By Mikael Krummel

Photo by Greg Burns

Iron Mango

The story of the Iron Mango Orchestra (IMO) embraces lots of change, but that’s probably not surprising given that the group has roots in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, where some would say the tides shift often and winds blow restless.

Back around 2003, several local couples who shared an interest in Hawaiian music got together to explore their island-driven passions. Their gatherings celebrated songs and harmonies sung in native tongue to a ukulele backing. As the group’s membership and musical tastes shifted over the years, native lyrics morphed into English and gave way to hapa influences. Group membership expanded and the “Iron Mango” moniker was adopted.

In short order, the singers and players of IMO geared up for several iterations of the annual Eugene Asian Festival. The festivals featured performing Hawaiian singers and dancers invited by IMO to excite fundraising for their “Ukes for Kids” campaign.

Through their efforts over the last several years, IMO has given out nearly 900 ukuleles. Early “Ukes for Kids” fundraisers drove many of the donations. These days, if teachers contact IMO expressing interest in starting uke classes, they become strong donation candidates. New avenues have also opened up for groups like hula clubs, ukulele bands (like at North Eugene High School), and special programs (like uke-crafting in the Springfield High School woodshop program).

Pat Hottenstein is a long-standing member of Iron Mango and is married to Bev Hottenstein, IMO’s president. Pat is also a skilled cabinet maker. More than a decade ago, he took a uke-building class from an early IMO member. When that member moved away, it was a no-brainer that Pat would take over the classes. He upgraded the coursework and relocated instruction to his shop.

Pat’s coursework and his ukulele jigs also played a big role in establishing the uke-building program at Springfield High. Classes are in their fifth year, and four to five dozen students have participated. That’s a lot of ukuleles!

And those ukuleles have made for some pretty fine music!

Photo by Greg Burns

On a Mission

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is rooted to the times. Those in the Church promote their missionary services on social media sites. They send missionary teams out into the community to do presentations. And I recently chanced on a missionary service announcement posted on Craigslist.

This prompted me to ask: Who’s never sought help? Or never found themselves under the weather? Overwhelmed by chores? Lonely? With unexpected responsibilities? Short on cash? Hamstrung by the clock?

The Oregon Eugene Mission supports the work of 240 LDS volunteers with a reach that includes Corvallis, Coos Bay, and even extending south to Medford, Grants Pass, and Klamath Falls. Closer to home, the Eugene/Springfield/Santa Clara region supports roughly 100 missionaries serving communities from Florence east through Eugene/Springfield to Oakridge.

Most of the mission’s local volunteers are young adults who have donated two years of their lives to the church and community service. They come to their mission from across North America, plus a handful of missionaries from overseas. Church teachings and values are integral to their work. The missionaries are bright-eyed. Their missions are married to messages of faith, hope, and goodness.

The missionaries fulfill whatever needs the community has: landscaping, house painting, roofing, work parties in local parks, packing and moving household goods, genealogical research, virtual academic instruction, tutoring, music instruction, vehicle repair and cleaning, harvesting fruit, baking, grocery shopping, soup kitchen assistance, office work, clothing repair, gutter cleaning, gardening, and on and on.

“Take a young man or woman, maybe 18 to 22 years old,” says Bret Weekes, president of the Oregon Eugene Mission. “At that season of life, everything tends to be about ‘me,’ ‘my schooling,’ ‘my work.’ You come out of that with two years where you do nothing focused on ‘me.’ Everything you do is about somebody else.”

So the young missionaries invest in a new way of life. Their training includes several weeks of orientation. They rise at 6:30 daily to confront ambitious work schedules. They’re back in bed by 10:30 that night, with new friends, new associates, new approaches, and new outlooks.

Ask a missionary, the challenges and work assignments can be daunting—but the rewards can be rich.

Photo by Greg Burns

Lotsa Legos

Lego plastic construction bricks first appeared in 1950. Over the 70 years since, Lego estimates it has manufactured more than 600 billion toy pieces. Quite a few of those pieces can be found in Eugene—most notably downtown at Brick Builders and Bricks & Minifigs, two retail hobby shops that specialize in most things Lego.

Ask Brian Aljian, owner of Bricks & Minifigs, where Lego’s main attraction lies and he’ll tick off some key elements: mental dexterity, finger dexterity, broad age appeal. “It fills creative niches,” he says. “It fills puzzle niches. It’s a hobby.”

Ammon Hendrikson and Otter Nash, the owner and manager, respectively, of Brick Builders, would likely agree with Aljian—but then again, the two are clearly deep divers when it comes to nuanced elements of Lego culture. Hendrikson describes Eugene’s Lego scene as “strong, creative, and diverse.” His store is a community hub offering far more than just Lego pieces and box sets.

Brick Builders (BB) hosts monthly build challenges for kids, as well as Lego birthday parties and a variety of outdoor camps that provide non-Lego activities, like hiking, plant study, costume design, leatherwork, cosplay, and LARPing. “A lot of these kids have to get their ya-yas out before they can settle down and play with Legos,” Nash says.

And then there are BB’s more therapeutic Lego activities, like the Autism Group, which promotes social skills for foster kids with special needs. BB also has Lego sessions for recovering addicts and military vets with PTSD. In both of these groups, the activities reflect emerging fields of study.

What else? Well, there’s Brick Builders’ museum-like display of countless Lego builds, the store’s offer to locate rare Lego pieces for that ultra-special project you’re building, or the staff’s willingness to provide detailed advice about complex project designs and functional applications of Lego pieces containing computer chips. They’ll even give you recommendations about Lego sets as investment vehicles.

“COVID was a perfect storm for Legos,” Hendrikson says. “Prices inflated slightly, but demand held stable. Would you rather be stuck at home with a jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of sky pieces or a Lego build?”