Old West Saviors

Healing Hot Springs

The Manuel family healed a favorite American Indian gathering place despite the current recession.


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The first time Lee and David Manuel laid eyes on Hot Lake Springs, they thought the three-story brick building could star in a horror movie: it had no roof, no floors and no windows. Empty for most of the last 70 years, the building was obscured by a forest of overgrown trees and shrubs, a majority of them long dead.

It was a Sunday after church, and their 22-year-old son, Larry, had brought the family to La Grande, Oregon, to see an abandoned resort he thought the family should restore. “We’re supposed to do this,” he told them.

The same day, Lee flew to California and bought the property. Her family gambled everything it had, hoping Larry was right. That was November 1, 2003.

“I began night crews for 15 months just to clear the site,” Lee says. “For seven months, I had a fire the size of a semitruck to burn the trash. I hauled away 70 semi loads of garbage. I brought in 1,000 loads of fill dirt. I planted 1,000 trees and bushes. Then I moved my family here in campers, and we dry camped for three years—we didn’t have utilities—until we got some of the building in shape.”

She admits the work seemed overwhelming, but it only got worse. “We...

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