Connie Dillinger: A ‘Woman of Wisdom’

Rep. Lily Morgan (left) and Connie Dillinger in Salem Tuesday, May 16.
(Courtesy photo for the Illinois Valley News)

“Still We Thrive” event organizer and volunteer extraordinaire Connie Dillinger recently traveled to Salem and talked to State Rep. Lily Morgan. Here is the story of how she got there.
Thirteen years ago the Illinois Valley was very lucky indeed when Connie Dillinger and her husband Mark decided to settle in Cave Junction.
Dillinger, a paralegal since 1989, applied for a variety of jobs in Southern Oregon and experienced many closed doors. “Everything was good until I walked in the room. People in Southern Oregon weren’t interested in hiring a ‘Negro,’ and yes, you can write that down,” emphasized Dillinger.
Then she read an AARP article about how volunteering can open doors to find a job that you like.

“I have a passion for helping people with their legal issues,” said Dillinger and explained that her first volunteer position was at the Women’s Crisis Shelter in Grants Pass. She started helping women with restraining orders, divorce and child custody battles in court. This volunteer position turned into a job where she helped with bookkeeping and administrative duties.
And that was only the beginning of her volunteer days. She started participating in seminars and panels such as “Wisdom Gathering,” “Why Are There No Black People in Southern Oregon?” and “Still We Thrive.”
Additionally, she got involved in organizations and committees like the Health Care Coalition of Southern Oregon, Illinois Valley Family Coalition, SO Health-E, AllCare Health Community Advisory Council, Women’s Crisis Center’s – Violence in Pregnancy, Valley Girl Quilters, Black Rural Network and more.
With all this important involvement, it is no wonder Nicole Selinger and the Equity Project of Josephine County honored the “70-years-young” Dillinger, along with other elders of culture, Grandma Nadine and Edith Dolson, April 7, 2023 at its Wisdom Gathering Event at the Wild River Pub in Grants Pass.
“They wanted to acknowledge my work in the community; it was such an honor for me,” said Dillinger with emotion.
Just recently, Dillinger traveled to Salem as part of the Oregon Health Authority’s Healthier Together Oregon committee as part of a “Meet your Legislator” tour. Dillinger spoke to Rep. Morgan about different transitional housing options that have been planned. “I would like to stop the traumatizing of the homeless. It’s hard for them to tell their story over and over again.” Dillinger would like a one-stop data entry system so unhoused folks don’t have to be retraumatized, which she feels causes people to give up.
But volunteering isn’t all there is to tell in this story. You might know Dillinger from her many days of working out at Bridgeview Winery as a bookkeeper and wine server. She loved working for Bob and Lelo Kerivan. “It was the best place to work. They were the kindest, sweetest employers that I have ever had. “It was fun work and they didn’t look at me as a colored person.”
The “Still We Thrive” panel and event coordinated by IVFC Executive Director Karen Yanase and Dillinger that took place April 25, 2023 at the Bear Hotel in Grants Pass, was dedicated to letting people of color tell their stories about overcoming diversity in Southern Oregon, but it could also describe her battle with breast cancer.
She spoke very highly of Dr. Kathy Mechling and her staff who helped her through the Breast and Cervix Cancer Treatment Program. “I called Dr. Mechling, and Stacy Yanase answered the phone and then invited me to come to Clear Creek Family Practice. It was wonderful, I could talk about anything…she is still very sweet.”
And there is more – Dillinger still does wine demos for Del Rio Winery and in between volunteering and working, she is a very busy gardener. Dillinger is a member of the I.V. Garden Club and has a beautiful collection of flowers around her home, along with a vegetable garden. She puts the vegetables to good use when making delicious dishes and is known to throw wonderful holiday parties for her friends.
“I have met a lot of nice people and have made strong friendships,” said Dillinger when asked what she liked most about Cave Junction. She described having all her neighbors over to her house to meet them.
What’s next? Dillinger is planning a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Fashion Show and already has three students interested from a school she volunteers at through Black Rural Network. “We need to start getting rural people to get it together.”
She would also like to see the city of Cave Junction succeed in keeping the place she lives nice. “I would like to see more checks and balances, but it is very clicky in the city; it’s hard to penetrate.”
Dillinger said that when she turns 72 she will reassess her volunteerism and her life and see if progress is being made before she continues with her work. Her reason for doing all the work she does: “If I don’t do it, who will?”
Stay tuned, the amazing Connie has a lot more to tell us.

Met Sam Engel at Tap Rock for a presentation about “Why are there no Black People in SO
HCCSO Coalition of Souther Oregon
Volu n Medford – Health Equity
Seminar Why not hiring Black people in SO
Inspired her to do panels
SOHealthE – helpded find disparities in the I.V.
Kerivans/ wine demos at Del Rio
Valley Quilters

Dr. Kathy Mechlin