Making the community better

Randy Curtis has been named the 2016 Citizen of the Year

Randy Curtis

When Randy Curtis first moved to Camas in 2009, he couldn’t have predicted that he would end up receiving one of the community’s top honors.

Yet, just seven years later, that is exactly what has happened.

The Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce has named Curtis, 69, its Citizen of the Year.

“Though relatively new to the community, Randy understands the deeper history of the adjoining communities, and works to support the future of both just as if he were an old-timer,” stated his nomination letter.

Citizen of the Year is an award Curtis doesn’t take lightly. He’s humbled as he recognizes those who have come before him. He mentions past winners Nan Henriksen, Verla Jonason, Virginia Warren, Norm Paulson, Carrie Schulstad and Rene Carroll.

“I am still trying to absorb what it means,” he said. “I have had the privilege of knowing and working with several of the past Citizens of the Year. I have always felt that the honor is very special. I’m not sure I can adequately come up with the words that describe how important it is when you get that award, especially when it comes from both communities.”

Curtis is described as a volunteer who “sees that no lines or barriers need to exist between our two towns, and is supportive and active in both,” in the nomination letter submitted by Carroll of the Downtown Washougal Association; Cassi Marshall of the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission; Caroline Mercury, Downtown Camas Association board president; Schulstad, DCA director; and Dawn Tarzian, former Washougal School District superintendent.

Curtis has proven that statement true through his volunteer work that has included serving on the Camas Community Center Development Committee, the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission and the Downtown Camas Association, as well as on Washougal School District committees and assisting the Downtown Washougal Association.

Curtis, now retired after a career spent working as a county government administrator and consultant, said it’s his volunteer work that has some of the greatest impacts on his life.

“Working as a volunteer creates a different relationship with the people you are working with, versus being a paid consultant,” he said. “I am at a point where I can make those choices. I would much rather work with people on a peer level as a volunteer, than as the hired gun, or the consultant. The expectations and the relationships are a lot different.”

Curtis, originally from the Midwest, moved to Salem, Oregon, with his family in 1958 when his dad was offered a job in the Pacific Northwest. After graduating from Oregon State University in Corvallis, a job opportunity took him back to Salem.

He began his career in 1969 as a land-use planner with the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments. He was later promoted to planning director for Marion County, then served as its director of general services for 20 years.

Curtis was the volunteer board president for the YMCA in Salem in 2005 when his professional life took an unexpected turn.

In 2004 it was announced that the estate of the late Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, had donated $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army to build 26 community centers in struggling neighborhoods around the United States. The Salvation Army in Salem received $70 million to construct the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center.

Curtis was asked to be the project manager for the facility’s planning and construction.

“It was the most rewarding experience in my professional career,” he said. “I was paid well, and I worked with some of the most outstanding people in the community.

“That was an extremely rewarding experience because it was building something for the community,” Curtis continued. “And, it started because I volunteered to work on a committee.”

Curtis and his wife of 47 years, Melanie, were getting ready to move to Camas to be closer to their two daughters and their families when the new Salem community center opened in 2009.

It was during one of his first visits to Camas that Curtis realized that the construction of a new community center was something Camas leaders had been grappling with for quite some time. Less than two years after arriving, he was asked by Henriksen to become part of the CCDC.

“I could see that the community center issue was a huge challenge,” he said.

And as it turned out, he was right. While a financial analysis was completed, it was determined that the timing wasn’t right to pursue construction. The CCDC disbanded.

Although disappointed, Curtis turned his focus to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

“I could see that the Parks and Recreation Commission was an ongoing group of people that could take up the issue of a community center, or an aquatic center,” he said. “But not until the City Council had the ability and the will to move that forward. That isn’t there yet. They keep talking about it. It’s in the city’s comprehensive plans. It shows up in various conversations. But moneywise, there are just too many priorities.”

As Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman, he has helped to create an ad hoc committee to work with the city’s community development department on subdivision review to align park, trail and green space needs with proposed developments.

In addition, he wrote and presented to city council a report of the commission’s work; and assisted in the organization of an adopt-a-park program first suggested by fellow commissioner Juli Bradley.

“I don’t think a lot about why I do something — it feels good, it fills my time, there is a challenge,” Curtis explained. “For the Parks Commission, part of what’s happened there is that I’m working with people I have a lot of respect for. If you can ask the right questions, and create the right opportunities, you can see people kind of evolve.”

In January 2015 Curtis was approached about working with the Downtown Camas Association. He is currently a member of its board of directors.

“By then, I was really beginning to get a sense of things I really liked to be a part of,” he said. “Downtown really was starting to get my attention. I thought, ‘Wow, things are going on here that I haven’t seen for a long time.”

Curiosity about the history behind downtown Camas and its development led Curtis on a quest to find information about a project called Operation 4-Sight. Hours of research revealed that this was the title given to downtown’s first revitalization effort, which took place in the early 1960s as part of a collaboration between city, business and community leaders.

“What I saw there was just a tremendous example of community-citizen leadership,” he said. “It started because three or four citizens on a committee got a passion and an interest. They wouldn’t give up.”

Curtis spent more than 20 hours researching the topic, and writing a corresponding report detailing the effort. His work was presented to the community during a First Friday event in April.

“As I was writing it I was back in time. It was the 1960s, and I was interviewing people,” he said. “I was on the street, seeing, listening and hearing. I’d love to meet those people. Their work is just a classic model of how you get communities engaged to do things.”

Curtis’ resume of local volunteerism also includes serving first on the Washougal School District’s Fiscal Advisory Committee, and then on its Facilities Planning Committee.

“That one fit really well with my land-use planning, with my facility and construction work,” Curtis said. “It seemed like a good fit for my skill sets and my interests.”

As part of that group, he spent more than a year evaluating the needs and conditions of school district facilities and preparing recommendations for new facilities to be funded through a bond.

“The committee’s recommendations assisted the WSD Board to place the successful capital bond on the ballot in 2015,” the nomination letter stated. “As committee chair, Randy demonstrated his selfless commitment to invest himself and his tremendous communication skills to support our local community in prioritizing for the needs of future generations.”

Curtis has enjoyed playing a role in efforts to enhance aspects of both cities.

“To me, ‘the community’ is Camas and Washougal,” he said. “Working with both communities kind of snow-balled, because once you do one thing it can evolve into something else.”