Surgeon Dr. Brent Soder is just one of the many locals who have left their hometown, only to return and replant their roots.
Story by Jim Hays Photo by Tristin Godsey
The name of the newest surgeon joining Centennial Medical Group might ring a bell for a lot of people in Douglas County.
“Dr. Soder” is a name long associated with residents of the Umpqua Valley. Dr. Eric Soder recently retired after nearly four decades as a surgeon. Dr. David Soder is a periodontist with a 30-year practice in Roseburg.
Add to that Dr. Brent Soder, a general surgeon who arrived over the summer and officially joined CMG on Aug. 8.
And, yes, there’s a family connection. Eric Soder is Brent’s dad and David is his uncle. One of five siblings, Brent was born in Roseburg and started school here, but left at age 10 when the family moved to Kansas to be closer to his aging grandparents.
He earned his undergraduate degree from Furman University in South Carolina and completed medical school at the University of South Carolina-Charleston. That was followed by surgical training and a six-year residency at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
But when the chance came to move back to his childhood hometown, he was ready.
“About three years ago, some of the surgeons in town realized my dad couldn’t work forever, so they started planning for that,” says Brent Soder. “They got in touch with me and asked if I would be interested in coming back.”
Soder and his wife, Lauren, a former elementary school teacher, packed up their three small children (a fourth was expected in early September) and arrived in the Umpqua Valley in July after celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary on the road from Tennessee.
They have since settled in after finding a home in the Melrose area, and Soder started his new commute to work, just eight minutes from home.
“We wanted to move back to a small town,” he says. “My wife is from the South, but she grew up in a small town, too. The medical community here is great, and it’s an opportunity for me as a surgeon to work at one hospital, instead of several as many surgeons have to do.”
Mercy Medical Center, the parent of CMG, isn’t exactly unfamiliar turf for Soder, either. He’s already been recognized by veteran staffers, who remember him as a youngster occasionally trailing his dad around the hospital. And he’s met some of his dad’s former patients.
“It’s nice to be part of a community where the community knows you,” he says. “That’s something you don’t get in bigger cities.”
Soder also likes having his dad nearby, both for support and as a resource.
“I like that he’s been in the community for a long time,” Soder says. “He’s seen a lot of things and we’ve worked together some.”
Soder remembers hiking and trips to the Oregon coast he enjoyed when he lived in Roseburg as a child. He plans to revisit that with his own family but for now, he’s focused on getting his practice established locally — and with an eye toward the future.
“I’m planning to make my career here,” he says. “I want to settle here and be here for the rest of my career.”
FOUR MORE WHO CAME HOME
Growing up on a local ranch taught Guion Randol the value of work. But it couldn’t teach him everything.
“I had a strong desire to explore the world outside the Umpqua Valley,” he says.
He went to college in Seattle, took a job in San Francisco upon graduation, met his wife and traveled extensively. But after seeing some of the world, Randol was ready to settle down, and he knew just where.
Right back home.
“My wife and I wanted to start a family and become entrepreneurs,” Randol says. “I knew that the right place for us to do this was back in the Umpqua Valley.”
The entrepreneur part became Guion Randol Contracting Inc., a growing success story since 2006. For the rest of it, Randol knew what he was getting back into — an active community in a scenic setting. And best of all, family and friends nearby.
“People in the Umpqua Valley are amazing,” he says. “They are welcoming. They are generous. They are fun.”
A certified general appraiser for Northwest Farm Credit Services, Chad Gilbreath went to high school in Glide and felt the lure of exploring life outside the Umpqua Valley. At least, that’s what he planned to do after completing bachelor’s and master’s degree programs at Oregon State University.
But after working three summers as a forest firefighter and three more doing internships for timber companies around the Northwest, Gilbreath knew where he wanted to be.
“By the end of school, I really wanted to get back home,” says Gilbreath, who grew up helping on his family’s sheep and cattle ranch and enjoying the valley’s plentiful outdoor activities.
He turned down an engineering job offer and went to work for NWFCS in 2014, where he was trained to fill a vacant position in the company’s Roseburg office, where he has been since.
What’s keeping him? “My job, my family, the family ranch, and the unmatched rural beauty of the Umpqua Valley,” he says.
It might seem that Sarah Baumgartner, a communications representative for CHI Mercy Health, was destined to make the Umpqua Valley her home. Born in Lincoln City, her family moved to Roseburg when she was a toddler, then left when her father’s career took them elsewhere, including back to Roseburg, where she graduated high school.
Then she left again to attend college at the University of Portland. But chance brought her back again.
“I had two job opportunities,” she says. “One in Florida and one in Roseburg. The job in Roseburg was a better fit for my career goals and I appreciated the chance to be closer to my family.”
She’s never regretted the decision.
“This community runs on heart, hard work and positive connections,” she says. “I didn’t realize it in my 20s, but you build a foundation here as you grow, transfer jobs, build friendships and connect. It’s important to me and something I value. This community has taught me how significant a connection can be.”
Despite being a fourth-generation graduate of Roseburg High, Alex Palm saw himself becoming a big-city guy, and after college he and his wife, Amy, lived in Portland and Phoenix, Ariz.
“I think most 18-year-old kids who grow up in rural areas never foresee coming back once they leave,” says Palm, a civil engineer and principal at I.E. Engineering in downtown Roseburg.
The lure of the big city faded, however, with heavy traffic, overcrowding and a lack of community and outdoor recreation. The answer, Palm decided, was back in his hometown.
“The big thing that brought us back to Roseburg is Amy and I realized that we didn’t want to raise our kids in a big-city environment,” he says.
The Palms saw Roseburg as a place to enjoy the life they wanted.
“Quality of life is No. 1,” he says. “We simply couldn’t live the lifestyle we live here in Roseburg in a large city anywhere. Friends, family and also being truly part of the community are big factors, too.”