo) was a very close–knit patrol, and we had lots of fun,” she says.
But in 1983, after building the first chairlift to the top of Eagle Peak – and making the leap from a Mom–and–Pop operation to a Mom–and–Pop operation with aspirations — the folks at Willamette Pass found themselves short–staffed in the patrol room and came calling. “They needed help (at Willamette), and we said, ‘Well, that’s a new adventure,’” says Mary, who along with Bob and about a half-dozen other patrollers volunteered to make the transfer. “The best day of skiing I ever had was the first day I skied at Willamette,” Bob says.
The snow was light and deep – so much so that a certain ski area owner had lost a ski on RTS the previous day. “There was somewhere close to 20 inches of just the lightest powder,” says Bob, who volunteered to see if he could spot the missing ski. “I don’t think I made more than seven or eight turns, all the way down.”
Bob and Mary helped start what they say was one of the first on–hill training programs at Willamette, and along with the other new transfers they were happy to take the lead in patrolling the area’s new terrain. “None of the local patrollers had skied the steep and deep,” says Bob, who had risen to the position of director prior to his transfer from Santiam. “They'd only skied the poma. So that first year, those of us who came on (from Hoodoo) were the upper-mountain patrol.”
There have been far too many good times at Willamette to start a list, but Mary (radio handle: “Boo–bah”) does remember Bob (radio handle: also, “Boo–bah”) pulling his night duty wearing a Radio Shack fireman’s helmet, complete with flashing light. “You could see me coming,” Bob says.
Then there was the 1978 “training” trip to Alpine Meadows, and their 17 days in the French and Swiss Alps with the following year’s Northwest Ski Tour. “We’ve met so many great people,” Mary says. Bob adds his take on the same thought: “The wonderful friends we’ve made through patrolling — that’s why we’ve stayed with it so long.”
But at some point, something had to give — and it had a lot less to do with age than a schedule with precious little wiggle room. Bob — who had worked for the Boy Scouts in Ohio after earning his master’s degree in fisheries biology — left commercial real estate in 1986 and returned to the Scouts as a fund–raiser until his retirement n 1989. Mary, meanwhile, taught for a total of 12 years before opening a pair of Baskin & Robbins ice cream stores in Eugene and running them for several years.
But even in retirement, both still have more to do than they can stuff into each day without a little spillage. Mary recently left a volunteer hospice position, but puts in plenty of hours with PEO and at her church. Bob delivers motorhomes for Guaranty, has taken a leading role with the McKenzie Fly Fishers, is active in Rotary, and volunteers for Meals on Wheels and Boy Scouts Troop 100, among others.
So when the question of another year on ski patrol came up? “We have been so involved with so many things,” Mary says. “We have got to have some time for each other.”
None of which means they’d pass up an invitation to come back and ski, a day here or there, with their patrol family. “Well, I’d love to do that,” Bob says. “And I’d still like to be able to contribute some.”