Former Mayor Craig Dirksen named Tigard's First Citizen
It wasn't any burning civic desire that drove Craig Dirksen into the Tigard political arena.
No, it was something as simple as a quest to build more soccer fields when his son was playing soccer in the mid-1980s (and he was a coach) that spurred him into action.
"For me, I kind of fell into politics, something I didn't have planned," said Dirksen, a former Tigard mayor and City Council member who was named this year's recipient of Tigard's First Citizen award last week.
Since he was a coach and later president of the Tigard Soccer Club (now Southside Soccer Club), he took the next logical step, appearing before the Tigard City Council to request more practice fields for what were then 110 soccer teams.
"And they didn't listen," Dirksen recalled. "They literally laughed me out of the room."
But Dirksen, now 65, persevered and before long the council appointed him to the Park and Recreation Advisory Board.
Again he pushed the council for more parks space but this time the council told him there wasn't enough money.
"I said, 'Prove it,' so they appointed me to the Budget Committee," said Dirksen, a 41-year Tigard resident and engineer by trade.
Long story short, Dirksen would eventually end up on that same council (and later mayor), and during his tenure Cook Park was expanded to accommodate more soccer fields.
In fact, by the time he was through with Tigard politics, parks acreage had been expanded from 280 acres to almost 600 acres.
Dirksen would go on to become the longest-serving mayor in Tigard's history, with a total of nine years, or 2 ½ terms, before he was elected to a seat on the Metro Council.
He said never wanted to give up serving Tigard's residents as mayor but term limits and a vacant seat on the Metro Council, the regional government that sets policy on such issues as urban growth planning and trash hauling services, along with overseeing such public entities as the Oregon Zoo, changed any future political plans he had to continue in elected Tigard politics.
"If I could still be mayor, I'd still be mayor," Dirksen said.
Dirksen represents District 3, which includes portions of Washington and Clackamas counties and the cities of Beaverton, Durham, King City, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville.
Still, before he relinquished his mayor's seat in December 2012, his devotion to creating city parks and practice fields was cemented with a reward. When he attended his final council meeting, a decision had been made that he wasn't aware of and didn't know about until he read the words,
"Dirksen Nature Park," etched in icing on his farewell cake.
He was moved.
"I may have cried a little bit," he recalled.
During his tenure with the city and through today, Dirksen has always been a strong advocate for local transportation issues.
He's a long-time supporter for the inclusion of a Barbur Boulevard/Pacific Highway corridor, a route that MAX light rail is expected to follow, and was co-chair of the Yes for Tigard Campaign, a 2016 ballot measure that allowed the city of Tigard to put its official support behind planning efforts to bring a light rail line to the city.
He currently serves on both the Southwest Corridor Steering Committee and is chairman of the 17-member Metro Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, which is the transportation advisory committee to Metro. (Dirksen pointed out that while some residents may think Metro is mostly an entity representing the interests of Portland, only two of the seven councilors actually live in Portland.)
Another one of his larger transportation accomplishments was overseeing the spending of about $25 million in Pacific Highway improvements.
Meanwhile, Dirksen said he was equally proud of are the fact he was on council when a construction bond was sent to voters to build a new city library. He said an audit conducted prior to the bond measure showed that for every tax dollar going to support the library, the citizens of Tigard were getting $8 worth of value.
To drive home the point of what the city was envisioning for its library, he remembers the construction of a scale model of the proposed library, adding, "we dragged it everywhere."
When all was said and done, voters approved the library bond, expanding the former library space (housed where the Community Planning Division is now) from 14,000 square feet to 47,000 square feet.
"It's a really nice library for the city of its size," he said of the facility that opened in 2004.
Meanwhile, Dirksen said he was pleased and surprised to be named Tigard's First Citizen, an annual award presented in honor of the late John E. Cook by the Tigard Chamber of Commerce. The accolade is given to an individual who excels in unpaid pursuit of education, social services, youth work and community improvement of public services.
"It came out of nowhere," Dirksen said of the award. "It's a big honor to be recognized."
Current Mayor John Cook, who nominated Dirksen for the award, said he was deserving of it.
"When the Chamber announces that nominations are open, I always look the names of past recipients and ask myself, 'Who isn't there that should be?'" said Cook. "There was no question that Craig Dirksen's love of, and service to, this city has earned him the right to be among Tigard's list of First Citizens."
Dirksen said he has no further political ambitions.
"When I'm done at Metro, I'm done," he said about not seeking a seat on the Oregon Legislature. "The thing I like about local politics is it's non-partisan."
And he plans on staying in Tigard.
"It's just such a great place to live," he said. "It's really the people who live here is what makes Tigard unique."
Dirksen will be honored — along with the 2018 Tigard Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year: SERVPRO Tigard/Tualatin and SERVPRO of Beaverton, and others — at the annual Tigard's 2018 Shining Stars Community Awards Gala on April 27, from 5:30 to 9 p.m., at the Embassy Suites, Washington Square.