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RUBEN CONTRERAS, SR. 1921 - 2010

Memorial services for Ruben Contreras of McMinnville will be held on Saturday, October 16, 2010, at 11:00 a.m. at Bethel Baptist Church, 325 NW Baker Creek Road, McMinnville. Arrangements are being handled by Macy & Son Funeral Directors. A website dedicated to the life of Ruben Contreras with photos, documents and articles is online at

Mr. Contreras died on September 30, 2010, at Providence Newberg Hospital at the age of 88. 

He was born on December 13, 1921, in Mexico City, the son of Narciso Contreras Contreras and Maria Elena Hernandez Sanchez. He was raised in Mexico City and attended the Military Medical School of Mexico. He had speaking roles in several mexican movies.

In 1945 he heeded the call of President Roosevelt for help in the World War II war effort; working in McMinnville he met his future wife Alberta Schmauder. They married on September 13, 1948, in Santa Maria, California, later they move back to McMinnville where he is thought to be the first permanent county citizen of Hispanic heritage.

In the 1950’s he worked with future Oregon Gov. Tom McCall and a small steering committee to help birth Oregon’s groundbreaking migrant civil rights legislation that passed the Oregon Legislature and became law in 1959. Ruben served as a translator with local law enforcement for years before receiving his badge as a Special Deputy Sheriff with Yamhill County which he held until his death. 

Ruben worked in refrigeration before working for the Valley Migrant League as the Yamhill County Area Director, serving a stint at its headquarters. He retired as the building maintenance person for the City of McMinnville properties. He came out of retirement to work as an Hispanic Liaison Officer for Yamhill Community Action Partnership (YCAP.) He is credited with creating the first paid bilingual sheriff deputy position that a young Lee Vasquez was hired to fill. Vasquez went on to become Oregon’s first Hispanic Sheriff. Ruben served on both Governor McCall’s Manpower Coordinating Committee, and the Governor’s Commission on Youth; he also was a founding board member of CASA of Oregon, board member for Oregon Legal Services, as well as serving on many other boards.

He was one of 15 national founding members for O.S.H.A.’s safety advisory group chartered to establish agricultural safety in America. In 2006 McMenamins’ historian Tim Hills summed up his life work this way: "Most Oregonians today won’t recognize his name and are unaware of the substance and breadth of his accomplishments. This is due in large part because Ruben Contreras never sought a spotlight for himself. Instead, over the course of four decades, he intentionally remained outside the glow of celebrity, working side by side with government officials, growers, laborers and their children. Walls came down, bridges were built. He was there in an Oregon State Capitol committee room. He was there in the migrant camps. He was there at federal hearings in Washington, D.C. He was there to translate and advocate in the local jail.” Hills called Ruben “Probably the most significant individual associated” with Hotel Oregon.

In 1971 the News-Register said of Ruben: “Without question the quiet, friendly, persuasive efforts of Ruben Contreras over a 20-plus year career in our community have been a major factor in finding a solution to minority group problems and assimilation. [He] came to our community over 20 years ago and faced up to the difficult, lonesome way of a truly minority situation. During succeeding years he has earned a position of respect and leadership not only in Yamhill County but the State of Oregon. His efforts have made the problems of all minorities much more possible of solution. He has worked hard and effectively in seeking better conditions, greater opportunities and easier acceptance for every segment of our growing minority population.”

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Alberta (nee Schmauder) of McMinnville; three sons, Carl, Albert Rene, and Ruben, Jr.; two daughters, Maria Elena (nee Contreras) Balcom, and Marietta (nee Contreras) Hess; one sister, María Elvira Contreras Saucedo; 11 grandchildren, Michael Stockdale, Trevor, Ruben, and Aundrey Contreras, Regina (nee Contreras) Freeland, Erin (nee Contreras) Grossman, Lindsay (nee Hess) Davis, Ashley, Courtney, Jordon, Nicolette Markie, and Taylor Hess; nine great-grandchildren, McKenzie, Mason, Madison, and Morgan Stockdale, Fern Freeland, Josiah Contreras; four step-grandchildren, Gregory Lentz, Geoffrey Winker, Maggie Winkler, Benjamin Winker, 11 step-great-grandchildren, James, Lee, and Zachary Lentz, Victoria, Samantha, Morgan, Caleb, Elizabeth, Wesley, Erin, and Cody Winkler.

He was preceded in death by his brothers, Andres Contreras and Carlos Sanchez.

Memorial contributions may be made to YCAP in McMinnville in care of Macy & Son. To leave private online condolences, please visit 

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