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Day: January 7, 2014

Remembering the lessons

Keizer Parks Supervisor Robert Johnson (right) discusses the placement of the community build play structure with former City Councilor Richard Walsh. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
Keizer Parks Supervisor Robert Johnson (right) discusses the placement of the community build play structure with former City Councilor Richard Walsh. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

In the midst of a busy time, Robert Johnson remembered lessons from his former boss and set a high goal.

Johnson, who officially took over as Keizer Parks and Facilities supervisor in October, held the position on an interim basis after his boss, Terry Witham, retired on June 6 after nearly 17 years with the city.

“As it got closer to his retirement date, the city asked if I wanted to be the supervisor on an interim basis,” Johnson said. “Of course I said yes. The challenging part was this was a new role, in the middle of our peak season. June through August is almost insane around here. It’s very busy, with a lot going on. Parks are in full swing, kids are out of school and you need to keep everything looking good. Everything is topped out.

“I wanted to do the absolute best I could to make it seem we were not one person short,” he added. “I had a great crew of seasonal help under me. That helped a lot. I just stayed focused on the task ahead. We did it, absolutely. I accomplished what I set out to do. I don’t think the public realized we were operating one man down. I put those lessons from Terry to work.”

Chief among those lessons: keeping his chin up.

“I told myself to remain positive through everything,” Johnson said. “Negativity doesn’t get anyone anywhere.”

Growing up, Johnson’s father had a landscape company before going to work for Marion County. Johnson, 29, developed an early love for the outdoors and plants, something that continues today.

While at South Salem High School, Johnson dabbled with architecture.

“I had plans to be an architect for a while,” he said. “But they’re in the office 99 percent of the time. I would have missed being in the field.”

Johnson went through Chemeketa Community College to take classes in subjects like horticulture, landscape design and irrigation.

“That was more focused on my interests,” he said.

After that, Johnson was a seasonal worker in the Salem Parks Department for three years, the last in the wetlands field.

“That was a nice refresher for me, instilling in me a big-picture career focus,” Johnson said. “It put a cap on it: that’s what I really enjoy. I was seeing the end of the tunnel.”

But this was in 2007, when things were changing.

“Jobs weren’t being filled,” Johnson said. “In the past, if you worked long enough as a seasonal worker, you’d get hired on.”

That’s when Johnson saw an opening for a municipal utility worker 1 position in Keizer. He was fine with the idea, especially since his wife Karli is from the city.

“I knew Keizer was not a bad place,” Johnson said. “I always felt Keizer was a unique city. There’s a good group of people here with good volunteers. The people in Keizer love the city and keep the extra effort to keep it going.”

Johnson applied for and got the job in November 2007. He was the second full-time parks employee, under Witham.

“Keizer had grown to where they needed a second full-time guy,” Johnson said. “I brought to the city a slightly different view on how they were operating, but I was still learning. Terry had 40 years. He’d worked at Oregon State University with plants, in Stayton, then Keizer. I felt very fortunate to come under his wing and to get some knowledge from a well-rounded guy.

“I also got to put my thoughts and ideas into place as a team with him,” Johnson added. “We worked great as a team. In Keizer, we faced some pretty good budget crunch years. We had to get creative with how to succeed with less.”

More services were added, particularly with aspects added to the Keizer Rapids Park that was opened in 2006. Witham and Johnson kept up on the 18 parks in Keizer, while increasing maintenance and amenities.

“It’s amazing how much work can get done when it has to get done,” Johnson said. “That’s one thing Terry taught me: work hard when you have to. When it’s go time, it’s go time. He was always encouraging me to stay focused and work hard.”

Johnson, father of 2-year-old daughter Kaelynn and a son on the way, looks forward to his old job being filled.

“It’s a working supervisor role,” he said. “I’m in the office as much as I need to be. But I try to get out as much as I can. Each day is different. Something I love about this job is it’s not routine at all. Each season and each year is different. I’m not sitting in the office eight hours a day.”

Bill Lawyer, Public Works director for Keizer, Don Shelton has been hired recently as the second parks employee. Shelton has been a temporary parks employee the past two years.

“He can walk right in and get to work,” Lawyer said of Shelton. “He’s a great guy. He really worked hard as a temp the last two years, being willing to do whatever we ask of him. This is good for Robert, because he has someone who is already trained.”

25 fields still working on project

The non-profit group 25 fields for Oregon has plans to build 25 soccer fields on property northeast of town, roughly across I-5 from Volcanoes Stadium. (Infographic by Andrew Jackson/KEIZERTIMES)
The non-profit group 25 fields for Oregon has plans to build 25 soccer fields on property northeast of town, roughly across I-5 from Volcanoes Stadium. (Infographic by Andrew Jackson/KEIZERTIMES)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

As envisioned more than a year ago, new soccer fields would be done by now in land near I-5 and Keizer Station.

Clearly, that hasn’t happened.

But Carrie Cool, executive director of 25 fields for Oregon, isn’t giving up quite yet.

Early last year Cool and others from her group attended several meetings in Keizer to drum up support for their plans to construct a 25-field, 130-acre youth park on 195 acres of land north of Chemawa Road, between I-5 and Portland Road.

The group met with the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board a couple of times early in 2013.

“It’s not a question of if, but when,” Cool said at one such meeting when asked if she believed the project would indeed happen. “We chose this place because of the location…It’s all about the conversation. This is huge for Oregon. We just need to keep this conversation going.”

Most recently the group kept the conversation going with a presentation to the Keizer City Council last April 1. During that meeting, councilor Jim Taylor said he liked the idea but pointed to what he expected to be a slow process ahead, especially in working with state leaders.

“Legislative action takes a long time,” Taylor said at the time. “I love this idea, but sometimes being a realist hurts.”

That has indeed proven to be the case.

The group had a booth during last May’s Keizer Iris Festival, but has largely been out of sight since.

Due to the prolonged silence, some were starting to wonder if that meant the project was done. Not so, according to Cool.

“We have been busy here at 25 fields for Oregon and happily always making progress,” Cool said in an e-mail Dec. 27. “We are definitely moving forward but this is a huge undertaking. That said, we are committed to the youth of Oregon and have every intention of seeing this through. There are just too many positives for the local community and the state when this facility opens, and no ‘real’ deterrents to making it happen.”

In a follow-up e-mail, Cool said plenty of work is being done behind the scenes.

“We have met with a number of individuals and groups in political offices,” Cool said. “With a very few isolated exceptions, people get what we’re trying to do and support the mission and vision of 25 fields for Oregon. It’s pretty simple, after all; we’re promoting children’s welfare and youth sports in the state of Oregon.”

Cool said fundraising and outreach are currently the emphasis for her group, including improvements to the group’s website (25fields.org).

“While we would love to provide a timeline (we actually could open in 2015 if all goes well), what’s most important is to keep making progress,” Cool said. “We have active supporters from the Salem/Keizer area, but how quickly we get to open will depend on the Oregon community as a whole.”