COOS BAY – Retired state Sen. Joanne Verger was honored Friday for her extensive career in public service.
Verger, 84, received the Bay Area Hospital Community Foundation’s John Whitty Award for Excellence. The award recognizes her service as a city councilor, mayor and state legislator as well as numerous other community initiatives.
“Sen. Verger has done so much for this community, and so much for health care,” said Dr. Tom McAndrew, who chairs both the Bay Area Hospital District board and the foundation’s advisory committee.
In a written tribute, Gov. John Kitzhaber said: “She has been a tireless advocate for children, particularly her work to ensure they have access to health care. And she has shown great leadership to promote coastal and rural economies. I’ve always appreciated working with her and thank her for her commitment to the people of Coos County and the State of Oregon.”
The Whitty Award was established six years ago in honor of Coos Bay attorney John Whitty, who was instrumental in establishing Bay Area Hospital 40 years ago. Whitty was the first recipient, followed by longtime local insurance agent Rudy Juul, who campaigned with Whitty to build the hospital.
The Whitty Award honors contributions to the community’s health and well-being. Subsequent winners were Dr. Oded Shulsinger, Lindi Quinn, and Dr. Steven and Eva Shimotakahara.
“Sen. Verger truly exemplifies the intent of this award,” said Barbara Bauder, who leads the hospital foundation as the hospital’s chief development officer.
Verger’s contributions included two terms as Coos Bay’s first female mayor, followed by service in the Oregon House of Representatives and the Oregon Senate.
Verger was known in the Legislature as an advocate for rural Oregon. She was a leading member of the bipartisan Coastal Caucus, where she worked to secure state funding for South Coast projects. Before retiring in 2012, she capped her career with her “bully bill,” aiming to protect children from coercion and harassment.
State Sen. Alan Bates of Medford, a physician, said Verger was a leader on health care issues because she understood ordinary people.
“She knew they are the ones suffering without proper health insurance and good health care, especially in rural parts of Oregon where it’s difficult to recruit physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses,” Bates said in a written statement. “She always strongly supported her local health-care network.”
Sen. Verger grew up in Amite, La. She moved to Oregon in 1969 when she and her husband, Lawton, bought a Coos Bay auto dealership. They were married 55 years and raised four children: Kathy Verger Muscus, Jim Verger, John Verger, and Anne Johnson.
Since leaving office, Sen. Verger has undertaken multiple writing projects, including a memoir of her Louisiana upbringing.
The Bay Area Hospital Community Foundation is a non-profit organization supporting the hospital’s mission to “improve the health of our community every day.” Tax-deductible gifts to the foundation help provide resources for advanced training, state-of-the-art technology, and safe environments designed for healing.
The foundation also awards grants each year to organizations that enhance the community’s well-being. The publicly owned hospital, overseen by an elected board of directors, receives no local tax support.