In 1975, when Jerry Sherman was a much younger man, he had one of those life-changing experiences that he may or may not have recognized for what it was when it happened.

Sherman, who at the time worked at a local appliance store, took a young boy to Portland to Oregon Health & Science University’s ophthalmology department’s Casey Eye Institute. The child had badly crossed eyes, and the physicians at the Elks Children’s Eye Clinic, part of the larger institute, were there to take care of the problem.

Sherman was and is a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, a fraternal organization founded nearly 150 years ago in New York. In Oregon, there are about 50 Elks lodges across the state, including ones in Bend, Prineville and Madras. Oregon’s Elks have been financial supporters of the children’s eye clinic in Portland since 1949, so much so that when the children’s clinic moves into new facilities in 2020, $15 million of the cost will have been borne by the state Elks association and another $5 million will have come from donations by individual Elks and their supporters.

Members of the Bend lodge have contributed some of that money. An annual Oktoberfest benefits the clinic, this year to the tune of about $3,500. Individual members also have made contributions.

There’s much more to the clinic than the prospect of a new home built to suit, however, as Sherman would tell you. It helps children who might otherwise lose their sight, among other things, a real gift in the visual world we inhabit. And Elks and their gifts help make the clinic’s preschool vision screening program and its See To Read program possible. The programs work to assure that the youngest children get the eye care they need when they need it.

The children’s clinic is a busy place, Sherman says. It sees about 20,000 infants, children and young adults annually, and the wait to see physicians and others can be long. In response, the Elks Eye Clinic opened a satellite clinic at the Bend Memorial Clinic’s Old Mill District office in 2016. Specialists from the Portland clinic come to Bend for the once-a-month Friday clinic, and they generally see patients who have been referred by other doctors. The next clinic is set for Dec. 1.

Sherman is a true believer when it comes to the Elks Eye Clinic, and with good reason. It provides expertise in areas not generally available in smaller institutions, and children in financial straits are not turned away. And, as Sherman says, if his involvement can help keep one child from going blind, he’s done his job.

For me, Sherman embodies what’s best about Bend and, more broadly, Central Oregon. He’s lived here about as long as I have, upward of 60 years. Before he retired he worked hard, though now, he says, he’s taken the Al Gore approach to shoveling snow (think about it). But just because he’ll leave the snow removal to global warming doesn’t mean he’s slowed down or quit caring. He and his wife of 56 years, Helen, raised a family and now spend their days at home in Terrebonne.

The first time I learned of Sherman’s big heart was more than 20 years ago when I was volunteering at Grandma’s House, a home for pregnant or parenting unmarried young women who were homeless or victims of abuse. The Shermans showed up this time of year with 20 frozen turkeys for current and former residents. They’ll be back Saturday with 28 frozen birds, and, as usual, Executive Director Woody Medeiros will give some to former residents and keep a few for in-house use. Today, The Shermans’ contribution involves not only Jerry and Helen, but their daughter, a grandson and Albertsons grocery store.

It’s people like Sherman, men and women who see need and work to address it, who make communities nicer places to live. Their big hearts and hard work go a long way to filling the space between what some of us need and what we can afford. Without him, and others who feel and act as he does, I think Bend would be a harder place, particularly for those whose resources are always on the wrong side of being enough. I’m thankful he’s here.

— Janet Stevens is deputy editor of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-617-7821,