'The way I am is through trial by fire'
Lake Oswego City Council candidate Aaron Rapf may have persevered through challenges when he was younger, but instead of letting things drag him down, he used those tough life circumstances to propel him forward.
Whether it was suffering from the effects of Kawasaki's Disease as a young child — a rare condition causing inflammation in the walls of some blood vessels — or experiencing a life turned upside down by economic hardship, Rapf said his life experiences taught him discipline and routine, a work ethic and how to manage money.
"Nothing's ever given; everything has to be earned," he said.
Though Rapf has had many experiences that have shaped him into the man he is today, nothing in his studies or career directly led him to seek a spot on the Lake Oswego City Council.
Rapf refers to himself more as a "reluctant politician."
He's served on the Lake Oswego Budget Committee for the last four years because he saw the benefit of bringing the expertise and skills from managing budgets in a corporate environment to try and help the city.
Similarly, that's how he got started in running for a seat on the City Council.
Several people in the community saw a particular skill set in him and that he "had a broad perspective — both personally and professional — and that I should consider helping out more in a larger capacity," said Rapf, adding that running for council was never a career aspiration, but more of a drive to help move the city forward in years to come.
"There was no real pre-meditation to it," he said. "There was an opportunity to help the city more and the people around me on the budget committee and the current City Council saw my approach to budgeting and prioritizing spending was something our City Council needed to focus on for the future of Lake Oswego."
Scott Havens, chair of the Lake Oswego Budget Committee, said Rapf would make a good city councilor because of his decision-making ability and his skill set.
"He has a great business acumen. It's nice to see because it's important to have people that have decision-making capabilities and business skills on a budget committee. He asks really good questions honestly and kind of makes the rest of us think, which is important," Havens said. "He seems to be a 'sponge' for information and is able to assimilate it quickly and determine the best course of action. I think that will serve the community of Lake Oswego well."
Rapf first lived in Lake Oswego from about nine months old to when he was 3 years old, and said his upbringing was not easy.
After an incident at work forced his father — who was a contractor and built low-income housing in Portland — out of business, Rapf said he went from living a very comfortable life "to literally having nothing."
His father could no longer afford their fixer-upper home in Lake Oswego and had to relocate to Raleigh Hills.
"It was tough," Rapf said. "The way I am is through trial by fire."
Rapf said his father then decided to take interest in the stock market and learned to be a stockbroker — going from builder to banker.
Both of his parents worked full-time and Rapf remembers being enrolled in after-school classes along with his sister. He has been taking Spanish classes since third grade.
He continued taking advanced Spanish in high school and was involved in an exchange program where he lived in Mexico City with a host family for several weeks.
"I grew very comfortable with the Spanish language and the culture from living there, and it was something I was good at and understood, so when an opportunity arose in college, 'What do I study?,' it was a broad skill set — a lot of economics, lot of political science, lot of language but also I was in love with the culture," Rapf said.
He said it was important for him to learn and experience the beauty of other cultures — something he and his wife try to instill in their two children. Rapf said when they take sabbaticals, his family tries to go abroad. For example, they've traveled to France for six weeks at a time, and to Spain for six weeks to continue the tradition and give their children an opportunity to embrace other cultures.
Rapf graduated from Willamette University with a bachelor's degree in international studies and a master's degree in brand marketing and statistical analysis.
"I always joke it's two different sides of the brain, but for me it works out just fine," Rapf said.
After college, Rapf took a job at Nike and has been with the company for the last 17 years. He's now the director of brand integration, responsible for making sure athletes are used in brand campaigns.
Rapf said his father attributes his determination and drive to stay busy to the traumatic experience of almost dying in the hospital due to the heart disease he was diagnosed with when he was young. Thankfully, Rapf said, he's had no issues with it since then.
Rapf said he's always been conscientious with money, making sure he gets the most out of every dollar he earns.
Rapf started collecting cans and mowing lawns to earn funds when he was a child and when he was 13, he received his first real job as a janitor at a tennis club. In high school, instead of attending basketball games with his friends, he worked at the coffee stand during the games.
"I've always worked," said Rapf, adding that during his professional career he's only worked for Nike.
Rapf said he and his family moved to Lake Oswego 10 years ago for the schools, the safe neighborhoods and the community.
After he and his wife sold their first home in Beaverton, they put every penny they had into the house they purchased in Lake Oswego.
"We were eating Top Ramen for a couple years after that," he said. "We did that and I want to try to help more young families do that."
Rapf said he wants more housing options in the city so younger families can move to town, while also protecting seniors and those on fixed incomes already residing in the city.
"When I was asked to run for City Council, one of the ways that I got convinced to do it was I wanted to help create or build on the Lake Oswego we have now for my kids to inherit someday," Rapf said. "I'm not just about Lake Oswego now, I'm more about Lake Oswego in years to come."
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