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American Samoa => Visitor's Fale - Amerika Samoa => Topic started by: ipacific on March 02, 2009, 10:04:27 AM

Title: Getting off the Aiga Bus
Post by: ipacific on March 02, 2009, 10:04:27 AM
Getting off the Aiga Bus

After a long ride as educator, father, humanitarian, politician and singer, Leroy D. Owens got of  the bus. It paused in Pago Pago, but it stopped in Ashland, Oregon.

In 1976 LeRoy took a job for the Northwest Regional Educatuional Labs to work with the Department of Education and the Community College of  American Samoa.  He brought his wife Mary Jo and four kids to live in Samoa.
They lived in Avaio, (2 Dolla Beach) and became good friends with Fata, village chief and his wife Maria (Faka and malia) and their family.  He was called Leloi and was often seen in the evenings in big green lavalava sitting on a fallen palm tree log on the beach with a gin and tonic.  Mike Sala was our landlord. Alene Ripine taught us some Samoan language. John Kneubuhl taught us about hollywood and the writer's life. Fia Tiapula taught us about fishing.  Two sons attended Faga'itua High School. One son worked for Jake P. King at the Samoa News.

This was the time of Nicholas Von Hoffman's "Tales from the Margaret Mead Taproom" and Doonesbury's long running satire about the governor of Samoa, a political appointee.  Much of  the spoof rang true.

For a palagi, Leroy was a pretty good islander. He was 6'4" and had just enough belly to be taken seriously as a big chief, palagi-style. The graciousness of the Samoan people made a strong impression on the family and the fa'a samoa was a life in beauty.  So much dignity and human kindnesses were felt there. fa'fetai tele lava Samoa!

The 60s and 70s in Oregon, where LeRoy came to Samoa from, was ripe with progressive thought and change. Teens were listening to the Beatles and growing long hair. (That covered part of their ears!) Hippies and the summer of love captured the imagination of young people in Eugene.  The University of Oregon had the same war protests, marches and even attempts to burn down the ROTC reserve Officer Training Corp buildings.
Amid this tumultuous time a number of new citizen politicians rose up to the call the improve our government through positive effort from the inside, without the bricks and violence. LeRoy decided it was time to get on the bus.

  LeRoy D. Owens, an educator and involved community leader  moved to Eugene in 1963 bring wife Mary Jo and four children.  He was involved with community projects such as the Skinner Butte project, Lane County Youth Study Project, council on aging and so on.  He made the acquaintance of people such as Wayne Morse, Oregon's legendary maverick senator, who encouraged him to get involved in politics, Oregon needed more good citizens to seek office, not more self-serving politicians. 

In 1970 Leroy found an old school bus, and with volunteers,  painted it a bright Euclid Green. He filled it with voter information from all candidates, from President to city council and from all parties. He launched a campaign to run for legislature in Lane County. His opponent was well-known track coach Bill Bowerman, one of the founders of Nike and not used to losing. But the bus was seen everywhere. A Call LeRoy campaign started. he talked to anyone. He carried Bill Bowerman literature on the bus and told people to study and let the best man win.  the bus was at the fairgrounds, shopping centers and in every small town parade that would let them in. Sometimes the bus overheated and with the help of bystanders it was pushed through the parade. The spirit of citizen participation at its best.

Leroy got his message for responsive and thoughtful government got through to the voters and he won a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives from Lane County.

The 1971-73 Oregon legislature made sweeping changes. LeRoy co-sponsored the landmark "Bottle Bill" that set the standard for other states to follow. He co-sponsored the "Bicycle Bill" that has made it possible to build bike trails and access in Oregon. He hunkered down in Governor Tom McCall's basement for a showdown on the fate of Camp Adair that McCall had promised to a private university. LeRoy  thought it ought to be used to benefit the citizens of Oregon. Both men were over 6'4" and could not stand up straight, but in the end McCall changed his stance and Camp Adair went to the people of Oregon. The newspaper followed him through a number of notable issues.

LeRoy went on to more involvement in the community, through the University of Oregon Education department, future studies and a host of local boards and activities.

His educational leadership took him as far as American Samoa and even to the far north where he was superintendent of schools of the Aleution Region -- the geographically largest district in the country. And certainly with some of the most unique challenges. Leloi thrived on the people and the challenges.

The youth of Samoa at that time were into Kool and the Gang other soul stars of the day. The local bands could really sing. The fa'a samoa was strong, the village choirs and dancing were phenomenal.  One son played saxophone in a popular band, Jabs West, lead by Bill Legali and Junior Hall. Sometimes they went to the beach and played "All Day Music" by War for hours. It was so mellow and sweet. A moment for eternity.
Those were the days :)

LeLoi left his mark on Samoa but probably Samoa gave him even more.
Upon “retirement” in Ashland Oregon, LeRoy began a singing career, mostly noted for his Paul Robeson commemorative programs where he sang bass and recited words of one of our almost forgotten heroes. He performed across the country and even into Canada.

On February 21, 2009, LeRoy got off the bus. He passed away unexpectedly as he walked  in Ashland.
Anyone who lived in Oregon in the 60s and early 70s knew of LeRoy's political activities. He was not shy to speak honestly his views and lead by action and warm, thoughtful persuasion.  He was not afraid to take on the role of underdog and speak frankly on controversial issues. He inspired many to get involved in the community. 

Thanks, Dad for showing us how to drive the bus. And letting us on the Aiga Bus!

Son and former bus rider (