The bears — yes, those bears — are beginning their migration to Brookings.
A bear statue waves goodbye while leaving Brookings in the back of a pickup truck two years ago. Curry Coastal Pilot
Evergreen Federal Bank of Grants Pass plans to bring at least five bears back for a visit this summer until January — and one of them plans to stay forever.
Brookings has had a healthy love affair with the larger-than-life-size statues that are extravagantly decorated with various themes. A sleuth of bears is scheduled to arrive in May. Mayor Ron Hedenskog and City Manager Gary Milliman are working with bank officials to determine locations.
“We’ve had many requests to bring the bears back,” said bank president Jeff Hyde. “We thought, ‘Why not share a few — and create one of their own.’”
It’s that “one” that has Brookings city councilors excited. Of the five bears that will visit this summer, one will stay on as a permanent resident. The city’s art committee will decide how to “theme” the bear and the bank will design it next fall.
The life-size, painted sculptures, each with its own theme, have been a mainstay in Grants Pass since 2003, when now-retired Evergreen Bank President Brady Adams read an article about artists painting and displaying cows in Chicago.
The 30 original bears in Grants Pass were auctioned off, raising $175,000 for local nonprofit organizations.
“The idea was to give artists a canvas and then get out of their way,” Adams said in 2011. “Let them bring their magic.”
Twenty-five of the bank’s iconic bears visited Brookings in 2010 — and were an instant hit among locals and tourists alike. Citizens protested their departure six weeks later, placing signs on the bears: “I’m hybearating here. Leave me alone,” and “Brookings will be bruined without us,” among others.
People have been pining for their return ever since. And the time has come, said Hedenskog, who on city Councilor Kelly McClain’s urging spoke with officials at the Grants Pass bank late last year.
Excitement is hardly the word for it.
“This is wonderful; just wonderful,” exclaimed Brookings Public Art Committee member Janet Richey. “We will adopt them and make them our own. We’re going to have too much fun with this, I can tell. I am so excited. This is just what we need.”
“It depends on what everybody wants,” said Public Art Committee member Lea Ray. “ I love it. They’re just adorable, and they’re perfect for us.”
“We’re excited about what the concept is going to be,” said Evergreen marketing manager Melissa Vierra. “We just can’t wait to customize it and gift it to Brookings.”
“The offer from Evergreen to create a custom bear for us — and cover the cost — has been very generous,” Hedenskog said “Having additional bears periodically visit is also appealing.”
Bank officials are debating what to do with another 80 bears it has in anticipation of its 80th birthday next year.
“We’ll share some, but we don’t want to sell them or donate them,” Vierra said. “But do one new bear with a theme and gift it to Brookings from Evergreen? Sure.”
The bank has auctioned off bears in the past for nonprofit organizations, but likes to keep control of them to maintain and repair them.
“We like to bring them (back) to the Bear Motel, too,” Vierra said. “The fans in Grants Pass like to see them return.”
The Bear Motel is where many bears get a little R&R — repair and renovation — before being displayed again.
Vierra said it’s impossible to put a price on the bears — a concept with which most bear fans in Brookings would agree. Grants Pass artists sculpt the fiberglass figures and paint them.
“They’re artwork; how do you value that?” Vierra said. “That’s very difficult to put a price tag on. We’ve seen bears auctioned off go for $10,000 but that does not mean that’s where I would value them.
“We know the new bear is going to be awesome.”
The bears could also bring an element to town the city council has been pursuing: the tourism market.
“Anything that makes the town look better, I’m all for,” McClain said. “It makes you remember the town — ‘Oh, Brookings! It’s the town with the bears!’ We have all these people driving through town every year, it gives them a reason to stop, to come back, to stay awhile. We get all this free traffic; all we have to do is captivate them.”