Isaiah Thompson values brotherhood, community service and facial hair. As president of the Central Oregon Mustache and Beard Society, he unites all three.
“The idea of having facial hair has been shot down for many, many, many years,” Thompson said. “It’s seen as unclean, you know. And now with these recent years, a lot of people are seeing beards in a whole new light.”
COMBS is a group that gathers together to celebrate facial hair of all types while raising money for those in need within the community. Sept. 17 will mark their first ever beard competition, benefiting the Summer Stiers Foundation. Stiers, a Bend woman, died at age 32 after battling an unknown genetic disorder for close to 14 years.
Thompson started the Beards Not Dead Facebook page in 2014, hoping to find a community of like-minded beard and mustache mavens. The group never really took off and eventually fizzled out but, by then, Thompson met Peter Aune, who founded COMBS in 2010.
“I gave (Aune) my ideas on, you know, what I was kind of looking for as a group,” Thompson said. “Kind of, revamp the society, bring in new members, let’s make a nonprofit out of this and do some good and, you know, have some fun while doing it.”
Thompson became heavily involved with COMBS and took over as the society’s president. His new project is to raise funds by bringing the already nationwide obsession with competitive beard growing to Bend.
“Bend is very supportive of beard competitions,” said Casey Lillibridge, COMBS’ secretary.
Organizing a beard competition takes some strategy.
“Being that it’s our first (competition) we’re trying to test the waters,” Lillibridge said, “We’re not exactly sure. I mean, we know that mustaches aren’t exactly as popular here in Bend, Oregon, as they are in Los Angeles so we’re not necessarily doing more than one mustache category. If we get 35 or 40 competitors in the mustache category, next year we’ll be able to expand that category.”
The competition will be split into 11 categories including a best in show. Competitors will be judged on factors like the size, style and creativity of their facial hair. Judges will come from all over the West Coast.
“I sanctioned the help of an organization called the Facial Hair League,” Lillibridge said. “And what they do is they give you a judging app, you know, it’s all done on a smart device. They give you sponsors, they give you souvenirs … so that’s really taking the competition to pretty much the highest level that you can take a beard competition.”
Some local bars, like Silver Moon Brewing, have held beard competitions in the past. The National Beard and Moustache Championships were held in Bend in 2010, boasting over 200 competitors from around the world. COMBS’ competition, taking place later this month, might not be quite so grand, but they are still expecting an admirable turnout. The tournament is also open to women.
“We do have a category for women called Build-a-Beard and it’s pretty popular,” Lillibridge said. “The women build pretty crazy stuff on their faces.”
Thompson and Lillibridge expect the event to be fun. They also hope it gives back to the community in a big way by raising enough money to purchase a hyperbaric chamber in honor of Stiers. She made national headlines for the undiagnosed condition that caused her death in 2009. The Summer Stiers Foundation was established in her memory.
One of COMBS’ members is Doug Ward. He is Stiers’ adoptive father.
“In her last few conscious hours, (Summer) asked me to raise the money to purchase a hyperbaric chamber,” Ward said. “She wanted to be able to help take care of people who would come after her. As a father, how could I deny my daughter’s dying request?”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat numerous ailments including anemia, burns and brain infections. It is being researched as a treatment method for other illnesses like HIV/AIDS, depression and asthma. Patients undergoing hyperbaric therapy inhale pressurized oxygen through a tube or within the chamber.
“We wanted to start with something that’s close to our hearts,” Thompson said. Ward’s “been wanting to fulfill his daughter’s wish, and we’ve been wanting to help do that.”
Ward and his wife, Kim Plummer, have raised roughly $20,000 on their own. COMBS is hoping to help raise the additional $10,000 needed to purchase a refurbished hyperbaric chamber at $30,000. The society is looking to raise this money through entrance fees (the competition costs $20 to enter), raffle money, sponsors and donations.
“It’s been real frustrating trying to raise money on my own because I’m not a fundraiser, I’m a grieving father,” Ward said. “The guys at COMBS have picked up the ball and are running with it.”
Ward will be en route back from Denver on the day of the competition and will not be able to attend. But he has full confidence that his brothers in beards will do all they can to make sure the event is a success.
“It feels wonderful,” Ward said. “It’s such a tremendous lightning of my own self-generated burden of not being able to keep my promise for my daughter.”
— Reporter: 541-382-1811, firstname.lastname@example.org