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A stitch and time saves flags

Debbie Lockhart, deputy city recorder with the city of Keizer, looks over a city flag to repair. She has been doing such work for about three years. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
Debbie Lockhart, deputy city recorder with the city of Keizer, looks over a city flag to repair. She has been doing such work for about three years. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

Debbie Lockhart has a great view of her handiwork.

For the last few years, the deputy city recorder for Keizer has been volunteering her time to mend flags as needed at the Keizer Civic Center.

Three flags fly over the main entrance at 930 Chemawa Road North: United States, the state and the city. Since there are lights underneath, the flags can stay up 24 hours a day. Lockhart can see the flags out her window.

Given the variation in Oregon weather, that means the flags can be subject to a fair amount of rain and wind throughout the year.

When Dan Collingham started as the city’s facility maintenance worker about three years ago, Lockhart ran her idea to repair flags as needed by him. Collingham agreed; in the time since Lockhart estimates she has done 10 repair jobs. With flags costing an estimated $60 each, that means the longtime city employee has saved taxpayers approximately $600 so far.

“I like making things last,” said Lockhart, who started working for the city in 2002.

Related to that, Lockhart does the repairs on her 1962 sewing machine she was given in the seventh grade.

Needed repairs are brought to Lockhart’s attention by Collingham.

“I check the flags on a regular basis, especially after a hard rain,” he said. “I’ll take them down if it’s going to be really windy or wet. Otherwise we keep the flags up all the time.”

With the flags in hand, Lockhart goes home and gets to work.

“I take them home and lay them out on the floor,” she said. “I look to see how they are. Some of them get damaged on the whole edge, so I need to cut the whole edge off. If the corners go back a way, I might make it rounded or cut as far as the damage goes. I’ve tried several different ways.”

Experience has taught Lockhart that folding back material twice and sewing on new thread lasts the longest, though it is harder with American flags since two folds means 12 layers of fabric to sew through.

“If you only fold once, (damage) comes back too fast,” Lockhart said. “We’re getting heavier fabric American flags these days, with double the fabric thickness. They cost us about $10 more, but they don’t need the repairs as often because of the stronger fabric.”

Lockhart works on the flags at city hall – which she can see out of her window – as well as the flags at Keizer Focal Point (at the corner of Chemawa and River Road) and the flags at the Pfc. Ryan J. Hill Memorial Park at Keizer Station. She does not work on the flags at Keizer Heritage Center.

Once she has assessed the situation, it doesn’t take long for Lockhart to get the job done.

“I would say it takes maybe 30 minutes,” she said. “It’s my own time and material. It just takes thread. The thread lasts a long time.”

Just how long the thread lasts is hard to estimate.

“It really depends on the weather,” Lockhart said. “Weather is so hard on the flags.”

Collingham noted American flags have to be kept a certain minimum size, meaning they can’t be repaired as often. He also pointed out Oregon is the only state with a two-sided flag.

Collingham said the American flags at the civic center cost $77.50, while the state flags are $161 each.

Flags at the focal point are smaller in size and are thus cheaper.

Lockhart said no measurements are done with the city and state flags.

“When they start to look too short, we eyeball it,” she said. “With the Keizer one, I told Dan last time the whole logo isn’t showing up well. By that time, the fabric is getting old. If we keep taking a little bit off, the flag is at end of its life anyway.”

Keizer City Manager Chris Eppley learned about Lockhart’s work earlier this month and was impressed with her willingness to volunteer her time and ability.

“She’s able to extend the life span of a flag by about three to four times,” Eppley said. “She just does them because she doesn’t like for the city to spend more money than necessary. I never cease to be amazed at the caliber of people we have here.”

Lockhart figures she’s just doing her job.

“Our most responsible way to serve the taxpayers is everyone working hard,” she said. “There are a lot of smaller cities with more employees. What do they do? This is the best job I’ve ever had. Everyone is happy working here. Everyone is happy because we are all very busy. I’d more rather have that than think, ‘What will I do today?’”