Rod Ray, 60, at his home in Bend

I met Rod when I photographed him for another story. In the course of making those photos, Rod learned of this project and expressed interest in participating. I would have been a fool to say no to a guy like Rod: warm-spirited, friendly, kind, a staple of this community, and a strong leader. He's got a big heart and he's interested in a healthy future for us all. And he continues to work towards that. 


Who are you?

I am a consultant and I teach a leadership class. And I do whatever I can for the community, particularly the OSU (Oregon State University) and the school system. And, above all else, I really have the time... I'm trying to be a much better husband and father. In my previous life it was hard to do as good a job. I've got time now, so I spend a lot of time with my son. 

What brought you to Bend?

I was born in Portland and lived there until I moved to Bend when I was nine, in 1965, with my mother and my sister. My mother was a single parent and she started the registered nursing program at COCC (Central Oregon Community College). I grew up in Bend from the time I was nine until I went off to college at 18. Bend was around 10,000 people and a mill town then. The boundaries of Bend were between Pilot Butte and Aubrey Butte. It was a great place to grow up. We rode our bikes everywhere. Wherever we were at dinner time, we had dinner. A lot of the families, and particularly fathers, around town took care of me because they knew I didn't have a dad around. Fireman, college professors, teachers, and other people around town would make sure I got skiing, and make sure I got to Boy Scouts. It was just a tight community. 

I went off to Oregon State and got a Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering and then to the University of Colorado and got a PhD. I came back and started a full-time career at Bend Research, where I had worked through the summers in college, in 1983. I stayed at Bend Research, eventually becoming the CEO, until I retired in 2015. Then I became a consultant for them. Along the way, both through the company and Lori (my wife) and I, we've always done as much as we could for the community. Both with money and also using Bend Research's firepower in science education, which has always been the focus for us in the community. When I was in high school, it was very isolated here, in an absolute sense, but particularly in science and engineering. There just wasn't anything really going on here, so we had to work at it. We always wanted kids to be exposed to that. If Lori and I have any kind of legacy, it would be doing as much of that as possible. 

I have two kids: a daughter who is 27 and an intensive care nurse and a son who is 17 at Bend High School, where I graduated from. I'm very happy my son goes to my old high school. It's really cool. The best award I ever got in my whole life was the Distinguished Alumni Award at Bend High. Which means I'm on the wall and my son has to walk passed the poor schmuck every day (chuckles). That feels good. 

What do like about Bend?

When I think about the history all the way through, what I like about Bend is that everyone here has always tried to do the right thing. I would differentiate it from other communities that way. It is still true now. With all the growth and all of that, the community leaders are always trying to figure out what the best thing to do is. I believe that to be true of the city leadership, the school leadership, the county leadership, and all of the people underneath them: sheriffs, chiefs of police, it's true of the hospital, it's true of the businesses. A very, very large fraction of all the businesses and business people and shops, everybody, is always trying to the right thing. There is very little taking advantage of each other going on here. Even with the growth. 

Do you have a favorite memory from here?

My overall favorite memory of Bend is Mt. Bachelor in the winter. I've skied since 1965 at Bachelor. And in the summer it would be being in the mountains, climbing all the mountains you can see from Bend and more. And Elk Lake, sailing up there. Being in the local environment. Those are my favorite memories outside of family memories, which are, of course, almost always your very best ones. There is a particular memory or two: graduating from high school at Bend High, how that felt. Graduating from Oregon State University and how that felt. Having the honor to lead a company that has as good of people as Bend Research had in it - that's another memory that is really poignant. And my relationships. This is a town that is based on relationships - I sometimes wonder if I have too many. I have a lot of memories of great relationships all the way through. 

What do you wish for the future?

I wish for my health and success for my family and my kids and my granddaughter. I also wish to pay Lori back for all her support by us having the time and the money to go do some things. Both here and all the places she'd like to travel - I actually prefer to stay here (laughs). I want to see Ian (my son) do well and he will - he's doing great. For the community, you know, this place has a soul. A lot of towns really don't. This place does. My wish for this community, as it grows, is that the soul continues. I'm pretty happy with that right now. I know the city people and the county people and all the school guys and all those people are all under a lot of pressure. They never have enough resources and they have to manage the growth. But, in fact, they really try to do that right. That's part of the soul of the place. I just hope that continues as new people come in. Most people do. 

When I was in high school here no one had any money at all. You can tell that by going around and looking at the houses that are inside that boundary I told you about. All of them were the same. Nobody had any money. We didn't know we didn't have any money, you know? If we can keep the housing supply so that there are places for people to live and the prices of those are reasonable, then yeah, I think people can figure it out here. There aren't a lot of factories and mills and those kinds of jobs here, so it tends to be better for people with an education. But there is industry moving in. I'd like to see more of that. The non-professional type jobs tend to be tourism based and that's tough for people. I know the wages are going up because I hear that all the time when I talk with people that know what's going on in the community. There is competition for good people here. When someone would join us at Bend Research who would have a high performing, professional type spouse or a spouse with a particular trade, I would tell them that they would find something. It might take you a year, don't expect it in two months, but it will come. And now I think it takes less than that.

Do you have thoughts on Bend's growth?

This place will continue to grow - sometimes slower, sometimes faster. There is no reason to think it won't. There is plenty of water, despite what you hear sometimes. The issue here is the supply and demand. We are constrained between the BLM land to the east and the National Forest to the west. It's really important that the land use planning gets done right and in a timely manner, which is probably the biggest problem. If it's too slow you get pressure that tends to be not as high quality. It's gonna grow. The planning for growth has to be done right. The infrastructure needs to be put in and, therefore, everybody's got to pony up and pay for it. To that point, we do need a balance of people that come here and raise families and make a living wage, people who come in and out, but we also need the wealthier people because they help us pay for all this. The numbers help pay, the wealthier help pay. It costs money to grow. Everybody's got to pay for that. I think the balance is really important. The only other thing I would say is people who move here need to engage. What is somewhat destructive is people who just sort of have a bedroom here and don't really engage in the community. Some of that's fine. You have a responsibility, if you have space in a community, to do your part. Whatever that is. 

Up until just recently I flew airplanes for a long time, for like 30 years. I was always flying my airplane into Bend. The thing about flying your own plane is you see out the front. So you really see what's going on. I watched Bend grow from the air over the last 30 years. If you just squint a little bit, Bend doesn't look any different now than it did 30 years ago from the air. Mountains are still there, the forests are still there, the BLM is still there. There's a long strip of developed, La Pine to Madras, land. If you sharpen your eyes and look, yeah, okay fine, it has grown, but it really doesn't look that much different. Especially if you travel east, like I did, for business and you watch the growth that goes on back there. Things like traffic - we don't have any traffic jams here even though we all say we do. The road to Bachelor can get crowded at 8:30 in the morning on Saturday, but in fact, compared to anywhere else... I don't think it's actually changed that much. If you know how to drive this place, you can drive across town anytime of the day and be just fine. You just have to know how to do it. I know the city is going to continue to work on the east/west access and all that. That's back to the planning. I still can go all day long in the mountains, all day, like 25 miles, and not run into one person. That was the case in 1970 when I started doing that and that is the case now in 2017, when I'm 60. It hasn't changed at all up there, not one bit. I get tired of that, actually. It's changed so much. It's ruined. It's just not true. We've got growth issues, but we'll be fine. The most important thing, is that people are working together to do the right thing. I really believe that is true here. And it's true to the extent where if you see somebody not doing that, it really stands out. They get kicked out of town. You know?