City thanks volunteers with barbecue bash
Some gavel meetings. Others gather neighbors. And many just want to garden.
But no matter how they get their hands dirty, the attendees at a thank-you barbecue gathering on Tuesday, July 11, had one thing in common: They're all unpaid volunteers.
"We all serve together in a community called Gresham," Mayor Shane Bemis told the crowd, "and I can't think of a community with a better sense of community service."
Roughly 200 volunteers congregated at the Coho Pavilion at Main City Park, 219 S. Main Ave., to chow down on hot dogs and hamburgers "with all the fixings," said city coordinator Joe Walsh.
Volunteers have donated at least 20,000 hours in the past 12 months, an administrative assistant noted. During his speech, Bemis said that's more than double the time volunteers gave a decade ago.
"The city is on the rise," Bemis continued.
Marianne Ott, a 91-year-old who taught French at Gresham High School when Bemis was a student there, was the guest of honor. She received a houseplant and commemorative certificate honoring her 26 years of consecutive service on the Gresham Art Committee.
The rumor is she's finally retiring from public life, though no one at City Hall truly believes it.
Volunteers of all kinds were in attendance, including those that lead neighborhood associations, sit on important advisory committees and keep nearby Tsuru Island, Gresham's Japanese garden, meticulously maintained.
"The mayor called it a gem in the city. (Tsuru Island) changed the face of Main City Park," commented volunteer Jim Card, a Damascus resident who directs work in the garden.
Tsuru (the first letter is silent, and the word itself means crane) needs constant upkeep — weeding, planting, sweeping, raking and repairing the bamboo fences, to name a few tasks.
Vandalism also is a concern. After The Outlook reported on a stolen bench and broken fencing in October, one generous reader donated $500, Card said.
"If we can learn why the vandalism is happening, maybe it can be overcome," he added.
Ricki Ruiz, a 22-year-old Rockwood advocate who won election to the Reynolds School Board earlier this year, said he came to the celebratory banquet "just for fun."
"It's always good to talk to people who volunteer in the community and appreciate them for what they do," he remarked.
Stephen Butler, who chairs Gresham's Planning Commission, said when new construction is proposed, part of his unpaid job is to compare a landowner's vision with the city's written plans.
Right now he's focused on Rockwood Rising, a three-building development planned near the "Mohawk" MAX stop, and the changes proposed for Gresham's civic neighborhood. He's also anticipating a new subdivision in Pleasant Valley, which has attracted some heat recently.
"If a community can't sustain itself financially, it's going to die," he said. "But you have to balance that with livability."
Jim Buck is president of the Gresham Butte neighborhood association, though he also chairs the city's urban forestry subcommittee. The neighborhood has been working together to improve its local trail network by adding better signage for bicyclists. Now there's also talk of installing a park bench.
"When you volunteer, you're working elbow to elbow with people who are really good-hearted," he explained. "I really believe in that sense of reciprocity."