By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Lore Christopher claims she was surprised.
If so, that made the now-former mayor perhaps the only one in the room.
Christopher picked up the 2014 Keizer First Citizen Award during the annual First Citizen Awards Banquet at the Keizer Quality Suites on Jan. 31, just a few weeks after stepping down following 14 years as Keizer’s mayor.
At the same event last year, Christopher formally announced she would not be running for mayor again.
While Christopher faced a strong group of nominees in Big Toy general coordinator Mark Caillier, business owner Rich Duncan, Purple Heart recipient Don Conat and former Keizer City Councilor Richard Walsh, Christopher was the heavy favorite.
Still, Christopher said she didn’t know until last year’s winner John Doneth started listing her accomplishments.
“When they had us all (stand) up, I got nervous and thought I might need to write something down,” she said. “When John Doneth said she volunteered to do the (Keizer Little League) candy drive, that’s when I knew it was me.”
In a new tradition, Doneth had all former First Citizens in the room come to the front of the room before he read the list of this year’s nominees. Each of the 12 present stayed up front and greeted Christopher as she came up, with 1992 First Citizen Mike Gaynor adding humor to the occasion by taking a selfie with the newest recipient.
“It makes your hands sweat,” Christopher said afterwards of greeting the row of former recipients. “I mean, it’s really humbling. These people, I’ve stood on their shoulders. It was on what they built. And I got to continue to build onto it. You look at all of those people, you look at what we’ve accomplished in 30-odd years as a city.”
As a longtime mayor, Christopher accrued various awards and recognitions, including the Mayor’s Award last year from Salem mayor Anna Peterson.
“That one really meant a lot. I put that in the front room,” Christopher said. “But this means a lot. This is a culmination of working for 14 years with all the people in that room. Where does this rank? This is the far top, because it really is the recognition by your peers.”
Doneth wanted all First Citizens recognized because, as he put it, he had to be up front.
“Keizer First Citizen, I’ve always believed, is the highest honor the community can bestow on one of its citizens,” Doneth said. “I’d like to start a new tradition and have all the former First Citizens come up and form an honor roll. Keizer is blessed by having many great people who volunteer.”
After introducing each of this year’s nominees, Doneth didn’t keep the suspense up for long, starting with Christopher’s little league involvement 25 years ago and giving it away for good by mentioning this year’s recipient joined the council in August 1998 thanks to a random drawing after a tied vote.
“During her tenure, 2,000 new jobs were added in Keizer,” Doneth said of Christopher. “That’s 2,000 new jobs during one of the worst economies in 40 years. She is the absolute epitome of our city motto of pride, spirit and volunteerism.”
Christopher beamed as she shared her speech.
“My mom told me as a kid you’re judged by the company you keep,” she said. “I hope that’s true. I hope that these people that are in front of you, the city council members that I’ve served with, and my fellow nominees, I hope I’m judged by those folks because there’s none finer.
“I want to thank the Keizer Chamber of Commerce for recognizing me, but I feel guilty,” Christopher added. “Although you see my name and face in the paper, I really did very little. All of the heavy lifting and the hard work was done by you. I just got to take the credit, so thanks. I really appreciate it. I’m so proud of the things we’ve accomplished together.”
The newest First Citizen talked of the pride she has of Keizer.
“I love driving down River Road and seeing the art we’ve put on there, I love seeing the meandering sidewalks, I love seeing the thriving businesses, I love seeing Keizer Station where I can buy socks and underwear – and do it on a regular basis,” she said. “I love knowing that 2,000 people minimum are able to support their families because of our efforts. I love that. I don’t need my name on anything because it’s all mine and it’s all yours. We’ve done it together.”
Christopher expressed confidence in new councilors and new mayor Cathy Clark, who was seated at Christopher’s table in the back of the room.
“I watched the first council meeting I wasn’t there,” Christopher said. “They were all great. They asked great questions. I was so proud. More than proud, I was confident these folks are going to be good. As an outgoing councilor, that means a lot to know there will be people to fill your shoes and do as well as you, if not better.”
At the end, Christopher couldn’t resist taking a good natured jab at fellow former councilor Joe Egli, who had nervously stumbled through his Merchant of the Year earlier in the evening, while at the same time thanking her husband.
“Last but not least, I want to thank my husband Ron. For 14 years, not one time did he ever complain about having to go to a meeting, an event, a dinner,” she said. “He was a full and 100 percent supportive helpmate. It allows you to be the best you can be and give the best you can to the city you’ve chosen to serve. I love you honey, and unlike Joe Egli, baby, you will get lucky tonight. At the going away party (Jan. 17), I said the same thing, and he did.”
Event emcee Nathan Bauer couldn’t resist picking up on the idea and poking some fun at Egli, who happens to be his co-worker.
“Congratulations Lore on the award and congratulations too, Ron. You got some good news, huh buddy?” Bauer said as laughter filled the room. “It’s a good night at the Christopher house. Joe Egli, that’s how you give a speech. Boom!”