Bob and Pam Zielinski learned they were named Keizer First Citizens for 2012 at a banquet last weekend. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

As Bob and Pam Zielinski got in their car after being named Keizer’s First Citizens of 2012, Pam turned to her husband.

“We probably better step it up because there’s spots where we can do more,” said Pam, as her husband related it to us. “We’d better earn this now.”

The honor was bestowed by the Keizer Chamber of Commerce at its banquet Saturday night at the Keizer Civic Center. It goes to an outstanding volunteer in the community. Until recently, the chamber required that its recipient live in Keizer, which disqualified the Zielinskis. They live on their farm north of town. Before the city incorporated, they lived within what would become the town boundaries. Dennis Koho, a former Keizer mayor who nominated the pair, supported the change with Bob and Pam in mind.

But it’s staggering to see the hand Bob and Pam have had in making Keizer a better place for its residents and workers.

“Pam and him are just everywhere and they’re always there when you need them,” said Roland Herrera, himself a winner of the award two years ago. The three previous honorees are tasked with deciding who will next receive the award.

And they almost weren’t there to get it. Pam went under the knife for back surgery just a couple of weeks ago, and Bob initially begged off when son Brian insisted they would be there. He’d already bought the tickets and everything, Bob said.

“All kinds of people were being super gracious to us, but they were all people who knew us so well that would treat us that way anyway,” Bob said.

Not even a photographer standing close by tipped him off. It was when Clint Holland, who introduced the Zielinskis as this year’s winners, started checking off accomplishments Bob knew were unique to his wife: More than a decade of service towards Oregon Junior Miss, hosting the Rotary Christmas Party, gathering food and toys during the holidays for Marion-Polk Food Share, cooking up hamburgers at every McNary High home football game for 12-plus years, and co-chairing the Sacred Heart Catholic Church dinners, just to name a few.

“I started tearing up,” Bob said. “I was just so proud of my wife, that she had won this award.”

“Bob and Pam have always been on the top of the list for a long time,” Holland said. “Pam is the driving force of that family and she makes a lot of stuff happen. And I could list endless different jobs Bob has volunteered for.”

Pam said their community involvement kicked in when her kids were in school. Bob then joined Keizer Rotary Club, and away they went. Later on, the two would cook up breakfast for the high school’s playoff-bound teams before the big game, even if they had no kids or grandkids in uniform.

“We are very kid-oriented, having five kids of our own and 13 grand-kids,” Pam said.

Bob has joined his wife in many of these ventures and taken on plenty of his own: His heavy equipment has been instrumental in Keizer Rotary projects, like a new concession stand and grandstands at McNary. His trailers have carried at least one Keizer Iris Festival parade entry every year. He’s been president of Keizer Rotary and created the Marion County Fair Foundation to expose children to agriculture and support the local fair. He and others once turned a gopher-ravaged field behind Whiteaker Middle School into a popular soccer complex.

He’s also among the Rotary Club’s top fundraisers, Holland added.

Bob said he took a cue from folks like Ralph Bauer, Ray Boucher and Pat Valentino – names now instantly identifiable with the community’s history.

“They were the people that were the community leaders when I started in Rotary 40 years ago,” Bob said. “These guys were everywhere. They were doing something all the time. And I saw how people respected them for what they did, the leadership they put into the community. And I said, when I grow up someday I want to be like them.”

To Pam, it’s just a facet of life.

“We have done it because we enjoy doing it and because it’s fun,” Pam said of her extensive volunteer involvement. “We’ve never done it for the glory and the praise. It’s because it’s what we like to do.”