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The City of Prineville has made great strides under Betty Roppe's two terms as mayor

JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe poses for a photo in the City Council Chambers holding an American flag given to her by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.

It's Wednesday during the first week of December, and Betty Roppe is hauling boxes of her belongings from her city hall office to her car.

Her mayoral term doesn't conclude until the end of the month, but she is already making room for Steve Uffelman, who will occupy her seat on the council and her office space when the calendar flips to January.

The office, which has typically featured news clippings and pictures from her eight years as Prineville mayor, has been reduced to just a few, and other framed photos of family have been taken off of the walls.

Roppe ventures out into the city hall lobby where a folded American flag in a triangle-shaped wooden frame hangs on the wall. It was given to her the last time Sen. Jeff Merkley held a town hall forum in Prineville, a retirement gift for her years of service to the City of Prineville. She took it off the wall, with plans to display it somewhere in her home.

While her actions might suggest that Roppe is eager to relinquish her duties as mayor, her words suggest otherwise.

"I have loved every single minute of doing this," she says of her time on the city council, eight as mayor and six more as a city councilor. "I wish I had gotten involved sooner."

But time marches on, and with her 80th birthday nearing and her husband, Jim, now 85, Roppe has decided it is time to step aside from the demands of holding the mayoral office. The meetings, committee assignments and other responsibilities associated with leading the Prineville City Council have kept her out of the house more often than she or her husband would like.

But her interest in city projects hasn't waned. During her years on the council, Roppe has discovered that once one project is complete, another one awaits. For example, the Crooked River Wetlands Complex, a long-awaited project, was completed in 2017, and now work is under way on a hydroelectric power plant on Bowman Dam. That project could take several years to reach fruition.

So Roppe plans to stay involved in a citizen role. She intends to serve on the city's downtown restoration committee, its Barnes Butte committee, the Ochoco Forest Restoration Collaborative and perhaps Oregon's Regional Solutions Team.

"There are many things I can do to keep my fingers in the pie as a citizen," she remarks.

Roppe grew up in Eastern Oregon, living in Seneca and attending high school in John Day. Though she didn't live in Prineville, it became home early on as she found herself visiting often. The high school band trips in particular stand out. A flutist, her band would compete in Prineville against high schools in Burns, Madras and Crook County.

"We would stay in the old Ochoco Inn," she remembers, "so Prineville has always been home to me."

Later, after starting a family, she lived at Rager for a few years and traveled into Prineville to take advantage of the community's amenities.

However, she didn't stay, and she moved to the Willamette Valley where she and her husband opened health foods stores in Monmouth and Dallas. The couple later had to close the stores, and Roppe found work as a clinic administrator at a medical facility in Monmouth.

She held the job for about 13 years but decided to return to Crook County and found a home in Powell Butte. There, she benefited from a job opening in the same medical field and once again took a job as a clinic administrator in Prineville.

Another dozen years passed, and her husband decided to retire. She decided to join him in retirement, figuring the two of them could keep busy traveling.

"But I found out Jim doesn't like to travel," she said. "So I was beside myself not knowing what to do."

It turned out city council would fill the void.

The couple had recently moved from Powell Butte into Prineville, and Roppe came across an ad seeking people to fill a recently vacated city council position.

"I thought, 'There I go. I can do that. That will help me keep busy,'" she said.

Roppe entered a pool of three candidates that April to fill the position for the remainder of the 2003 calendar year. She interviewed for the appointed position, but Gordon Gillespie was chosen.

Though Roppe wasn't their first choice at that time, the interview panel insisted she and the other applicant not give up on joining the council.

"They pleaded that we all please run for a position in November," she said.

So she did. And she was elected to a governing body on which she would serve for the next 14 years.

Roppe says she holds some strong opinions about what the community needs and what areas most deserved her focus during her time in city service. Her top priorities as she stepped into mayor role eight years ago included the creation of living wage jobs, ensuring the community had enough water supply to meet future demands, improving education, and making sure Crook County had enough physicians to meet local medical needs.

She contends that taking care of those needs would spur more of Prineville's youth to either stay and work in the community after high school or return after receiving a secondary education.

Those strong opinions have driven her to continually pursue city projects during her tenure as councilor and then mayor. As she puts it, once she decides to get involved in something, she jumps in with both feet.

While that is true, she goes on to stress that she has tried to keep an open mind and listen to and respond to the concerns that her constituents have raised.

Given the chance, Roppe raves about her fellow councilors and a city staff she believes does exemplary work. Not surprisingly, as she empties her office and takes some of her belongings down from the city hall lobby, she shares a few laughs with city hall employees.

On Dec. 31, her final term will conclude. A new mayor will run the council meetings, participate intimately with municipal projects, and spend office time at city hall.

"I am going to miss it something fierce," Roppe concludes.

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