Published On: Mon, Sep 2nd, 2013

Oakridge Secret Millionaire Episode to Air Sunday, Sept. 8

Story last updated on September 13th, 2013 at 6:37 pm.

This article was originally published in October 2012. At the time, it was unclear when the episode of Secret Millionaire will air. ABC has announced the Oakridge Secret Millionaire episode will air Sunday, Sept. 8 at 9 p.m. Below is the original article. Check back with Lane Today, as we will be covering the airing of the episode at a watch party at Manley’s Tavern near Crescent Lake.

It’s no secret Oakridge’s economy has suffered disproportionately compared to the rest of Lane County in recent years. The once-thriving timber town of approximately 3300 residents was hit hard, first by the mill closures between 1978 and the 1990s, then the Great Recession. Throw in the well-publicized mismanagement of hundreds of thousands of dollars of city finances (overseen by former city administrator Gordon Zimmerman), leading to the depletion of city reserves, then the subsequent layoffs of one-third of the city’s employees, and it is evident Oakridge is a town needing something to go its way to catch a break.

Oakridge’s 15 Minutes of Fame

Last year, that break came when ABC Television’s hit show Secret Millionaire, which paid a visit to Oakridge.

The premise of the show is as follows: A wealthy benefactor chooses a disadvantaged community where he or she wants to make a difference. The benefactor moves into the community and lives undercover in conditions similar to most area residents, and subsists on a minimal amount of money for the week he is there. The benefactor poses as a film maker or producer wanting to document needy organizations, non-profits, etc., and spends time volunteering and asking them what they do to impact their community. On the last day, the benefactor returns to the sites visited and presents the recipient agencies and organizations with checks for large sums of money intended to help further their causes.

Oakridge is an atypical site for Secret Millionaire to visit, as the show generally visits larger cities such as Long Beach, CA and Newark, NJ. This visit to Oakridge has a unique twist, as the benefactor also wanted to contribute directly to every citizen in the community, and did so by making a cash contribution of $100 to every man, woman and child who resided in Oakridge in October 2011, during the show’s filming.

The Process

Disbursing the funds to residents turned out to be a bit of a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Lane Today spent a recent Saturday morning in Oakridge during one of the disbursements at City Hall, speaking to a city employee and volunteers who successfully pulled of this task, and a few citizens of Oakridge who received funds from the show.

Susan LaDuke, interim city recorder, was on hand to help hand out $100 checks along with two cheerful volunteers, Celia and Jackie. The city received permission from the show in May to begin the process of disbursing the funds. But first they needed to notify residents. In June, applications were mailed out to every resident who has a water bill account with the city. Notices were also posted at locations such as the grocery store, city hall and other highly-trafficked places around town.

The city experienced a little snag in the process as word quickly spread around the isolated town and citizens inundated city hall staff with questions and comments about the money, preventing employees from performing their regular duties and leading to the city losing wages in June.

Another minor problem occurred as a result of the water bills also containing a notice for the children’s summer reading program at the library, and some residents said they disposed of the paperwork without realizing the application for the $100 was also enclosed.

Although the volunteers dealt with some irate citizens who were unable to claim the funds for reasons such as not submitting the required application or not having sufficient documentation to prove residency, they found the experience to be very rewarding.

“This [disbursing the money] is the fun part,” Celia, a disbursement volunteer said, seeing the relief on some of her neighbors’ faces as they told her the money will help them pay utilities or for school clothing and supplies. The other volunteer present, Jackie, valued the experience of seeing a lot of people she hadn’t seen in a long time, saying there were several times she asked “Where the heck have you been?”

LaDuke said a few people attempted to defraud the process, but declined to disclose further details.

Economic Impact on the Community

The number of checks disbursed hasn’t been disclosed, pending required accounting needing to be done with the production company for the show, Zodiak USA. But with tens of thousands of dollars given community wide, where did the money go? With some residents receiving funds in September, LaDuke and her volunteers said one of the more common things recipients said they would do with the money is take their children shopping for school clothing and supplies. Oakridge, however, lacks a department or clothing store, but LaDuke said even though a significant amount of the money will be spent in Eugene and Springfield, the money spent at other local businesses is creating a net positive effect for Oakridge merchants.

Brianne Reed, a dental assistant, said she will be putting her $100 towards bills, adding the money saved will help her be able to patronize local businesses and restaurants.

“It’s cool a small town like this gets to experience this, but I’d like to see the show,” Reed said.

Another local resident who asked to remain anonymous said she has not noticed any significant impacts to the community, and she put her $100 in her bank account. Referencing recent controversy in the city, she added that she felt “funny about getting money I didn’t earn, especially a gift from someone [whose identity is kept secret].” She said she took the money nonetheless because if she didn’t, the city would get it and [they] couldn’t be trusted with it.

Amy Long, who works in management for a thrift store, said she paid bills with her $100, and used her children’s shares to take them to Eugene to shop for toys and going out to eat. Long said she is not sure how much money from the show has circulated through her store, but said that “more than a few people a day” spent some of the Secret Millionaire money there.

Brighter Days Ahead?

Though Oakridge has taken its fair share of economic lumps over the years, the sentiment among residents is that the future looks bright. None of the residents Lane Today spoke with seemed concerned with how Oakridge will be portrayed on national television when the show eventually airs.

Long, a 14-year resident, said she feels confident about the city’s direction with new mayor Jerry Shorey and the hiring of long-standing police chief Louis Gomez as new city administrator.

LaDuke views the show’s presence in Oakridge as positive and enjoyed seeing all of the appreciative people in the community. She spoke of a senior couple on a fixed income who planned simply to go out for breakfast, fill up the gas tank to go for a drive, and eat lunch out.

The city sought feedback from residents asking what they would like to see done with any leftover funds. One of its plans is to restore a junk amnesty program and the chipper program, both of which had been cut after last year’s budget crisis. The chipper program is a free program in which city employees come to residences and chips brush, tree branches, etc.

LaDuke said the city has nearly completed the building of the new library next to city hall, and is working hard to attract employers who can utilize the city’s recently-installed fiber optic network. The city has also caught up, and is now current on its annual audits. She applauded the spirit of the community coming together to volunteer over 100 hours of time towards making the disbursement a success.

“[I] cannot express enough the appreciation for the volunteers.”

But when will the show air?

LaDuke reported that the show originally was set to air September 16, but ABC chose not to air it that date due to its desire to optimize ratings in that time slot. She added that she knows for sure the show will be broadcast at some point, but doesn’t know when. All of the residents who spoke with Lane Today said they are interested in seeing the show when it airs, with one unidentified citizen saying she is “curious to see what they do with it.”

Phone calls and emails to both ABC and the show’s production company, Zodiak USA, were not returned.

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