Toshiko Challinor plays bridge at the Southern Oregon Bridge Center in Phoenix Wednesday. - Jamie Lusch

This opening bid is a grand slam

PHOENIX — During her 40-year career as an occupational therapist, Leah McKechnie relegated her passion for the game of bridge to whatever spare time she managed to find.

Now the Medford woman has turned things upside down. Bridge has become her work — as well as her fun — while she slips in gigs as an occupational therapist in her spare time.

McKechnie and her husband, Mark, recently leased a 3,000-square-foot space in the Pacific Plaza building, 4149 S. Pacific Highway, Phoenix, and opened it as the Southern Oregon Bridge Center.

"I am still flying high," McKechnie said. "The support is unbelievable."

There's room for 30 tables of bridge, an office, storage space, restrooms and an area for snacks and beverages.

Opening the new center was an endeavor involving many in the bridge community. One member helped negotiate the lease. Other members helped paint. Some donated or loaned equipment and a computer.

Even the art on the walls came from members. Quilts on loan from Cindy Barnard and Gee Gee Walker hang on the walls, providing color and helping to dampen noise. Dan Voorhies and Marjorie Stober loaned art to add to the decor.

The owner of the building made modifications to the space, removing a large raised area in the front, adding ramps, and installing plumbing to accommodate beverage and food service.

Unit 484, the governing body of bridge in the area under the auspices of the American Contract Bridge League, or ACBL, bought electronic scoring machines for the center and purchased some chairs. The facility will serve as a center for ACBL-sanctioned games and sectional tournaments.

There are about 300 active players in local clubs in the immediate area. The bridge center also draws players from Grants Pass, Northern California and Klamath Falls.

At sectionals, players will come to the bridge center from all over the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Nevada and Idaho.

McKechnie had been operating clubs on Monday nights in Ashland, Wednesdays in Medford and most recently on Tuesdays in Talent. All those clubs have relocated to the new bridge center.

"We have been looking for a suitable building for several years. We wanted a location that was convenient for people coming from all over Jackson County," she said.

The center is open four days a week, with daytime games played at 12:30 p.m.

There's also a game for beginners and newcomers at 9:30 a.m. Tuesdays, with the help of member and bridge teacher Jerry Kenefick. There is a mentor game on Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. in which experienced Life Masters play with newer players. Bidding and play of the hands are analyzed after each round.

The new center also is the site for bridge classes. Dan Voorhies teaches the two-over-one game force system on Wednesday mornings. And Bob Fox instructs intermediates on Thursday afternoons at 1:30.

"We make the space available free for those who want to teach classes," McKechnie said.

McKechnie is the owner of her three clubs, but her husband, with whom she leases the building, helps considerably.

"It takes both of us to pull it off," she said.

Players have expressed their delight with having a new center dedicated to bridge.

"I think it's great to have one location for all the clubs," said Rebecca Ostrom of Ashland. "There's a different atmosphere playing in a space that's just for us. We don't feel like we're camping out temporarily in somebody else's building."

Gee Gee Walker of Medford agrees.

"Players feel a certain sense of ownership," she said. "The owners have done a great job of creating a place where we can all feel at home."

Bob Scott of Ashland had a different take.

"I'm a lazy guy. So I love the fact that we don't have to put away the tables and chairs after every game," he laughed.

For more information, call McKechnie at 541-261-6321 or see the unit's website at

Jim Flint is a retired newspaper publisher and editor. He and his wife retired to Ashland a year ago from Central Washington state.

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