By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
On Jan. 5, Cathy Clark takes over as Keizer’s new mayor.
Clark is a longtime educator and a lifetime learner who is always eager to learn something new.
Those who know basics about Clark or have watched her serve for the last eight years on the Keizer City Council may not be surprised by that.
Probably fewer people know Clark has taught Sunday School for 25 years, mainly at the kindergarten or elementary level.
The mom of four never has trouble remembering her anniversary to husband Kevin: they got married in December 1982, just weeks after Keizer was officially incorporated as a city. Kevin is a retired firefighter with the Marion County Fire District who is currently deputy chief at West Valley Fire District.
If you need to talk about Star Trek with someone, you can meet Clark during one of her Coffee With Cathy monthly meetings and chat away.
“I’m a diehard, long-term, hard-core Trekkie,” Clark said this week with a laugh. “I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I was 12. Am I a nerd? Yes, and proud of it. I’ve been a nerd all my life.”
Clark was born in Los Angeles, fitting since her parents met at UCLA. Her dad was an electrical engineer who also had a furniture business his mom had started.
“I grew up around engineering and aerospace,” said Clark, who went to college at University of California Davis to study wildlife and fisheries biology.
Clark originally wanted to go to vet school, then changed plans. She did graduate work at Kansas State University, studying parasitology, or fish parasites.
“KSU was one of the schools with the grad programs and also had grad teaching positions to pay the bills. For three years I was a TA (teaching assistant),” she said.
Clark can still remember two students she had in one class.
“My third year, I had a father and son in my class,” she said. “Dad decided it was his turn to get his degree. Father got an A, while son got a C.”
The teaching bug had bitten Clark early.
“I started tutoring in high school,” she said. “It was a peer tutoring program. It was for the more nerdy types to help other kids with their homework.”
After getting her masters at KSU, Clark met an Oregon State University professor and thus moved to Corvallis to work at the vet medicine school. She did testing on large animals and worked on liver flukes.
“I did some interesting research,” Clark said. “I organized a symposia for parasitology. Some of the technology allowing us the understanding of the stuff was just getting underway. It was amazing to hear about it. It was a great opportunity.”
A few months after moving to Oregon, Clark met Kevin in church. While the first date on the road to marriage is often seen as the memorable one, for the Clarks the second date holds that honor.
“We went to a sweetheart banquet for firefighters,” Clark recalled with laughter. “It sounded like fun. I found the station on Cordon Road, where he was working. I get there and he’s not there, because he’s on a call. I followed him to the Chumaree (now Red Lion). His driver also had a date. I spent more time with the driver’s date than with him. He got one call after another all night. I had to drive back to Corvallis, so I said goodbye and left. When I left, he said, ‘I blew it.’ He showed up to church the next day and took me out to make up for it. We told the story the next year at the banquet.”
After a year of dating the two got married and lived together in Corvallis. By 1989 the couple had two children and a crowded home. Her job at OSU had ended and he was commuting to Salem each day, so moving to the Salem area was only logical.
“I told him where’s the place to live up there?” Clark said. “He said either West Salem or Keizer. We looked at different properties. As soon as we walked into the Keizer house, it was home. We knew we were home.”
Clark found that her children – Emilene, Alex, Allison and Alana – had a great childhood in Keizer.
“What I love about our neighborhood is we all spent time together. It was a whole group of kids that grew up together,” she said.
When one neighbor was burning brush in the backyard, Clark went to find a solution. She ended up on a city task force with Jerry McGee, referred to as one of Keizer’s founding fathers.
“I watched how he problem solved and brought people together,” Clark said. “To take care of yard debris, you bring in garbage haulers. He brought all of these people together. I learned so much from that experience.”
Clark homeschooled her children, so her next involvement was with community policing since truancy and day curfews were a hot topic for homeschool families in the mid-1990s.
“Law enforcement was getting aggressive about enforcing truancy rules,” Clark said. “When I heard it come up here, I got involved. Through that process I met Jacque Moir and got involved with the budget.”
Clark was the only audience member at budget meetings and was thus appointed to the budget committee the next year.
In 2004 Mike Gaynor talked to Clark about taking over his council seat.
“I was interested and knew it would be a tremendous opportunity. But the kids were too young,” said Clark, whose oldest child didn’t graduate from high school until 2005. “I knew if I was going to do it, I had to be all in. It was too soon.”
Two years later Moir approached Clark with the same conversation. By then Clark had two children either done with high school or almost done, so the timing was better. She was elected and joined council in 2007.
“That was a tremendous year,” Clark said. “That was the year I turned 50. I liken it to the year of Jubilee. In the Old Testament, it’s like a reset. It’s a year of celebration, embracing change. It was a tremendous growing opportunity. I was working part-time in Salem and my husband retired from the fire department in 2007. A lot of changes happened about the same time. It was a phenomenal opportunity to learn about myself and how to serve. I learned what it was like to serve the community.”
Clark had attended council meetings, but found Jim Taylor’s football analogy spot on.
“It’s like watching a football game and then playing in it,” Clark said. “Once you’re on the field, it’s a whole different perspective. I had to listen more deeply (once on council). I had to slow down and listen. I practice that. I try to listen deeply enough to get to the nugget. If I listen well enough and long enough, there is a nugget where we’ll be able to connect. That’s not by nature for me, that’s by practice.”
When Clark decided to run for mayor this year, she started the Coffee with Cathy series, meeting constituents at different coffee shops around Keizer.
“I engaged in wide-ranging conversations,” she said. “We would work through ideas. I have a notebook (an inch) thick. I have ideas written down, with names and dates.”
Clark is finalizing a schedule for such monthly meetings in 2015. Fliers with the information will be available at Keizer Civic Center.
“If you want to talk, come talk to me,” she said. “I will have my notebook with pen. Coffee will be optional.”
Clark calls her faith part of her DNA. She started singing in church choir in second grade and is currently on the worship team at Countryside Christian Church in Keizer.
“I was baptized when I was 19,” she said. “Serving the Lord is the foundation of who I am. I look at what I do in the community as my ministry. It’s what I do in my service to others. I share my blessings with other people. In turn, I’ve been blessed far more.”