From Lumber Mill to Medical Supply Company

OREGON

FOR Doug and Dyan Gee, hard work, determination, and a strong marriage have brought them through tough times in a troubled industry. They have found stability and fulfillment in a new profession.

Like many people in the rural Pacific Northwest, their livelihood for years was tied to the timber industry. But for a decade timber workers have been buffeted by economic and environmental issues: a deep regional recession in the early 1980s, a drop in housing starts during the current downturn, automation replacing muscle power, increasing log exports, and of course the fight over preserving endangered species like the northern spotted owl. Hundreds of loggers and millworkers have been laid off; thousa nds more face employment uncertainty as mills shut down or curtail operations.

For 15 years, Doug worked a series of lumber mill jobs in southern Oregon - sometimes for a few months, sometimes for a few years until the work would slow down and he'd be laid off again. He remembers the last time, three years ago, when "they called us all into the maintenance shop at 2:30 one day and said 'guys, the market is terrible, so adios.' "

"We were out in the cold," he says.

A few years earlier (and with two children still living at home), Dyan had decided to go back to school. With a federal Pell grant, she enrolled at the local community college where she trained as a respiratory therapist. When she got a job with a medical supply company and began earning enough to support the family, she and Doug decided that he should get out of the timber industry and pursue his interest in photography as a possible profession.

He took courses too (the first since he had dropped out of high school his senior year), set up a darkroom in the garage, and began doing portrait photography around the beautiful Applegate River area where they live. Dyan, meanwhile, had become manager of her company's new branch in nearby Grants Pass.

But the occasional photography work wasn't enough to keep Doug busy, so he began helping out without pay at the health-care equipment business Dyan managed. Within a few months, he had become so knowledgeable - and the business had continued to grow so rapidly - that Dyan asked company executives if she could put her husband on the payroll as assistant manager.

Company officials were reluctant at first. But persuaded by Dyan's assertion that "our relationship is a very steady one," they decided to give it a try. That was two years ago, and the arrangement has turned out to be ideal. Doug takes care of equipment inventory and service, Dyan deals with the social service agencies through which most of their clients are funded (80 percent are on Medicare).

Dyan makes it clear, however, that when there's a need to make an important decision at work "I'm the captain." This is just fine with Doug, an energetic and determined worker who says "somebody has to make the executive decisions."

Dyan remembers a time not so long ago when "we'd hit the bottom of the pit and didn't have two nickels to rub together." But today, she says, "we are really blessed to be working."

FOR Doug and Dyan Gee, hard work, determination, and a strong marriage have brought them through tough times in a troubled industry. They have found stability and fulfillment in a new profession.

Like many people in the rural Pacific Northwest, their livelihood for years was tied to the timber industry. But for a decade timber workers have been buffeted by economic and environmental issues: a deep regional recession in the early 1980s, a drop in housing starts during the current downturn, automation replacing muscle power, increasing log exports, and of course the fight over preserving endangered species like the northern spotted owl. Hundreds of loggers and millworkers have been laid off; thousa nds more face employment uncertainty as mills shut down or curtail operations.

For 15 years, Doug worked a series of lumber mill jobs in southern Oregon - sometimes for a few months, sometimes for a few years until the work would slow down and he'd be laid off again. He remembers the last time, three years ago, when "they called us all into the maintenance shop at 2:30 one day and said 'guys, the market is terrible, so adios.' "

"We were out in the cold," he says.

A few years earlier (and with two children still living at home), Dyan had decided to go back to school. With a federal Pell grant, she enrolled at the local community college where she trained as a respiratory therapist. When she got a job with a medical supply company and began earning enough to support the family, she and Doug decided that he should get out of the timber industry and pursue his interest in photography as a possible profession.

He took courses too (the first since he had dropped out of high school his senior year), set up a darkroom in the garage, and began doing portrait photography around the beautiful Applegate River area where they live. Dyan, meanwhile, had become manager of her company's new branch in nearby Grants Pass.

But the occasional photography work wasn't enough to keep Doug busy, so he began helping out without pay at the health-care equipment business Dyan managed. Within a few months, he had become so knowledgeable - and the business had continued to grow so rapidly - that Dyan asked company executives if she could put her husband on the payroll as assistant manager.

Company officials were reluctant at first. But persuaded by Dyan's assertion that "our relationship is a very steady one," they decided to give it a try. That was two years ago, and the arrangement has turned out to be ideal. Doug takes care of equipment inventory and service, Dyan deals with the social service agencies through which most of their clients are funded (80 percent are on Medicare).

Dyan makes it clear, however, that when there's a need to make an important decision at work "I'm the captain." This is just fine with Doug, an energetic and determined worker who says "somebody has to make the executive decisions."

Dyan remembers a time not so long ago when "we'd hit the bottom of the pit and didn't have two nickels to rub together." But today, she says, "we are really blessed to be working."

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