Paul Hennon calls it a career after 30 years as a steward of Tualatin
After 30 years with the city of Tualatin — overseeing everything from the construction of the city's library to the physical moving of the Tualatin Heritage Center down the street to helping to acquire land for future parks — Paul Hennon will step down as the city's community services director at the end of May.
Throughout his tenure, Hennon oversaw the Parks and Recreation Department as well as the Juanita Pohl Center and the Tualatin Public Library.
"It's hard to decide to retire because the work is very satisfying," he said during a recent interview.
Hennon, 63, said it's difficult to single out one accomplishment as the highlight of his career in Tualatin. Rather, it's a variety of smaller things.
While the library is the single largest and most complicated project he's dealt with over the years, he's equally proud of helping acquire the land and building parks such as Atfalati Park, Brown's Ferry Park, Ibach Park and Jurgens Park.
Thanks in large part to his efforts, today the city boosts eight parks, 10 greenways and 10 natural areas.
Just how much residents appreciate his efforts in acquiring those spaces was driven home recently when he attended a Meals on Wheels People luncheon at the Juanita Pohl Center where he was recognized along with volunteers in the community.
"As I was leaving, a woman who is a Tualatin resident congratulated me on retiring and thanked me for development of Ibach Park (that opened in 1996)," he recalled. "She remembered that we met back then since she was one of the adjoining property owners who we consulted with during the park design phase. She thanked me for having addressed her concerns in the design and ongoing maintenance of Ibach Park and its natural area, as well as for having created a play area that her grandchild loves."
While he wasn't working for the city when the Tualatin Crawfish Festival was created in the 1950s, he was around for the creation of two subsequent festivals: the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta and the Blender Dash.
"The regatta has been going on since the '90s," he said, noting that the event recently was included in the "Lonely Planet" travel guide in its book "Secret Marvels of the World: 360 Extraordinary Places You Never Knew Existed and How to Find Them."
Hennon said the city views all its events as a way of bringing people together.
While the regatta is a huge draw for the city and the local economy, the now-3-year-old Blender Dash attracted 300 young people to Tualatin Community Park its first year. That number increased to 800 participants last year.
"The purpose is to get children to exercise," Hennon said. "It has a color run (with biodegradable cornstarch covering participants by the time they finish), obstacle courses. It's got mud; they're climbing through mud. They're going through an area where there's zombies and Sasquatches."
Regarding the latter creature, Tualatin may be one of the few cities that actually owns a Sasquatch outfit after finding out it was cheaper to buy the outfit than to continually rent it.
"Last year, I was Sasquatch and … before that I was a zombie," he said. "I think it's a blast. I had fun interacting with the kids."
Still, Hennon gives credit to his department of 40 full-time employees and about 40 temporary employees for getting the work done, a group he said he'll miss.
"Nobody does anything themselves," he said. "It's a collaborative effort."
Hennon also points to the 2005 move of the Tualatin Historical Society, housed in the old Methodist church, from it former home on Boone's Ferry Road to its current location at 8700 S.W. Sweek Drive, as a huge achievement for the city.
Another example of something he's pleased to have had helped out with is the expansion of the Juanita Pohl Center — no less than two times — something accomplished through federal block grants.
"In the big picture, when I walk around, I like that we've helped support older adults," he said.
Hennon also has overseen construction of the Tualatin River Greenway Trail, a long-term project that includes a riparian area along with a bike and pedestrian access along the south bank of the Tualatin River. It includes the Ki-A-Kuts bicycle and pedestrian bridge, named after a leader of the Afaliti tribe of Native Americans, which spans the Tualatin River at the north end of Tualatin Community Park and then connects to parks and trails in Tualatin along with the cities of Durham and Tigard. For the future, he sees future tourism elements tied to the trail.
"It was a really cool example of regional collaboration," Hennon pointed out. "The newest sequent of the trail runs from Barngrover Way (behind the Tualatin Public Library) goes under Interstate 5 to Nyberg Lane, and includes interpretive elements of the cataclysmic floods that occurred at the end of the last ice age, including a cast of mastodon tracks (and) giant ground sloths."
"Just to be engaged to make something happen, that's not run of the mill," he pointed out. "I mean I got a great job that I get to work on all this stuff."
More recently, Hennon was awarded an Oregon Community Trees award during the city's Celebrating Arbor Day and Trees, an event that included 170 volunteers who planted and mulched 950 native trees and shrubs along the Tualatin River Greenway Trail. He said he was humbled by the award.
"I'm delighted by it," he said. "To me, it's a group I respect a lot."
For the last 31 years, Tualatin has had the distinction of being named a Tree City USA. "What that means is we're following best practices," he said. "We've done good for the community. We've done good for wildlife, which does good for trees."
As part of his retirement — his wife will retire two weeks before he does — he hopes to spend time with family and friends, doing volunteer work, exercising, traveling (he owns a funky 1986 white, pop-top Volkswagen Vanagon) and likely engaging in some political activism thrown in for good measure.
"I plan on learning how to play bridge and hanging out with my mom," he added.
Other hobbies he expects will keep him busy include biking, kayaking and running.
City Manager Sherilyn Lombos praised Hennon's tenure with the city, noting his fingerprints can be found everywhere in Tualatin.
"From the parks to the trails to the wetlands to the tree canopy to the bike lanes to facilities such as the library to art and culture and programs and special events, and I could go on and on," Lombos said. "Paul has invested himself in this community and has made an incredible impact on the built environment, but also on the community relationships."
She called him a tireless advocate for partnerships with countless jurisdictions as well as developers and community groups.
"Paul truly believes as is passionate about the fact that parks and recreation create a community fabric," said Lombos. "He has been a solid, really amazing influence in Tualatin and it's really hard to imagine life post-Paul Hennon retirement."
Mayor Lou Ogden is equally enthusiastic about the time Hennon spent working for the city, saying the city is blessed with its award-winning parks and natural areas, the result of voter support and collaborations with a variety of jurisdictions.
Ogden said the city owes Hennon a huge debt of gratitude "for having chosen Tualatin as the place to dedicate his illustrious career."
"Paul Hennon has been the mastermind, the ambassador, the field general, and the overall catalyst enabling all these successes to be realized in our community," said Ogden.