OAKRIDGE, Ore. — The ABC show Secret Millionaire is helping the small community of Oakridge rebound from some tough economic times.
In a small town like Oakridge, it’s hard for anything to stay a secret. But in October of 2011, a film crew from the show disguised themselves as a documentary film crew and were able to keep a million dollar secret from everyone in town.
If you take a step back 75 years, the economy in Oakrdige was booming.
“The economy was really good…We had Pope and Talbot, and we had Hines Lumber Company. They employed probably about, I’d say, 700-800 people,” said Ernest Baszler, Oakridge City Councilor.
But then in the latest 1970s, the mills started shutting down, and then the logging industry went downhill.
“We lost the drug store. We lost the clinic,” Baszler said. “There’s nothing here, period.”
Fast forward to just two years ago.
“July of 2011 we were advised that that we were out of money and had to lay off about 30 percent of our workforce,” said Gerald Shorey, Oakridge Mayor.
The city of Oakridge’s bank account was nearly empty.
“He said, ‘Well Ernest, we’re broke.’ And we’re just down the street from the bank, I said, ‘What do you mean we’re broke — we haven’t got any money to pay our bills, what happened?” Baszler said.
The city was in the midst of a financial crisis.
“It turns out that we were in a crisis and had to take a tax anticipation note to get us to the end of the year and to the end of 2012. And we did, and we were able to pay it back,” Shorey said.
During all of this economic turmoil, a film crew showed up in Oakridge claiming to be working on a documentary.
“We didn’t know, we didn’t know,” Baszler said.
But the group wasn’t a film crew at all. It was a crew from the ABC television show Secret Millionaire.
“It was kind of an interesting exercise. They gathered a whole bunch of us down at the fire station and filmed all of the things that were going on,” Shorey said.
The couple, George and Kim Rapier from Texas, donated nearly a million dollars to different groups around town.
“Five Rivers Medical Clinic got some…the PTA, they got money for the education, so they scattered it around pretty good places,” Shorey said.
“I guess getting the ambulance at the fire station. Highway 58 is a dangerous road, so it’s a good thing that they have a new ambulance,” said Matthew Frelich, Midway Gardens owner.
“That made a great difference for the community because we were down to minimal service basically in the fire department,” Shorey said.
The couple also gave $100 to each person living in Oakridge.
“Everybody that lived in the city of Oakridge in October 2011, every man, woman, and child were to receive $100,” Shorey said.
They’re also leaving some surprises for this Sunday’s episode, which features the largest donation the show’s ever seen. The town of Oakridge says this secret millionaire helped the town when it needed it the most.
“We’re slowly coming out of the woods…We’re on a positive side of the financial crisis now, and it looks pretty promising,” Shorey said.
“It’s going to take a while, and I think once we get out of it this town is going to boom,” Baszler said.
The show airs Sunday, September 8 at 9 p.m. on KEZI 9.